Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pilipinas Forum 8: On the Abu Sayyaf

(This is what I submitted to on June 20, 2001, Pilipinas Forum's column.)

Exchanges on the Abu Sayyaf, 2001

Yes, my family and I were there. Yes, we were in the island resort when these 24 armed men docked at the main pier around 5:00 am today (May 27) in their tri-engined Volvo-Penta powered "kumpit". We were in the island resort when they forced open the bay cottages and took hostage 20 guests, 4 of the island resort's staff, and loaded the hostages on to their "kumpit". We were on the island resort when the kidnappers decided that these hostages were enough (Thank God!) and would slow down their "kumpit". We were THAT CLOSE to becoming kidnap victims and maybe just another lousy statistic.

Lawlessness. Wanton, brazen & audacious. It is real and it never sleeps. Think about that if only for a moment.

-Sam Aherrera

There are lawless elements in the society that are beyond hope and rehabilitation. The negative impact imposed by the kidnappers/bandits to ordinary citizens goes beyond the pecuniary and psychic costs. There's also the societal cost in terms of drop in tourist arrivals (a deathknell to the tourism industry actually) and lower foreign investments.

It should be noted, as an afterthought to the discussions on the poverty issue, that providing pro-poor programs, infra. sevices, etc. are necessary but not the sufficient conditions needed to spur the country's growth. Peace and order is the precondition to all of these growth strategies/programs. That means we should get rid of all these penguins, jokers, riddlers, luthors, banes, etc. Let the terrible swift sword of dark justice fall upon them!

-Glenn de Guzman

Pursue those *ssholes and shoot them. I don't believe in coddling them, not with 6-month extended negotiations, not with libyan ransom money (could have been money laundering for all we know, definitely was pabango money, at the very least), not with ceasefire policies. No more. These bullies should learn that hostage taking does not pay. Feel very very sorry for the victims and really I wouldn't know what to do if i were in their or their families' shoes. They deserve to be rescued, and safe and sound in their own homes. now, more then ever, i wish that those rambo-like characters were true to life and that they could go in to the bad guys' lair and blow their brains off and still manage tosave each and every one of the victims with minimal damage. sigh!

-Mayeen Magno

This kidnap for ransom business is becoming lucrative for these bandits. Thanks to ransom money paid for previous kidnappings, they now have the "capital" to launch long range operations. I just heard reports the Volvo-powered kumpits are almost twice as fast as our Navy vessels in the area. I hope this doesn't send the wrong signals to other armed groups that there is money in this exercise.

I just hope we in the forum are 100% united that these people hold no ideological pursuits whatsoever. I believe they are in fact destroying the reputation of Muslim Filipinos to the rest of the world. I wonder what the common sentiment is, including those of Muslim communities. This is important if we are to gain support of civilians to find the culprits. They may easily find coddlers if some people still believe in their false cause.

-GiLBerT Cunanan

I do agree with the use of force in bringing this chapter hopefully to a close because apparently there is no stopping the Abu Sayyaf until they are fully wiped out. I believe the damage to the country due to these kidnappings justifies drastic punishment. But we must be sure that only those who have
planned and executed this dastardly act should be the ones to bear the full brunt of the law. But if we leave the followers, will they not in time also do a similar act? If I remember it right, no Arab country expressed sympathy to the Abu Sayyaf. The European countries were willing to do anything as long as they get their nationals alive.

-Nina Halos

How do you rescue people trapped by wild animals? Say, a group of tourists trapped in a cave with lions, tigers or bears surrounding it? I think this is the same way to deal with the Abu Sayyaf. Some may say it is too harsh to compare the Abu Sayyaf with wild animals but I believe we humans are gifted by God or Allah to be more intelligent than animals. If we choose to deny these gifts and act like wild animals pouncing on innocent tourists, then we should be treated as such.

Worldwide sentiment for legitimate Filipino Muslim grievances are being dragged to the level of sentiments given to middle eastern terrorists. These actions depict Islam in a very, very bad light.

I think our government should request that the sattelite phone stolen from foreign journalists be disconnected or limited to calls made to government negotiators. Just like your average stolen cellphone, only legitimate owners should be able to use them. The company allowing the continued use of this device could even be charged with complicity to the crime since this phone may be used for communicating with other bandit groups in the area, as well as supporters and coddlers.

Our government is in a "damned-if-we-do-damned-if-we-don't" situation. Abu Sabaya, Galib Andang and Khadafy Janjalani are too dumb to see the effects of their actions. They claim to support the Muslims of Mindanao, but who suffered the most as a result of their adventures? Already, many people are suffering from the economic repercussions of their past actions and I will not be surprised if Mindanao trade and tourism are more directly affected. If we continue paying ransom, we are opening the possibility for the group to build camps in more places and conduct more, even simultaneous abductions. Soon we will see a group of the same size as the NPA operating nationwide all the way to Luzon. In effect, when we pay ransom, we are paying not only for the release of a hostage but also for the abduction of exponentially more hostages.

-GiLBerT Cunan

How do we solve a problem like the Abu Sayaff? Sounds like a tall order is it not? They have been in existence for such a long time that it seems that they are fixture of our modern society. GMA says it
should be force with force. Erap in his days thougt it should be money with force. Who was right and who was wrong?

Enough is enough. We can rescue the hostages now but how do we know what the Abu Sayaff will do next? Do we pulverize them? Again, do we know them at all. Perhaps the answer lies on one solution. Force our military commanders from the lowest rank to the highest to read Tsun Su's " The Art of War".

- Mel Velasco

The never-ending Abu question: kelan ito matatapos lahat? But let me zero in on some issues which have not been given emphasis in today's reporting and analysis - the previous negotiators and the present kidnapping crisis. In particular, the role of Roberto Aventajado.

From my recollection, this is what Mr. Abuntajado did:

1. He prolonged the negotiation which stretched for almost 5 months, from late May to late October 2000. In the process, he got high media mileage. In those 5 months, he never suggested the use of commando rescue operations.

2. He gave media mileage to kumander robot, susukan, janjalani, etc., giving these animals unwarranted international exposure which bolstered their megalomaniac egos.

3. He facilitated the payment of around $20 million ransom. Some of which were used to buy those Volvo boat engines, high-powered firearms and rocket launchers, ammunitions, communication equipment, even night goggles. In short, Abuntajado gave resources to the Abus for future kidnappings like the Dos Palmas case.

4. He was alleged to have gotten a "cut" or commission from the ransom payment.

-Nonoy Oplas

The Abu Sayyaf is a historical evolution from the cultural Muslims in Sulu and Basilan, from the political MNLF, and to the now terrorist and criminal group as it is. Not long ago, we have witnessed evolutions of political groups to criminal gangs. The Red Scorpion Group (RSG) responsible for high profile kidnappings in Manila in the 1990s evolved from a splintered group of the NPA liquidation squad, the ABB. The Kuratong Baleleng, a para-military group in Misamis Occidental and Zamboanga Provinces, organized as anti-communist group evolved into a criminal gang after there were not so much NPAs to chase in their area. Units of Hukbalahap who rebelled in the 1950s also engaged in criminal activities after severely beaten by government forces. These minor evolutions, however, were not as culturally rooted and as fermented wrongly by Muslim society in the south as the fierce terrorist group like Abu Sayyaf. They are animals and beasts (as Gilbert said), and if I may add, descended from men.

I have studied Filipino Muslim history, partly because there is one course in college that we have to undergo, and partly (leisurely) because of my desire to understand my neighbors and a few Muslim boys that I exchanged with not a few flying kicks, fists and stones and slingshots in the past. I felt the animosity between we Christians and Muslims, as young as I could remember.

I did not study nor read books on terrorist and terrorism. One thing I could observe though is that a terrorist mind evolved from a defeated mind and inability to accept them. Total defeat was received/felt either in the past or present or defeat intuitively felt coming in the future. Bred by war and violence, losing dignity in the eyes of his conquerors and experiencing cultural indignities will drive men and growing children to become beasts. The Filipino Muslims have their cultural aspirations. Government has been doing all it can to provide space and recognition of their cultural practices and identities although there is so much tension happening in the ground. This is natural when one culture (Christian Filipinos) continuously interacts with another culture (Muslim Filipinos). It is in their political aspirations to secede and form their own nation that they were defeated twice, once during the MNLF war and second during the MILF war. Unable to accept defeat, a part of the second generation MNLF fighters in Sulu and Basilan began to dissociate themselves from the MNLF leadership. They became the lost commands and eventually the Abu Sayyaf. Frustrations and anger of a defeated mind burst asunder into terrorism and criminal activities. The beasts pound on helpless prey to feed in its insatiable desire to erase the confused memory and pain of defeat. To accept defeat is to be human, and so they chose to be the animal beast. The Estrada administration should have never negotiated with the beasts.

In real democracy and liberal independent-minded societies, children and young people are taught and made to experience winning and losing, to accept such as natural things in life. When they lose, they are given time and are encouraged to reflect. Just as American society reflected when it lost in the Vietnam War. Filipino Muslims are unable to reflect on themselves as a society. They are divided also among themselves. They have never even taught of the economic front. They can take advantage of sitting in one of the most strategic geographic corner between Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and the rest of the ASEAN. Instead of taking advantage of modernizing themselves, they are still engaged in the age-old practice of piracy, smuggling and banditry.

-Joey Sescon

There is more to the ASG than most people outside Basilan and Jolo realize. Insofar as the Muslim communities are concerned, we have always been suspicious of the origin, nature, and activities of this group. Take for instance the recent call of the Bangsa Moro Congress for an investigation into the alleged links between some members of the police and military and the ASG.

Likewise, take the accusation of Basilan Gov. Wahab Akbar (who admits to being formerly "with them" but now an avowed enemy of the ASG) that the military had "let" the ASG escape from the church and hospital compound a few days ago.

Nonetheless, even by merely relying on common published reports, disturbing aspects of the ASG's operations are noticeable:

1. Military operation after military operation vs the ASG, the military declares that it has the group cornered. For some inexplicable reason, they manage to escape. Although the AFP is not the most competent of armed forces in the world, still, incompetence cannot be offered as a credible excuse in the escape of the ASG especially since the AFP brags about its allegedly proven capability to go
against the much bigger MILF.

2. Under Abdurajak Janjalani, the ASG's #2 man was an admitted government agent. After Abdurajak's death, the ASG leadership was taken over by his younger brother, Khadaffy Janjalani who was an acknowledged informant of the military. Prior reports have it that he mysteriously disappeared in Camp Crame only to resurface as the new leader of the ASG after his elder brother's death.

3. The ASG is supposedly fighting for the rights of the Muslim minority. And yet, some of its victims are Muslims themselves. Some members of the MNLF, in the past, have also been injured in successfully preventing the kidnapping of another priest.

4. In the attack on Ipil, hostages who managed to escape and were interviewed on TV say that they saw the bandits eat the flesh of some of the hostages they killed. As any human rights worker familiar with Mindanao will tell you, there are many para-military groups in the eastern and northern Mindanao that are known to engage in cannibalism and these are not Muslims. Besides, even non-devout Muslims shun pork, more so human flesh. So-called "fundamentalist Muslims" should be expected to do no less.

Even more disturbing are information from unpublished sources:

1. People from Basilan I have talked to say that many members of the ASG operating in that island were former security guards in a huge plantation owned by a former defense minister.

2. An ASG suspect arrested for allegedly attempting to bomb a small inter-island passenger vessel was supposedly under police custody for months even before the attempted bombing took place.

As I have said earlier, Muslims doubt about the nature of the ASG as a genuine armed political group fighting for the rights of the Moros. On the contrary, if suspicions about the link between this group and some members of the military turh out to be true, then this group (considering their barbarity) exists only to deligitimize their (the Moros') struggle before the eyes of the local and foreign public.

In the ultimate analysis, no one benefits from the activities of the ASG, not the Muslim nor Christian communities, the government soldiers who are injured or killed, the hostages, nor the civilians caught in the cross-fire.

As a person stunned with the barbarity of this group and concerned with the consequences of their actions, I do hope that even the Christians start giving the nature and activities of the ASG a more critical and analytical look. Hopefully, once we have deciphered this group, maybe we can finally see an end to their activities.

The lives and welfare of so many people, including ours, are at stake. We cannot afford to be uncritical and unquestioning.

The report about the so-called commissions demanded by government officials from the ransom payments were published in the German magazine Der Spiegel. The source of the report was supposedly German police intercepts of satellite phone converstations between the ASG and government officials. I asked one of my German classmates and he says that Der Spiegel is not one of those magazines that will publish anything without a basis. Anyway, the Germans have always been known for their thoroughness.

-Zen Malang

I am glad that Atty. Zen Malang brought the issue of alleged links between the ASG and some shady groups in the military. But I am sad as well. The reason I did not discuss it here is that as a beleaguered nation we have to trust our institutions, i.e. the military to solve and pulverize the ASG problem. Growing up in Mindanao and as an eye witness of the 70's war, it is not difficult to accept such practices. Apparently, shady/criminal characters in the military took advantage of the slide from political armed groups into the criminal armed groups like ASG and connived in the lucrative business of illegal logging, smuggling, kidnapping, protection money and tax in the barter trade. The PCIJ book chronicles these alleged links. With this, if we can't trust the AFP as the protectors of this nation, then it is one reason to leave this forsaken country of ours. However, we must trust the AFP being the bigger institution, more than the bad eggs or criminal elements within its ranks. Let us hope, that with the sacrifices it has made, it will cleanse itself from its own monsters and demons. For how long, I don't know.

-Joey Sescon

The ongoing military campaign and media coverage against the Abu Sayaf gang is giving me a sense of deja vu. During the Estrada Administration, the military attacked the MILF camps after attacking the Abu Sayaf camps. While the assault on the Abu Sayf was justified, the reason for the assault based on media reports was never clear. Was it due to information received by military intelligence (which Atty. Yorac called the ultimate oxymoron) or some other arcane reason. The downside about the assault on the MILF was the non access to ODA funds being provided by OPEC countries to Muslim communities as part of the peace process. I am not saying that the GMA Administration will do something as crass as another war in Mindanao to boost popularity ratings but stranger things have happened. I would not be surprised if they decide to go after the MILF next blaming them for supplying weapons to the ABS gang. Even now, some quarters are calling GMA soft on terrorist.

Sometimes, one can be compelled to act against one's better judgement because of political insecurities. Look at Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in the Vietnam War. recently released tapes of the Presidents clearly showed that they doubted the wisdom of expanding American involvement but they still did.

-Ricky Sunico

Dear Ricky,

Some corrections in your posting, as follows:

1. The AFP attacked the MILF first, not the Abu Sayyaff. The attack on MILF was made around April 28, 2000, while the attack against the Abu Sayyaf was made around late September, though the bandits made the Sipadan kidnapping April 23. Again, thanks to Roberto Abuntajado for prolonging the negotiations while he hugs media limelight and facilitated the payment of millions of $ of ransom payment (plus his alleged "cut", of course).

2. Nur Misuari and some of his MNLF men, were indeed "attacked" last year, but politically not militarily. The issue was Misuari's accountability of several billions of pesos that were released by the national government to the SZOPAD areas (special zone of peace and development) covering 13 provinces and a few cities in mindanao, where Misuari was the fund administrator as chairman of the SPCPD (southern phils. council for peace and devt.).

-Nonoy Oplas

Please note that the AFP is now supported by former MNLF rebels. This should give our Armed Forces a more "balanced" character as far as religion is concerned. In the past, the Abu Sayyaf have used the "jihad" to rally support from Muslim communities. In fact, second only to the dignity of the entire Filipino nation, among the biggest victims of the Abu Sayyaf is the Philippine Muslim people and their legitimate causes. Long after this hostage drama has ended, the Muslim people (both in Mindanao and Manila) will suffer much discrimination because of the Abu Sayyaf's violent actions.

The ASG is a breakaway of the MNLF. The MNLF integrees who once fought side by side with the Abu Sayyaf should know the terrain and the culture of the region as well as the bandits techniques and should prove effective in obtaining victory. The MNLF integrees should be commended for upholding the Muslim law which is commited to obtaining peace and is strongly against violence. No less than the Ulama League of the Philippines expressed condemnation of the ASG kidnappings.

On theories that the MILF are supporting the ASG, the MILF has officially denied this and in fact claim to have offered help which the government refused. But isn't it questionable that the Abu Sayyaf have escaped into and are now roaming MILF territory (which the AFP cannot enter lest they jeopardize the upcoming peace talks) yet the MILF are not doing anything? Is it not their duty to uphold the Muslim law? Perhaps the "dog-wagging" is coming from the MILF camp and probably to gain leverage in the up coming peace talks.

Come to think of it, the MILF bombings coincided with the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings from Sipadan and Basilan. The MILF may have been trying to take advantage of the kidnapping incident if not in cahoots with the ASG. Of course, it is difficult to interpret these information since deception has always been part of many wars.

-Gilbert Cunanan

Some random notes before they slip out of my head...

1. The Malaysians once helped the MNLF (even the MILF afterwards?) in its secessionist armed campaign vs. the Phil. government. The objective was to weaken the Philippine state so that it won't push through with its campaign to claim Sabah. The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) as mentioned by Gilbert are splinters of the original MNLF (whether the Sulu group headed by Andang and Susukan, or the Basilan group headed by Sabaya & the younger Janjalani). After the Sipadan kidnapping last April 2000, the Malaysians must have regretted ever helping those uncontrollable secessionists.

2. The Americans did help the group of Abdurajak Janjalani (now dead) when they trained these young Muslims for the Afghan war vs. the Soviet Union in the 80s. While in Afghanistan, Janjalani met a famous Afghan warrior, Abu Sayyaf Rasool. Upon returning to Sulu-Basilan, Janjalani named his group Abu Sayyaf, dropping the name "Rasool" since the latter is similar to a group of Muslim clan whom they're not comfortable with.

3. There's definitely an MILF card in Tuburan, Basilan. Organizationally, the MILF cannot and should not, support the ASG because of the peace talks. But individually, many of these MILF fighters are kins and relatives of ASG bandits, and blood is thicker than politics. In addition, the latter must have sprinkled their MILF relatives with portions of their ransom income. Hence, the implicit support for the ASG.

4. The AFP won't be able to totally eradicate the ASG without the support of the MNLF people, even the MILF. I don't know how much the AFP leadership trust their MNLF integrees in fighting the Abus. It looks like the leadership doesn't trust them much, as evidenced by who they're sending in the front line. Most if not all of the dead soldiers, including the wounded ones, are non-Muslim (based on their names).

-Nonoy Oplas

Some details gathered in the form of informed hearsay (meron ba nun?): Anyway here goes...

The ransom paid by Reghis was paid to the government soldiers daw as told by a friend from down south. When the Abus were cornered and cordoned, the ranking officers daw of the AFP cum PNP asked for a fee for them to ease the cordon and allow a magical escape that can be heard only in the alamat stories of bernardo carpio. So, the deal was done. Reghis will pay 10 M for his freedom. But since the abus are pinned down, the booty will go to the AFP/PNP. Easy. the ransom was paid directly to the account of the commanding officer, once payment is confirmed, the cordon slackened, the abus escaped, and reghis is free. But to cover the nice and neat scheme, the reghis must escape with a few others, kaya nine yung tumalilis.

Whoa.quite a hearsay huh.

-Ozone Azanza

I am disturbed by reports of beheadings. The kidnappings are a bad enough situation, but this is worse. Threat or reality, we don't know at this point, but these guys aren't even human anymore. Add to this (was it Ozone's post?) the rumor that our guys let them escape, ano ba yan??!!! When do we learn to put common good above personal gain? What kind of examples are we showing to our kids?

-Llana Domingo

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