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Belmont Club

Wild, wild east

November 24th, 2009 - 8:15 pm

The recent election-related murders in the Philippines are nothing new.  Some 24 people were massacred on a road, including 12 reporters. The victims were associated with one political clan and the suspected perpetrators are associated with another. That will surprise no one.

Back in the day I remember visiting the city of Jolo in sulu after it had been burned to the ground by fighting between the Mayor and the Vice Governor of the Province.  About a square mile was totally incinerated down to the foundations. Nor was it an isolated incent, While in Sulu on another occasion, I got a report of a murder of one mayor by another mayor in the process of a reconciliation meeting. The murdered party was asked to bury the hatchet and when they debarked on the pier, two M1919 .30 caliber machine guns were waiting in a crossfire to greet them. The surviving warlord looted the bodies as they were still twitching in death.

It was not hard to believe. Life was cheap.  Rebels would kidnap road workers for $50 ransom. You’d see their wives collecting money in tin cans to get their husbands out of captivity. I met the aged Father Blanco when he had just escaped from the Abu Sayaf. The old Spanish priest had waited until his captors drank more than the usual and then asked permission to answer the call of nature in the perimeter. He then ran for all he was worth until dawn when he reached an Army roadblock. Pretty wiry guy for a seventy something person. He could probably walk most people half his age into the ground.

Then there was the time when Herminio Montebon, who was the Mayor of Isabela City, told me about the attack on Christmas Eve on the market by 300 armed men. He was attending an office Christmas party when someone rushed in to say he had intelligence that a battalion minus force of rebels would hit the town in about an hour. Montebon rushed to the Army Camp and got to the market with a company of troops and two V-150 armored cars. Montebon hoped to forestall the attack but he was too late. When they got to the market  all hell broke loose. He distinctly remembers the thud of the Ma Deuce in the turret of the V-150 he was in as its slugs ripped through the thin stall walls in the market.

Merry Christmas and welcome to Basilan. But violence isn’t confined to Mindanao. One of the most celebrated massacres occurred in Nothern Luzon.

This involved the burning of two whole towns (Ora Este and Ora Centro)  in the Ilocos on May 22, 1970 by Bingbong Crisologo in a case that is now wholly forgotten. The Crisologo family was feuding with the Singsons and, well, things got hot. Crisologo is now a preacher and a successful politician, proof that memory is short in the Philippines. The incident affected the parish priest, who subsequently went and become a famous Communist guerilla commander. Then he became a Trappist monk and my spiritual adviser. He is now a well known monk. I never met Crisologo personally but saw him occasionally over a prison fence where he led the Sampaguita Rehabilitation Center band. It was a treat to see him and his band, all in orange jumpsuits playing away on the electric guitar. Don’t think that the Thriller Video from Cebu city is a novelty.  The Filipino penitentiary is a musical place.

And of course there was the burning of Ipil in Zamboanga del Sur. Ipil was probably the second largest town in the province. It was completely torched by the Abu Sayaf in their maiden outrage. They came out in style. Some of my friends were in Ipil when it was attacked. One friend, whose initials are “BB” took over the radio station and broadcast a Mayday, which was funny when you consider that Ipil was not far from an Army base which never mobilized in time to intervene.  His heroic initiative was in vain, but he was a quality guy. At any rate, the Abu Sayaf spent the afternoon burning people alive, blowing open all the bank vaults and generally murdering and pillaging.

And so it was (and I’ve related this story before) that I was somewhat amused to hear my seatmate on the plane, a doctor from Medicins Sans Frontiere, confidently declare to me that he would be protected by humanitarian law when he reached Jolo.  I told him if he went much beyond town he’d be kidnapped before he could say Jacques Robinson, which he was. You really have to be well educated to believe that stuff about the “religion of peace”.  Both the victims and the suspects of the latest massacre reported in the New York Times are from Muslim warlord families.  If you’re ignorant, you’ll probably know that human folly and malice is confined to no religion. Man is a beast when he isn’t an angel.

As to Maguindanao, I’ve only been a couple of times, and that with an escort of armed men in whom I reposed scant confidence; their rifles being dirty and ready ammunition meager.  In fact, we were probably better off without them. But heck they had to earn a living as “security escorts”. It’s not always peaceful in them parts, but it’s always interesting.


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