Friday, September 28, 2012

Weeping Army General Denies Deal with Abu Sayyaf Bandits

August 31, 2001, Agence France-Presse, Weeping army general denies deal with Abu Sayyaf bandits,

A VETERAN combat general wept Thursday as he denied accusations he took payoffs from Abu Sayyaf kidnappers to let them slip through a military cordon.

"I am certain, God knows I will never accept blood money," Brigadier General Romeo Dominguez told the Senate defense committee as he fought back tears in vain.

Not all the money (the Abu Sayyaf) possesses can match the kind of honor, fame, goodwill and even money and career opportunities ... if I had succeeded in destroying the Abu Sayyaf," he told the hearing, which was aired live on national television.

The committee summoned Dominguez and other military officers to answer allegations they deliberately let the rebels to escape when surrounded at a military hospital on Lamitan town in the southern island of Basilan on June 2.

The officers grudgingly admitted that a series of tactical lapses may have caused the military debacle.

At least one Catholic priest in Basilan accused Dominguez, Basilan ground commander Colonel Juvenal Narcise and three others of taking money from ransoms raised from three hostages freed the same day.

The rebels still hold US Christian missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and 16 Filipinos. They have killed at least 14 Filipino hostages and claim to have beheaded a third American, Californian Guillermo Sobero.

Under intense grilling by Senator Rodolfo Biazon, a retired Armed Forces chief, the officers told the committee that military reinforcements failed to arrive for eight hours as outgunned troops fought it out with the entrenched and well-armed Muslim guerrillas.

Colonel Narcise said Dominguez countermanded his order to call in an infantry battalion to Lamitan to give succor to about 120 soldiers and 40 policemen around the hospital.

"I made a conclusion that I needed more troops to secure Lamitan. The first thing that went to my mind was to bring in the 18th Infantry Batallion," Narcise said. Troops deployed around the hospital would have doubled, he said.

"Higher headquarters told me not to bring down the 18th IB (Infantry Batallion)," he said. "At the time, I could not question the reason why this higher headquarters would (withhold) the 18th IB."

Narcise said he and some of his troops were met by sniper fire when he rushed to Lamitan on learning of the raid. They retreated, sought close air support and evacuated civilians.

Dominguez said he ordered Narcise to cancel the redeployment of an extra battalion and to instead wait for a special "counter-terrorist force" coming from another Basilan area.

But the unit arrived only eight hours later, by which time they later realized the Abu Sayyaf were in the process of slipping out.

The Abu Sayyaf had ambushed an Army Scout Ranger company that passed through the town purely by chance before dawn the previous day, leaving three soldiers dead and five others wounded.

Armed Forces chief General Diomedio Villanueva said the rebels' capability had been diminished following successive encounters with some 5,000 troops deployed in Basilan. "We expect that we would be able to recover by October or November a substantial number of the hostages, if not all," he said.

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