Long before the tourists of Sipadan were kidnapped on April 23 of this year, the Abu Sayyaf had already been blazing a bloody trail of murders, abductions, rapes, mutilations, arsons, and other heinous crimes that is impossible to match in terms of callous cruelty by any armed band of hooligans locally or even internationally.
To respond to the problem posed by the Abu Sayyaf, it may be helpful if we recalled the circumstances of its creation.
In the early 1980s, the CIA actively recruited, "armed and supported" moujahideens or volunteer Muslim warriors to fight the CIA sponsored-US proxy war in Afghanistan against the Russians who had invaded the country in 1979 and had put up a puppet regime there.1
Thousands of Muslim fighters from many parts of the world, including many young men from the Muslim-dominated areas in Mindanao, enlisted to fight in Afghanistan. After all, the dollar-denominated monthly pay plus incentives of $100 to $300 a month2 was certainly attractive enough for the jobless and impoverished Muslim youths.
These young warriors were, then, trained to – and many did - fight in Afghanistan supported with funds and equipment by the CIA and its network of friendly foreign funders which at that time included Osama bin Ladin, a highly successful Arab business man in the construction industry. Bin Ladin subsequently fell out of grace with the CIA which has since been trying to get him either literally or extradited to the US for his complicity in the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.
Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, supposedly a colleague of bin Ladin, was directly implicated as one of the bombers of the World Trade Center. Ramzi becomes immediately relevant to our discussion not only because of his supposed connections with bin Laden but more so because soon after the kidnapping of the Sipadan tourists, the kidnappers who had proclaimed themselves as members of the Abu Sayyaf announced that one of their demands was the release of Ramzi from US prisons.
Training as Moujahideens
The training of the moujahideens for guerilla warfare was undertaken by the CIA with the active collaboration of secret, usually, intelligence, services of the armed forces or select military officers in various countries, including our own.
Now, when the Russians had pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, the Moujahideens either returned to their home countries or proceeded to other countries and put their Afghan war military experience at the service of certain fundamentalist causes of Islam.
Birth of Abu Sayyaf
In the case of the Filipino Muslim Moujahideens, most came back to various parts of Mindanao from their base in Peshawar, Pakistan.
In the words of John K. Cooley in his book, Unholy Wars, "This group (of Filipino Muslim Moujahideens) was the core of an armed guerilla band of several hundred men who xxx moved from its Peshawar, Pakistan base to the southern Philippine Islands after the end of the Afghan war. Under the name of the Abu Sayyaf group, it operated on the fringe of the Moros Muslim insurgency."
Thus was the Abu Sayyaf born.
The Abu Sayyaf took its name from Professor Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an Afghan intellectual, who had preached an ultra-conservative Islamic ideology called Wahabi.
Cooley calls the Abu Sayyaf in the 1990s as "the most violent and radical Islamist group in the Far East, using its CIA and ISI (Pakistan’s intra-military directorate for intelligence services) training to harass, attack and murder Christian priests, wealthy non-Muslim plantation-owners and merchants and local government in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao." [p. 63]
Because the Abu Sayyaf was operating on the fringe of the Muslim insurgency in the country, its partisans were enticed by certain officers of the armed forces to serve as informers on the activities of the Muslim insurgents in Southern Mindanao.
Marites D. Vitug and Glenda M. Gloria name, at least, three military and police officers as coddlers or handlers of the Abu Sayyaf in their book, Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao. One was the commanding general of the Marines at that time, Brig. Gen. Guillermo Ruiz; the other two were police officers, Chief Supt. Leandro Mendoza and Chief Supt. Rodolfo Mendoza.
In the case of Ruiz’s involvement with the Abu Sayyaf, Vitug and Gloria theorize that "The Marines – led by then Brig. Gen. Guillermo Ruiz – apparently flirted with the Abu Sayyaf because they controlled the mountains and (he) wanted to keep his business." [page 218]
The business of Gen. Ruiz reportedly had to do with illegal logging which led the Catholic Church of Basilan led by Bishop Romeo de la Cruz to demand that the Marines be pulled out of the island. As Vitug and Gloria put it, "By 1994, the Marines were out of Basilan." This episode has tarnished the otherwise unblemished record of the Marines, who had been held in high esteem by the people in troubled areas where they had been assigned.
Perks from the intelligence services
My information is that the Abu Sayyaf partisans were given military intelligence services IDs, safe-houses, safe-conduct passes, firearms, cell phones and various sorts of financial support.
Edwin Angeles, a leader of the Abu Sayaff in Basilan, told me after the elections of 1995, that it was the Abu Sayaff that was responsible for the raid and the razing down of the town of Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur in early 1995. In that raid, Angeles told me that the Abu Sayyaf raiders were reportedly provided with military vehicles, mortars and assorted firearms. All this time, Angeles was "handled" by police officer, now chief superintendent, Rodolfo Mendoza.
Angeles, if you will recall, was summarily executed, salvaged, if you will, by up to now unidentified persons in 1999. He was killed a month after the principal organizer of the Abu Sayyaf, Abdurajak Janjalani, was shot dead in a reported encounter with police officers.
But even as Abdurajak Janjalani and Edwin Angeles are dead, the Abu Sayyaf up to this very day continues to defy the law, spill blood and cause havoc in the country. In short, the Abu Sayyaf has become a horrifying menace to our people.
For what the Abu Sayyaf has become, the CIA must merit our people’s condemnation. The CIA has sired a monster that has caused a lot problems for the country and is giving the country a horrible reputation in the international community.
The CIA, however, is a tool of American foreign policy. It will do what advances the cause of the US even at the expense of other countries like ours.
What looks inexcusable to me is the involvement of a few officers of the armed forces – handlers of the Abu Sayyaf, my informants call them - in the training of the Abu Sayyaf partisans, the very same group of hooligans who are responsible for the kidnapping of foreigners and locals alike and the atrocities they had committed for several years now.
The best that can be said of these officers is that they had been acting, like Col. Oliver North in the infamous Iran-Contra arms deal controversy in the US, outside the loop of the regular command. Their mission, most likely, was to get the Abu Sayyaf partisans as their sources of information on the movements of the Muslim insurgents and probably of their allies from other Muslim countries and as friendly pawns in the game of divide and rule as far as the Muslim insurgency is concerned.
To that end, these officers did not only "handle" the Abu Sayyaf, they cuddled them, trained them, protected them, passed on military equipment and funds from the CIA and its support network, and probably even from the intelligence funds of the armed forces to them.
It is also quite possible that these officers pursued their own self-interests when they dealt with the Abu Sayyaf.
Butch Fernandez of Today tells me that Gen. Alexander Aguirre was present at a meeting – perhaps organizational – of the Abu Sayyaf. Whatever the nature of Gen. Aguirre’s involvement with the Abu Sayyaf has to be explained.
A retired military officer, brigadier general Ruiz, whom Vitug and Gloria had tagged in their book as responsible for the Marines’ flirtation with the Abu Sayyaf, figured recently in the rescue of an Abu Sayyaf hostage in Sulu. He had his picture prominently taken in the company of Sec. Robert Aventajado, chief negotiator of the government for the release of the Abu Sayyaf hostages. In all likelihood, Gen. Ruiz got involved in the Abu Sayyaf hostage release negotiations because he is supposedly trusted by Abu Sayyaf partisans having been a "coddler" of theirs in the not-too-distant past.
Gen. Ruiz should be called to account for his involvement with the Abu Sayyaf. So should Chief Supt. Leandro Mendoza and Chief Supt. Rodolfo Mendoza.
De Villa and Ramos, too
Naturally, the then chief of staff of the armed forces in the 1990s, Gen. Renato de Villa, should likewise tell the people what he knows of the involvement of the CIA and our own military officers in the creation, handling and supervision of the Abu Sayyaf.
It goes without saying that the commander-in-chief of the armed forces from 1992 to 1998, namely, former president Fidel V. Ramos should likewise tell the people what he knows of his administration’s involvement with the creation, handling, and supervision of the Abu Sayyaf.
In our search for the truth regarding the creation, training, funding, supervision and operation of the Abu Sayyaf, the best evidence would be the testimony of people who possess first hand information on these matters.
My witness, Edwin Angeles, is dead. There is or was a file of video-taped testimony of Angeles with ABS-CBN that should be made available to the Senate in connection with its investigation of the Abu Sayyaf.
Arlene de la Cruz, the lady journalist who had first brought Angeles’ exploits to light as an Abu Sayyaf officer told me recently that the file still exists in the vaults of the ABS-CBN.
It was she who had accompanied Angeles to see me in 1995 to explore my providing Angeles with legal assistance. Angeles’ predicament, then, was that he was reportedly being hunted down by the then Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Rafael Alunan.
Ms. de la Cruz would be a good source of corroborative evidence on many aspects of the operations of the Abu Sayyaf.
A body-guard of Angeles is likewise still alive. Some weeks ago, he told me the names of some other officers of the armed forces who "handled" Abu Sayaff matters. He is, however, deathly afraid of coming out into the open.
If we are unable to ascertain the truth about the responsibility of the CIA and some of our own military officers in the creation, training and supervision of Abu Sayyaf activities from direct evidence of the persons in the know, materials abound that weave an incontrovertible tale of their involvement through circumstantial evidence.
Among the authors who have written about the Abu Sayyaf, to my knowledge, it is Cooley who makes the most direct statement regarding the training and funding of the Abu Sayyaf by the CIA.
Cooley supports his allegations not only with documents obtained from CIA and Russian sources but with interviews that he had conducted with persons in the know of the secret operations of the CIA in connection with the Afghan war.
Today we are faced with a difficult problem of trying to contain, if not eradicate, the curse of the Abu Sayyaf in parts of Southern Mindanao.
The evidence is now overwhelming – unassailable in my mind - that the CIA was the procreator of the Abu Sayyaf and that some of our own military officers acted as midwives at its delivery and who have nursed the hooligans under illegal, if not, at least, questionable circumstances that enabled the latter to pursue their criminal activities to this very day.
We probably cannot do anything about the CIA’s responsibility in the creation of the Abu Sayyaf and the funding, training and equipping of its members by the agency. That is a thing of the past.
But we can and ought to do something about the involvement of our military officers who were active participants or conduits of the CIA in the creation, funding, training and equipping of the Abu Sayyaf.
Preventing a treasonous recurrence
We have to find out what we can do as legislators to prevent a recurrence of the situation where certain military officers of our armed forces became willing tools of the CIA in the creation, funding, training and equipping of this bandit group that has brought so much harm to the national interest in the last several years and opprobrium to our name in the last several months.
The officers who have been identified as coddlers or handlers of the Abu Sayaff in various studies and documents must be called to account.
While the paternal bonds of the CIA with the Abu Sayyaf may already have been cut off, I am not too sure that the filial connections of the Abu Sayyaf with certain officers of our armed forces have already been severed.
Investigate treasonous acts
Thus, it behooves the senate to instruct its appropriate committees to dig deeply into the circumstances under which the Abu Sayyaf was created, the handling of its funds, and the training of its partisans.
It is only fitting that any Filipino who had a hand in the creation, training and equipping of the Abu Sayyaf should be held to account for high treason and other crimes.
I urge the senate to do what needs to be done to vindicate the national honor and the rights of the people who have been savaged and brutalized by the Abu Sayyaf.