Not a misencounter

We still do not have all the details, but the loss of 44 Philippine National Police personnel is a very sad day for the PNP and indeed the whole nation. They died in the performance of their duties. This is the biggest casualty suffered by the PNP since the 1970s when the fight against the Moro National Liberation Front was at its height. Right now, all we have are questions. But some facts are beginning to emerge. Since it was a large PNP Special Action Force operation, it could have been only authorized and initiated by the Police General Headquarters in Camp Crame. Secretary Roxas and PNP OIC Leo Espina however, are now denying any prior knowledge of the operation. If this is the case, who is now responsible for the debacle?

What is also known is that the operation was for the arrest of Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan a notorious Malaysian terrorist bomb maker and Filipino Basil Usman with a $5-million and $2 million price on their head, respectively.  As we now know, something went horribly wrong with the operation that resulted in the death of at least 44 policemen and the wounding of 12 PNP personnel. Among the dead are two Captains and four Lieutenants. In a press interview by Secretary Mar Roxas, he called the encounter a “misencounter”. It was so shocking to hear that from him. Not being a man in uniform, perhaps he could be forgiven but he should have chosen his words more carefully because it might impact on the investigation of this case.

The fire fight was most certainly not a misencounter. A misencounter for the information of the good Secretary is a fire fight between two friendly units. For example, if the PNP SAF Battalion encountered an Army Battalion, that would be a misencounter. Another example is if one PNP unit encounters another PNP unit. The MILF is not a friendly unit. A misencounter also does not take 12 hours. The first exchange of fire can already determine who is at the other side and if it is a friendly unit, the fighting immediately stops. This was not the case with this encounter. Fighting only stopped when all the PNP elements were dead. If it was a misencounter as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is saying, why did they post the firearms that were captured and the bodies of the dead policemen in the internet whose positions seem to indicate that there was an element of treachery involved? If the government is buying this misencounter story coming from the MILF, it would be the height of naiveté. What group did the PNP run into? The BIFF? The MILF? or both? If both, what were these two armed groups doing near each other in one area? Are they not supposed to be enemies? Were Marwan and Usman hiding with the MILF or BIFF? If with the MILF, it raises a lot of questions about the peace process because Marwan is also being coddled by the Abu Sayyaf, being married to the Janjalani family.

What this shows is the fragility and complexity of the peace process. What the encounter also showed was that the MILF does not have an effective Command and Control system. Also, the MILF is supposed to be decommissioning their weapons already but the encounter clearly shows that no decommissioning is taking place at all. We have to stop believing that the MILF are the good guys and the BIFF the bad guys. There is no distinction between the two. Both come from the same tree. One can be BIFF today and MILF tomorrow and vice versa. The BIFF broke away from the MILF because they lost in their corporate battle. I watched the Senate Committee hearing of Senator Miriam Santiago yesterday and I am glad I did. Professor Miriam Coronel Ferrer in her impassioned statement basically wants everyone including the oppositors to take a big leap of faith with the peace commissioners for a more peaceful and progressive Philippines. She says that the world is changing around us and cited several examples of peace processes around the world that have proven successful. This is simplistic and dangerous. The dynamics of conflicts are different all over the world. If a peace process is successful in one place, it does not mean that the same will work here. This is perhaps the reason why the oppositors are seeking for ironclad guarantees that is allowed by our constitution.   She went on to say that those who oppose are so fixated with the term sub state which she seem to relate with the pejorative  term that the only good moro is dead moro which was uncalled for on her part. At times, she seemed exasperated why everyone cannot seem to see her point of view but as she herself said in her opening sentence her field is the study of political science and less of the law. If she herself admit this, then she should have more respect to those who specialize in the law who do not agree with her point of view.

Then last Tuesday, as if to deepen the mystery, a report in this paper quoted an unnamed PNP General also said that it was General Alan Purisima who handled the operation with the go signal of the President. Wow! The plot is certainly thickening. Is this possible? Yes, this could explain why Espina and Mar Roxas did not have prior knowledge. If the President did indeed got personally involved in this, then the stakes are indeed a lot higher than what we already know. To add to the confusion, what were the four Americans doing there?

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