FVR grieves over 44 fallen SAF troopers

By Ben Cal

MANILA, Jan. 28 (PNA) — Former President Fidel V. Ramos on Wednesday grieved over the needless killing of 44 young police commandos during an 11-hour gun battle with combined forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Sunday.

To win peace, Ramos said it is also important to seek the advice of knowledgeable, experienced and battle-hardened retired military and police officers who were assigned in Mindanao before.

Ramos, former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) before becoming defense secretary, said the debacle at Mamasapano, Maguindanao “is more than enough cause for national mourning on the needless death of so many young law enforcers.”

In a statement entitled, “Not the way to win peace agreements,” Ramos quoted a passage on the Bible: “And if anyone asks, ‘What are those wounds on your chest,’ the answer will be, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends’….” – Zachariah 13:6.”

Ramos, who was the chief of the Philippine Constabulary at the height of the Mindanao war waged by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the ’70s and ’80s, has full grasp of volatile situation in Mindanao.

The MILF, together with the renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), has owned the killing of the 44 members of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the wounding of 12 others, after the lawmen entered into MILF “territory” allegedly without coordinating with them.

Coincidentally, it was Ramos who formed the SAF during his time as PC chief and head of the Integrated National Police (INP) in concurrent capacity.

“The intended mission of the SAF contingent was to capture Malaysian Zulkifli Abdul Hir (aka Marwan) and Filipino Basit Usman, both notorious terrorists. Ironically, it has not been confirmed if these wanted criminals were fully accounted for,” Ramos pointed out.

The former President added: “Until a proper official investigation is completed, we won’t know for sure the real causes of this terrible tragedy befalling our PNP – which caused such irreparable loss on the part of the grieving families of many victims.”

Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II has formed a fact-finding body to look into the killings which many described as Maguindanao Massacre Part 2, referring to the massacre of 58 innocent civilians, including 32 journalists, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009.

Ramos, who is known by his initials as FVR, said the killing of the SAF troopers could be a result of possible factors such as inadequate confidence-building measures among stakeholders; poor or lack of coordination; faulty written SOPs and rules of engagement; slipshod monitoring of the existing “ceasefire;” poor unit troop leadership; and poor tactical intelligence; among others.

SAF Fatalities Equal To The Bautista Murders

Ramos compared the killing of the PNP-SAF troopers as “equal to the 43 officers and men murdered in the infamous Patikul massacre which included Philippine Army (PA) 1st (Tabak) Division Commander Brig. Gen. Teodulfo Bautista.” Patikul is a town of Sulu.

“The Patikul happening was not even a field encounter but the premeditated murder of AFP personnel while talking peace with MNLF rebel commander Usman Sali.”

He quoted a portion of a book, “FVR Through the Years,” written by this writer.

“Reported Ben Cal, senior reporter of the Philippine News Agency (10 October 1977) who wrote that: “PC Chief MGen. FVR is a lucky guy. He could have been one of the 43 military personnel massacred by Muslim rebels had he accepted an invitation by BGen. Bautista to join him in Patikul, Sulu for a dialogue with Usman Sali.

“However, since Ramos was going on his own mission to inspect PC Camp Andres in Luuk in another part of Sulu, he politely declined Bautista’s invitation. That saved his life because Bautista with 42 of his officers and men were mercilessly mowed down by Sali’s group. Only one soldier survived the treacherous massacre – PFC Oliver Calzada, Bautista’s radioman.”

Sincere in his desire to help end the Mindanao conflict, Bautista was confident of the outcome of his ‘peace conference’ with Usman Sali. Having befriended the terrorist leader during two previous meetings, Bautista felt certain he had gained Sali’s confidence.

Continues Ben Cal: “While Bautista and his men were proceeding to Patikul, Ramos and group took off aboard two PAF choppers en route to Luuk.

“Arriving at Patikul, PFC Calzada sensed an eerie atmosphere. Soon, Sali appeared and smiled at Bautista. The Army General returned the smile with a handshake to start the peace accord he thought would take place.

“From nowhere, as if to signal the coming of the Devil himself, gunfire shattered the air. About 150 of Sali’s men, as if possessed by demons, simultaneously fired their guns at the helpless Army troopers who fell like logs.”

So sudden was the attack that Bautista and his men failed to fire even a single shot. Calzada did not have the time to radio for help as a bullet pierced his right leg. The terrorists stripped the fallen soldiers of everything they had, their guns, wristwatches, combat shoes and other personal belongings. When Army reinforcements arrived, the massacre and lootings were over.

“It was past three o’clock in the afternoon when Ramos – then still in Kalingalang Kaluang town near Luuk – was informed through radio that Bautista and more than 40 of his men were massacred by the Usman Sali group.”

Grieving, General Ramos flew directly to Jolo, arriving there without delay. He immediately arranged for the recovery of the victims, and sent reports to higher headquarters, including Deputy Minister of National Defense Carmelo Barbero who was then in Zamboanga City.

“As the senior AFP officer present in Jolo at that time, Ramos ordered the launching of a full-scale operation to pursue the treacherous Sali and his men.”

The 43 PNP-SAF KIA were also more than one-third of the total number (114) of the fatalities of the five Battalion Combat Teams (BCTs) of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (who has been subjected to massive artillery and human wave attacks by Communist North Koreans and Chinese People’s Volunteers over the five-year period 1950-1955), Ramos said as member of the famed 20th Battalion Combat Team sent to Korea during the Korean war.

During his six-year term as President from 1992-98, Ramos stressed the importance of the following:

Confidence-Building Measures Between Government And MILF

Immediately after the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the MNLF on 02 September 1996, FVR tasked then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres to meet with MILF Vice-Chair for Political Affairs Ghazali Jaafar in Cagayan de Oro City to start peace negotiations with the MILF which splintered from the mainstream MNLF in 1994.

Within a week (on 10 September 1996), Torres and Jaafar concluded an agreement for a Joint Committee of 12 members each to prepare ground rules for a ceasefire, generate a favorable atmosphere for the talks, and identify the main concerns for the formal agenda. Meantime, FVR designated Ambassador Fortunato Abat (LtGen, AFP ret) as GRP Panel Chair to work with his MILF counterpart.

On 18 July 1997 in Cagayan de Oro City, the Government and MILF Panels signed the “Agreement for General Cessation of Hostilities” (in effect, a ceasefire that was to last for 30 precious months) up to late April 2000. On 06 February 1998, the “Agreement to Sustain the Quest for Peace” was forged in Marawi City by the Chairpersons of the Technical Committee (ASec Jovenal Lazaga and MILF-Shiekh Moner Bajunaid) and the Sub-Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (MGen Joselin Nazareno and MILF-Atty. Omar Umpar), attested by GRP Panel Chair Orlando Soriano and MILF Panel Chair Aleem Abdulazis Mimbantas. Both parties agreed on the:

(1) complete repositioning of GRP forces in Buldon, Maguindanao;

(2) immediate resolution of watershed issues involving the Upper Minabay-Banganan-Ambal Rivers;

(3) suspension of logging operations of the Cotabato Timber Company and nearby concessionaires; and

(4) formation of Quick Response Teams (QRT).

Ceasefire/Peace Dividends

The persevering efforts of both Panels resulted in the significant reduction of hostilities and, consequently, fatalities/injuries/dislocations/ collateral damage throughout Mindanao.

The 30 months of much-appreciated peaceful coexistence spurred the blossoming of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

Upon the assumption of Soriano (former CG, PA, then Head, National Irrigation Administration), as GRP Panel Chair to replace Ambassador Fortunato Abat (who was designated Secretary of National Defense), community development started in earnest in MILF strongholds at the Maguindanao-Lanao Sur-North Cotabato tri-border.

To our pleasant surprise, Gen. Soriano asked clearance soon thereafter to undertake three projects within the NIA’s capability to complete: (1) installation of a potable water system for Camp Abubakar using solar-power; (2) irrigation of 2,500 hectares of farmland around Camp Abubakar thru connections to the Malmar Irrigation System (then already 90% finished); and (3) concreting the 15-km. barangay road to Camp Abubakar from the main highway between Cotabato City and Malabang.

To these three projects initially requested by MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat (which were considered to be valuable confidence-building measures), FVR gave his quick approval.

The entry of AFP Engineers to do development work within MILF enclaves – with the acquiescence of MILF leaders, while AFP/PNP units maintained control of the surrounding areas – resembled the “Trojan Horse” situation in classic military strategy, thereby improving the chances of success towards final agreement.

Indeed, this was the non-violent breakthrough both sides were hoping for.

FVR said “lessons should have been learned,” and that all stakeholders should work doubly hard to pursue achieving enduring peace and sustained development in Mindanao. (PNA)