WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Small and Terrible. By Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 Dec) — “It only takes two or three outsiders to make trouble,” mused Uttoh Salem Cutan, former Executive Director of the defunct Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), in an interview with this writer last 06 December 2008. He was getting ready to explain what he viewed as the greatest threat to the peace and stability of the MNLF communities.

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His statement, however, could very well apply to any other community. With the technological advancement in weaponry, it does take only a few persons to wreak major havoc. Anyone seriously considering solutions to ending the insurgency wars has to factor in the fact that numbers don’t count as much any more.

Over the years, technological innovations have exponentially increased the lethality of the battlefield such that, according to security analyst Dencio Acop, the AFP may now very well be confronting enemies that are actually better equipped than our soldiers. As our foot-weary Mindanao troops can attest, the lack of numbers counts in the favor of these highly mobile rebel assault teams, be they ASG, LMG, or – to round off the 3-letter acronyms most favored by the military establishment – CTM. These rebel forces are a lot harder to locate and pursuing troops find it almost next to impossible to catch up with them and bring them to justice.

(That might give pause to those who think that the impending MILF fragmentation would be a good thing for when the talks do break down and war needs to be fought in earnest again. We might find bite-size pieces that hit and run a lot harder to chew. Think Kato. Think Bravo. Oh, alright – think bin Laden. It’s no secret that bigger targets are easier to hit. Think World Trade Center. Think Pacquiao.)

Meanwhile, our men come home in caskets courtesy of well-placed ambush landmines that, despite the 1997 Ottawa Convention prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel mines, are being used against government troops. (Forgive me for bringing that up. You’re right. We shouldn’t expect people who have been called terrorists to subscribe to international treaties.)

As numbers go, we may have more soldiers but they seem to have less bullets. So it’s no surprise when our men get abducted after they run out of ammunition during a firefight. But such twists of fate are in the cards for any of our soldiers. When stuff like that happens, the rest of us shrug it off.

Those who care enough for abducted soldiers end up quarreling with the AFP’s no-negotiation policy. Negotiating for the release of the homesick soldier is best left to Loren Legarda (think Obillo, Montealto and Buan) and Digong Duterte (think Manero and maybe Cammayo) who, by negotiating with the forces that be, lend legitimacy to the reason ostensibly claimed by the abductors for the abduction. What’s in store for soldiers who return from abduction that way? Would it be something they’d spend the rest of their lives thanking Legarda and Duterte for?

In any case, until they hit a well-placed ambush landmine or are abducted after they’d run out of ammunition during a firefight, credit our gallant men for trying. This year, for example, our troops have claimed several enemy camps in the forested areas of Compostela Valley, Surigao, and Bukidnon. The last, to my knowledge, was the one found early last week in New Bataan, Compostela Valley by elements of the Philippine Army’s 1001st Brigade. According to the 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, this camp is believed to have been “intended as a convergence point by rebels prior to their offensive on soft targets in commemoration of the founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines” on 26 December.

(Gag! – I wonder if the spokesperson paused for breath anywhere while feeding that line. What’s a soft target? Sir, please speak English. The message doesn’t get through when the reader doesn’t speak the jargon. I’m sure that was something important you wanted to convey with that statement. My sorrow — no comprendo.)

Many of these rebel camps were actually taken over by government troops without a firefight. That’s because the camps were found abandoned. Gee, I did say “highly mobile” earlier, didn’t I? See, one doesn’t have to stay in place any more to operate in a particular area. Unlike, say, the 1001st IB and the 10th ID that need to be housed in camps, rebel troops seem to have ceased to view camps as territorial investments that have to be protected for the armaments housed there. The weapons of destruction now come in pick-up-and-go sizes.

True enough, many of these camps were too small to be considered a prize worth taking and gloating over. At most, these camps could accommodate thirty people. Case in point is that rebel camp found by the 1001st IB troops on 08 December in Sitio Taytayan, Barangay Andap, New Bataan. Evidently, it did not even have enough manpower to decamp with the television set (PhP1,200), generators (PhP20,000) and supplies for making improvised explosive devices (PhP10,000?). These, along with the requisite educational documents (P2,000), ended up as balato (giveaways – like on Wowowee).

The television set is a puzzle though. Without the videocam that could go with it, we could only surmise about the nature of the guerilla filmmaking they were undertaking. Without the VCR and the tapes that would tell us what they were using the TV for, we have to rethink our image of the communist rebel. He can’t be watching Willy Revillame at noon. He can’t be glued to the TV screen while texting Deal or No Deal for a chance to be the lucky home partner.

Or can he now?

It has become a force of habit for many of us to evaluate how the insurgency war is going by factoring in the numbers. These days, however, it’s dangerous to assume that a sizeable decimation in number of rebel troops would mean a corresponding decrease in the havoc that their landmines and abductions could create. As Cutan said, “It only takes two or three outsiders” to the community to make trouble there and send our foot-weary troops on a wild goose chase all over the battle-scarred landscape.

User-friendly technology compensates for lack of extensive training on the part of the user. At least, where wreaking mayhem is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether the targets come as softened, hardened, or none of the above. They all add up to the same thing: There they go round the upland banana patch.

Just last week, I was asked for an estimate of the number of NPA troops operating in Comval. Well, gee, that’s a hard question as some of those who find it convenient to go by the name NPA may not necessarily be NPA. A true revolutionary for the people would not do extortion, banditry, brigandage, or just crass, out-and-out highway robbery. KH. As in “Que horror.”

Unless, that behavioral prescription is something we all have to rethink also. Maybe the true revolutionary has gone the way of the gentleman while I was not looking.

So anyway, I was asked how many they are.

Really, now. How could I know exactly? But reckoning from the rebels’ audacity at maneuvering to get the military to halt its sustained offensives in Comval, I can only estimate that there must be enough of them there to keep our troops hopping. Two or three, at least.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to
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