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AFP chief gives green light for Basilan offensive

by AJLPP-USA Tuesday, Jul. 24, 2007 at 1:12 PM 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. issued an order yesterday to the troops currently on standby in Basilan to commence military operations in the island province. “It’s all systems go. The units can now start punitive actions against the perpetrators. The orders have been given,” said AFP Public Information Office (PIO) chief Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro, referring to military actions against those behind the beheading of the 10 Marines during the July 10 ambush in Tipo-Tipo. Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, deputy chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), was designated to head the newly formed Task Force Meteor aimed at capturing the group responsible for the ambush.

AFP chief gives green light for Basilan offensive

By Jaime Laude

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Manila---Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. issued an order yesterday to the troops currently on standby in Basilan to commence military operations in the island province.

“It’s all systems go. The units can now start punitive actions against the perpetrators. The orders have been given,” said AFP Public Information Office (PIO) chief Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro, referring to military actions against those behind the beheading of the 10 Marines during the July 10 ambush in Tipo-Tipo.

Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, deputy chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), was designated to head the newly formed Task Force Meteor aimed at capturing the group responsible for the ambush.

Esperon’s directive was issued shortly before he attended the opening of the 14th Congress at the Batasan Pambansa complex in Quezon City where President Arroyo delivered her State Of the Nation Address (SONA).

Bacarro said the directive gave ground commanders a free hand to launch intelligence-driven attacks as they see fit.

“The instruction is to run after the perpetrators so the operational commanders would have a free hand on whatever punitive actions they would undertake,” Bacarro said.

At least 5,000 ground troops from four Marine battalions are now on the island waiting for the order to strike.

Aside from these ground troops, military air assets composed of M520 and UH-1H attack helicopters and OV-10 Bronco bombers based at the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) have been tapped to provide air support to the impending ground offensive.

“We are now doing detailed preparations. Punitive operations can start (any moment now). It will be the call of the operational commanders,” Bacarro stressed.

On the possible spillover of violence outside the theater of conflict, Bacarro said that the military would only run after those responsible for the barbaric acts committed against the Marines.


The government, however, is undaunted over threats of the MILF that it would abandon the peace process altogether if it (government) will not call off military operations in Basilan.

“If the MILF will go against the peace process, so be it,” National Security Adviser (NSA) and acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales declared over the weekend.

But Gonzales was quick to explain that the military operation in Basilan is not intended to target the MILF as an organization, but is only against the perpetrators behind the beheading of the 10 Marines following the ambush in Tipo-Tipo on July 10.

He also assured that the government, in approving the launching of punitive actions in Basilan, is not abandoning the peace process.

The MILF was earlier asked to surrender the men behind the carnage, but they have continuously denied the request. They have also declared their readiness to die to the last man if attacked.

“No self-respecting nation will simply allow its soldiers to be beheaded without imposing the corresponding punishment against the perpetrators,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said the MILF had conducted its own investigation regarding the incident, and have already identified the perpetrators of the crime.

There were even reports that an influential politician in Basilan orchestrated the Tipo-Tipo ambush but the military said such information is still subject to validation.

He said that military punitive actions in Basilan could still be withdrawn if they (MILF) will surrender their men to government authorities.

The government also warned yesterday that troops were ready to crush any Muslim guerrilla attacks in the southern Philippines after the rebels defied a military ultimatum to surrender the killers of the 14 marines.

The MILF said any government attack on its forces on Basilan could cause fighting to spread elsewhere in the south, where a shaky ceasefire has held since 2003.

Mohaguer Iqbal, the MILF’s chief negotiator, was quoted by the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corp. (NDBC) as saying it is very likely that their supporters will launch “sympathy attacks” in other parts of Mindanao once fighting erupts in Basilan.

“If they will continue to bully us, a full-blown war is likely to happen,” Iqbal told NDBC.

“The Marines have cordoned off our positions and anytime fighting may start. Our fighters may be forced to fire their guns once they enter MILF territories in the province,” Iqbal added.

MILF’s spokesman Eid Kabalu said their forces in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, led by Abdullah Macapaar, are ready to launch counter-offensives in the two provinces. He added that the posturing for possible engagement by Macapaar’s group is in response to the unusual position of Army units near MILF strongholds in the two Lanao provinces.

Gonzales said the government is pursuing the perpetrators of the ambush and does not intend to launch an all-out-war against the MILF.

“We will look for them and find them and get them if the MILF will not surrender them to us,” Gonzales told ABS-CBN television.

He said he was undeterred by a threat that the fighting could spill over to other parts of the region: “We are deployed all over Mindanao as well. We will do the necessary action.”

The rebels warned on their Website that “hell could let loose anytime…” after the military deadline expired Sunday.

“It’s tense all over,” Kabalu said, accusing the military of moving forces close to rebel camps on Basilan and other parts of the Mindanao region in the last few days.

“Our forces are only waiting for any action from the military’s part, and they would also move,” he said. “They are purely in defensive mode.”

The island’s marine commander, Col. Ramiro Alivio, said troops so far have been carrying out intelligence operations. He did not elaborate.

The MILF, which has been engaged in Malaysian-brokered peace talks on ending the three decades of the separatist insurgency, acknowledged its forces attacked the Marines, but accused them of entering rebel territory without coordination.

It denied beheading the 10 Marines and called for an investigation by Malaysian-led ceasefire monitors.

Even if an investigation found that some guerrillas were responsible, Kabalu said the rebels were not required to hand over suspects to the military and would deal with the violators themselves.

Prayer power

Residents in Marawi City fear that the punitive action against the MILF might escalate into a full-blown war similar to the “all-out-war” of 2000 in Mindanao.

In a prayer rally held Sunday, cause-oriented and multi-sectoral groups called on the government to first investigate the death of the soldiers before declaring an “all-out-war” that might affect peace in Mindanao.

Dr. Safrullah Dipatuan, vice chairman of the Government of the Philippines-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GRP-MILF) Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), said the government’s offensive would scuttle the ongoing peace process.

“There must be an independent investigation or government must first look into the killing of Imam Matarul of Basilan and those responsible for the death and beheading of the Marines before making an offensive,” Dipatuan said.

“We do not want a repeat of the 2000 ‘all-out-war’ against the MILF in Mindanao where residents in Lanao were displaced. It is the civilians who will be displaced if there is an armed conflict.” – Roel Pareño, John Unson, Edith Regalado, Lino dela Cruz, AP

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