Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Howie Severino's Report on the Hostilities in Lamitan, Basilan.

To paraphrase a pithy quote--A priest wouldn't lie, a soldier wouldn't tell the truth, and a journalist wouldn't know the difference.

Journalists in the Crossfire in southern Philippines, 6:08 minutes

Howie Severino's report on the hostilities in Lamitan, Basilan.

Rarely do we get a chance to think about what's really worth dying for. I recently got this chance on the island of Basilan.

When news broke of kidnappings in Palawan by the Abu Sayyaf group last May 28th, the military and the media mobilized almost at the same time.

When a firefight erupted in Basilan on the first of June, I was with a group of colleagues that took the first boat there.

The next morning we heard reports that the bandits were already in the town center of Lamitan with their hostages.

"There are two wounded over there."

We stopped at a small hospital in Isabela town to see the first casualties. Among them retired army colonel Fernando Bajet, (see note below)  a Lamitan resident and a newly elected councilman. He and his neighbors engaged the Abu Sayyaf in a gunbattle just that morning.

"Sir, you can make it!"

Colonel Bajet was fast losing blood. The hospital's blood supply had run out.

"Type A"

"Do you have any blood here?"

"No, we have no stock." (Storyboard editor! There's only two fucking wounded!)

We went off road to avoid the checkpoints of the military that tried to block the entry of civilians and the media .

"We can't get to Lamitan. We're being held at a checkpoint."

"If we keep going, we'll get shot."

"Who said that?"

"The military."

My companions were veterans of covering previous Abu Sayyaf kidnappings. Journalists like

Aaron Favila of the Associated Press

Denny Sabana of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and

AndomGahad of the John'sHad press. [???]

Our reunions take place during crisis situations like this.

When we arrived in Lamitan we found many spectators milling about.

Eric de Castro of Reuters was the only journalist already here when the firefight started

"I was in my room when something exploded on the roof."

"Did you shoot any pictures?

"Just a few. I got scared."

"I thought you were brave!"

"I'm not brave. I ran downstairs!"

We were wondering why it was so quiet, when government tanks called Cimbas prepared to charge.

"May you live long."

"Thank you."

"This is for the country."

"Don't cross the street!"

We didn't know where all the bullets were coming from. But we could hear them ricochet all around us.

"Where are the snipers?"

"Up in the trees."

"Are we in the line of fire?


Howie Severino Reporting...The military and Abu Sayyaf are exchanging gunfire. Snipers in the trees are firing this way.

"We were pinned down beneath a bus stop roof for about 15 minutes."

"We can crawl out of here, one by one."

"Let's get out of here!"

"We're going to die just getting footage. Let's get out!"

"Nobody cross yet!"

"My knees were shaking. but I still managed to cross the line of fire."

"I took cover behind a wall, together with some soldiers and civilians."

Reporting: I'm behind a cement wall, but shrapnel is ricocheting all over.

I remember that this was how Willy Vicoy died.

He got hit by shrapnel, like that.

"That came from a tank."

I found out that Abu Sayyaf snipers were positioned in a church tower, near the hospital where the hostages were being kept..

Snipers were also atop a water tower and in tree tops. The bus stop where we were pinned down, was visible from the church tower.

The night before, an unsuspecting company of army Scout Rangers arriving in a truck, were ambushed by the bandits.

This Scout Ranger's buddy was killed right next to him.

"His wife is giving birth."

"Any day now?"

"This month."

In other countries, military authorities would have been careful about risking the safety of civilians, which is why specialized commandos would be sent to rescue hostages. But the tactics of the military here seem to be to keep attacking the bandits position, in the hope that some hostages would escape in the confusion. This is how a few hostages were able to get out. But even more civilians were hurt, and homes were destroyed.

The electricity was shut off in Lamitan, so evacuees waited anxiously in the dark.

"Our house got hit by a rocket from a helicopter."

"My brother was wounded here."


NoteBahid, Bajeh, Bajet,

June 4, 2001, Inquirer News Service, [posted on 6/3, at 10:42 PM (Manila Time)] Abus escape cordon, by Julie Alipala-Inot, Jonathan F. Ma and Carlito Pablo,
Some of those killed have been identified as Lt. Col. Fernando Bahid,

June 7, 2001, Inquirer, published p.A12, P5M for retired colonel,
Retired Col. Fernando Bajeh, a former executive officer of the 103rd Brigade, will receive the reward for killing Yusup Ladjal in a firefight in Lamitan, Basilan.
they finally settle on Bajet
June 7, 2001, Philippine Headline News, GMA Turns Over P1-M to Widow of Retired Colonel Who Killed Bandit,
Retired Lt. Col. Fernando Bajet 

June 8, 2001, The Philippine Star, Government mulls arming civilians in Basilan, by Marichu Villanueva, retired Army Lt. Col. Fernando Bajet, who was killed last Saturday
The P1 million was Bajet's reward for killing Abu Sayyaf commander Yusop Jalal

June 8, 2001, Philippine Headline News, Guns for Mindanao Civilians Eyed, retired Army Lt. Col. Fernando Bajet, who was killed last Saturday
even the Inquirer gets on board, but we know from this video that Bajet was wounded at the beginning pf the day--not after 5:30 PM
June 2, 2003, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Part 1, Lamitan 'hospital of horror' still haunts AFP, by John Nery,

At about 5:30 p.m., the group left the hospital through a narrow back gate; the bandits' arms were lowered. To the 11 Dos Palmas hostages, four new ones from the hospital were added. One of them was head nurse Ediborah Yap.

Outside the compound, the group was suddenly fired upon by a small band of policemen and civilian volunteers. In the gunfight, two hostages were wounded and left behind. The chief of the civilian volunteers, retired Col. Fernando Bajet, was killed.
But did he die, and the money went to his widow? Or did he cry out like Susan Hayward in "I Want to Live!"?
June 5, 2001 - At least 16 soldiers are reported killed and 44 others wounded during a firefight between government troops and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Mount Sinangkapan in Tuburan town. President Arroyo promises P5 million to the family of retired Col. Fernando Bajet for killing ASG chieftain Abu Sulayman alias Kumander Yusuf, last June 2.

June 7, 2001 -President Arroyo awards P1 million to the widow of slain retired Col. Fernando Bajet.

A running list of media in Lamitan for the siege.
Is this how you spell Pill-i-pino?

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