Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday, April 7, 1995, Manila Standard, page 9, Opinion, Lessons from the raid on Ipil, by Amante E. Bigornia,

The bold and barbaric attack on the coastal town of Ipil in Zamboanga del Sur last Tuesday, which razed the town's entire government and commercial center and left 45 dead and 43 injured, raises questions about the government's policies and strategies on the containment or solution of the carious insurgent movements plaguing the country.

From reports, the assault, conducted in broad daylight, in fact at high noon, was remarkable, even fascinating. From the Mindanao mainland, Sulu and Basilan, the raiders converged on the town in obviously well-coordinated movements, catching everyone---including the local police and military garrison---by surprise.

Systematically, the raiders put the entire center of the town to the torch, robbed banks and commercial establishments and shot at people who stood on their way indiscriminately. In a matter of minutes, they finished their grisly mission, receiving only almost token resistance from the government forces, and left the smoldering town.

It would seem, from the reports, that the raiders took the same routes they used in approaching their target, those who came by boat from the neighboring islands of Basilan and Sulu sailing in the same seacraft that brought them to Ipil and those from the surrounding hills taking the same trails.

It was a well-planned operation any invading army would have been proud of, every detail and movement evidently considered and timed. Their communications systems apparently worked efficiently; no aspect of the assault suffered delays.

There were no reports of raider casualties. No prisoners taken, not even identified. The efficient way the operation was carried out indicated there was a force waiting within the town before the attack, a "Fourth Column" as the great writer Ernest Hemingway put it during the Spanish civil war in the 1030's.

The government authorities surmised it was a joint operation by two break-away factions of the Muslim secessionist Moro National Liberation Front--the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Muslim fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf. The mainstream MNLF denied participation and its chairman, Nur Misuari, denounced the raid.

What was curious was that the invaders by water were not spotted even in broad daylight. Their seacraft are not fast and the distances from Basilan and Sulu are not exactly short. Equally amazing was that there seemed to have been no hot pursuit; the raiders evidently returned to their bases in Sulu and Basilan without anybody being the wiser.

All these assumptions point to certain possible flaws in the government's policies and strategies for containing the secessionist movement in the southern part of the country. For one, there is the policy on responsibility for the conduct of operations in areas where there is insurgency.

Under the law creating the Philippine National Police, the agency would take over counter-insurgency responsibility from the military within two years of the operation of the PNP law. After the prescribed period, it was found that the PNP was not capable of conducting operations against the various insurgencies all by itself.

The period was then extended to another two years. In the meantime, as an area became stabilized, the police were supposed to take over the responsibility of dealing with the insurgency there.

But in areas where the insurgency threat was still strong, the military was to retain responsibility, with the PNP taking a supportive role. These places included such provinces as Zamboanga del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The ease with which the raiders entered, torched and left the town of Ipil indicates the possibility of loose coordination between the military and the police. If there was a Fourth Column in Ipil at the time of the raid, the town police would have been in a better position to be aware of it than the military, the police officers being mostly natives of the place, while the military are strangers to the area.

The military force in Ipil had the better combat training and equipment but the police must have had better intelligence networks. Such facilities were evidently not used properly, else there would have at least been one rebel dead or captured from whom information could be extracted.

There was no doubt that the police and the military fought bravely. Seven policemen and four soldiers were killed. But it is doubtful that they fought in coordination with each other under a predetermined plan of defense or action.

If true, what was or were the reasons for it? Did they not exchange information and plan together like the raiders from vastly separated hideouts? Although they, the police and the military were within spitting distance from each other, were their communications facilities inferior to those of the raiders? Or did they actually spit at each other?

We are told that in areas where there is a ceasefire because of the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the MNLF, the rebels and the police and the soldiers mix together perhaps even fraternize with each other. Is this a good policy?

Then there are speculations that the raids and kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF are partly to show their displeasure over their not being included in the peace process. They are, or were, part of the secessionist movement, and yet the government deals only with the MNLF.

Perhaps it is about time these policies and strategies are reexamined. The tragedy of Ipil cannot be allowed to b replicated in other parts of southern Mindanao.

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