ELLEN TORDESILLAS reports for ABSCBN NEWS on the meeting between Senator Rodolfo Biazon (Chairman of the powerful Senate National Defense Committee) and his detained colleague, Senator Antonio Trillanes, who has apparently been receiving information from active-duty officers and men and is seeking to participate in upcoming Committee hearings to fight for their cause. She reveals the deadly common thread between the Abu Sayyaf outrages in 2001 (Dos Palmas, the Lamitan Siege, the ordeal of Martin and Gracia Burnham) and the Tipo tipo Basilan Beheadings of July 10, 2007 that may have been the gist of the meeting with Sen. Biazon...
Akbar and the Ghost of the Lamitan Siege by Ellen Tordesillas
Coming from a meeting with detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, said there's a lot of similarities of the deadly incidents that happened in Lamitan on June 2, 2001 and in Tipo-Tipo last July 10, both in the province of Basilan.
Last Saturday's hostilities also in Basilan remind us of the Lamitan siege because the five officers who perished during the assault to take the Abu Sayyaf camp in Ungkaya Pukan were part of a Reconnaissance Class. They were on a test mission that is a prerequisite before graduation. In Lamitan, Scout Ranger Class 142-2000 under Course Director Capt. Ruben Guinolbay had just completed their test mission when ordered to prepare for deployment to the Southern Command area of responsibility.
In fact one of the recommendations that came out of the Lamitan debacle was to "desist from employing units which are not 100 percent combat ready."
But the commander on the ground knows better. Last Saturday's incident was a "legitimate encounter," a Marines officer said. The Task Force commander is Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, who is highly respected and trusted by the Marines.
"It was very hard to get the element of surprise because the enemies are everywhere. Politicians give info to enemies," the officer said by way of explaining the 15 fatalities on the military side (as against 30 to 40 on the Abu Sayyaf side).
The 2001 Lamitan siege had more similarities to the July 10 Al-barka (formerly Tipo-Tipo) encounter with elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in terms of lapses. Fourteen Marines were killed, ten of them later beheaded and mutilated, in last month's tragedy that had spawned the ongoing hostilities not only in Basilan but also in Sulu.
We were reviewing the After Battle report on the Lamitan encounter, which involved the rescue of hostages from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan and resulted in the death of four soldiers, and indeed there were eerie similarities: ill equipped troops, faulty information, lack of coordination, etc.
But what struck us was the part, "Capt. Guinolbay also went about soliciting the help of every soldier and policemen he could find to help solve the problem by being deployed around the compound. It is worth mentioning that during the crisis, there were a lot of policemen and soldiers at the mayor's residence that were called upon by Cpt Guinolbay but didn't lift a finger. The governor of the province was also at the mayor's residence at that time but neither of the executives came out to help or at least look at what's happening outside."
The Lamitan mayor in 2001 was Inocente Ramos and the governor was Wahab Akbar, who is now the province's representative. Akbar's first wife succeeded him as Basilan's governor. His second wife is the mayor of Isabela town. Another wife lost in her mayoralty bid in another town.
Last July 31, Akbar delivered his "I am Basilan" speech in the House of Representatives lamenting the public's association of him with the ASG. He said, "Abu Sayyaf is now nowhere to be found. And I would like to request the media to refrain from mentioning the presence of Abu Sayyaf in my province, for there is no Abu Sayyaf now in my province."
What then were the 20 to 30 ASG that the military claimed were killed in last Saturday's operations?
The Magdalo, the group led by Trillanes, posted in their Web site a letter from a concerned citizen about the alarming proliferation of arms in Basilan. Part of the letter, written before May 2007 when Akbar was still governor, says: "Governor Wahab Akbar of the Province of Basilan was recently engaged in the massive illegal procurement of high-powered firearms and distributed the same to prospective assassins, known notorious killers, criminals and hoodlums, including possibly a number of the Abu Sayyaf Group in the different municipalities in Basilan, specifically the municipalities of: Tipo-Tipo, Al Barkah, Ungkaya Pukan, Sumisip, Maluso, Lantawan, Akbar, and Mohammad Ajul.
"The said armaments included four (4) units of 81mm mortars; four (4) units 90RRs (Recoilless Rifles) an anti-vehicle and anti-personnel use tubes; one (1) sniper rifle meant to assassinate Wahab's political opponents; and several hundreds of M16s (automatic assault rifles), M60 rifles (sub-machineguns) and M203s (grenade launchers)."
Akbar has a justification of his extensive arms collection in his privilege speech: "Let me insert the facts that Muslim attitude towards firearms borders on obsession. They love guns so much. To me, they even prefer guns over their children and wives, their crazy-like mentality towards guns is very difficult to eliminate. Mr. Speaker, my distinguished colleagues, could you imagine they can carry their firearms everywhere but it is hard for them to carry their children on their laps, they can afford to sleep without their wives beside them but not their guns on their side. Every morning they see to it that their guns are clean and ready but cannot afford to wipe away the dirty noses of their own children? That's how they love their guns and guns, to them, are an extension of their manhood. Any action that would mean to remove their guns from them, to them is an act of insult. Family feud is common so they are not only using their guns against the military but they also use it as their protection."
The one common thread of Lamitan 2001, and Tipo-Tipo July 10 and Aug. 18, 2007 is Wahab Akbar. With his firepower, it's a deadly thread.