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Belmont Club

Far Zamboanga

September 15th, 2013 - 3:46 pm

While everyone was fixated on Syria, no one was paying attention to the urban battle against Muslim rebels in Zamboanga City. “Philippine soldiers are closing in on a few dozen armed rebels whose group stormed the southern city of Zamboanga on Monday, forcing thousands to flee.” Nur Misuari (about whom you may read in the novel “No Way In” has made a bid to gain national attention and attract big bucks once again.

The army said about 50 rebels had been killed and 40 more captured during a week-long siege that has brought the city of one million to a standstill. The gunmen were reported to have taken about 100 civilians hostage, but most have now been freed, officials say. … Their presumed leader, 71-year-old guerrilla-turned-politician Nur Misuari, has said little since the siege began.

Analysts say he is angry because his faction of the once-powerful Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has been sidelined in government peace talks.

I’ve never actually spoken to Misuari but saw him several times. He attempted retake parts of Mindanao in the early 70s. As part of a peace deal Misuari and his outfit were essentially handed an autonomous region after Marcos was toppled (as a part of a comprehensive settlement) but he basically stole every penny in tax allotment and meanwhile rival “rebel groups” (like the strangely named MILF) sprang up because they wanted to be bought off too.

He gradually slipped into oblivion and so his bunch invaded Zamboanga City and are now locked in combat with — irony of ironies — another Aquino (Cory’s son) who is now President. It’s not a minor skirmish.

Foreign Policy notes that Zamboanga City is one of the places “where the drones are”. “The Philippine government reportedly allows the United States to fly unmanned surveillance drones to monitor militants from the al Qaeda-linked group Abu Sayyaf on the island Mindanao. The most active site is in Zamboanga, one of the locations where the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines is based. U.S. drones are said to have provided the location of prominent Abu Sayyaf militants that were subsequently killed in an air strike carried out by the Philippines Air Force in February 2012.”

US forces are not legally allowed to participate in combat. But that doesn’t mean they can’t help with the “nation building” stuff, like building outhouses.

Many of the troops in contact will have been trained by Americans, as in the case of this file photo.

It will astonish some to note that not every Catholic clergymen recoils at the sight of guns.

Naturally having an ongoing urban battle kinda puts a damper on scheduled airline flights. So passengers are flown out by C-130. Of course you can take the land route out through Ipil, which was burned once by the Abu Sayyaf or try catching a ship to Davao City. If you ever get up to Pasonanca Park, where the waterworks are, there’s a cemetery with Second War graves. Some of them are for Filipino West Point graduates who died fighting the Japanese. I guess Will Durant was right. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Man has been at daggers drawn with his neighbors since the world began. We should be grateful for what peace we have.

World events that don’t get processed through the Narrative often show a different universe. It does not always conform to the images shown on CNN or the BBC. The world isn’t really like that, at least not always. Of course things are proceeding as usual under the shadow of partisan politics, as this news report relates.

As if the politicking was not enough, further hampering the military operation to rescue the hostages was lack of food. Wives and parents of the soldiers complained to newsrooms over the weekend that they were fighting on empty stomachs. Reporters in Zamboanga attested that soldiers begged them for water, with some offering G.I.-ration cigarettes in exchange. Video footages showed how, during lulls in the shooting, fighting men would crowd corner stores to buy biscuits.

Such reports infuriate citizens nationwide. The troops’ meal shortage meant two things. The commanders were too dense to gauge that food was their one big advantage over the besieged abductors. Or, the Army had no money for logistics and supplies. Either way, citizens blamed it on the pork barrel scam, the target of protests for weeks. Had senators and congressmen not been pocketing billions of pesos in “pork” allocations, the military would have had more money to train officers and equip foot soldiers.

Recently a Marine general spoke his mind out on the “pork” issue. Soldiers are dying because, he said, the government has not addressed the social ills on which the communist and Moro insurgencies thrive. Lawmakers have stolen the funds for social development. The general was the wrong person to say it, and so was censured. But what he said is true: Greedy politicos are the root of the country’s woes.

You may wonder if it could really be true that troops in combat have to resort to buying Skyflakes crackers and Coca-cola from the nearby variety store. But it is assuredly possible in a place like the Philippines. It’s easy to imagine the store running out of crackers and the latecomers having to make do with popcorn snacks, and so on. Just as long as things don’t get so bad there’s nothing left in the store but that fermented Chinese fruit snack, champoy. No man should be asked to die for his country on a bellyful of champoy.

Readers of my novel may remember the incident in which the fictional high official uses the Medevac helicopters to play golf while the casualties die. Such things are indeed within the realm of possibility. One fellow I spoke to in Basilan said that one thing he couldn’t forget was the noncombat support once provided by the US to evacuate the wounded. For contrast he pointed out a tattered stretcher kept for casualty evacuation on the ferry.

“Once,” he said, “we had a wounded soldier and brought him to the ferry for transport to Zamboanga. But the ferry wouldn’t leave until it was full. So the guy bled there while we waited for the passengers to arrive.” As we were walking around Basilan the man pointed out a hardwood tree. “That’s what we call Filipino body armor”. “What is?” I asked. “The tree. That’s the body armor.” I guess politicians are much the same the world over.

Meanwhile the world keeps turning. Misuari has said he can’t remember ordering the attack and that the assault must have been somebody else’s idea. And of course the EU and the UN are at the forefront of indignation. “The United Nations and the European Union have called for an immediate end to hostilities between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in Zamboanga City, as the rising number of displaced residents and civilians killed in six days of fighting point to an emerging humanitarian crisis.” We are told that “the US Embassy also reiterated its support for the ongoing peace process and called on the government and Misuari-MNLF group to avoid further violence.” What does an “ongoing peace process” mean in this context? It’s not a word totally bereft of meaning but it probably doesn’t mean what the newsreaders think.

Photos are from the Philippine Defense Forum on Facebook.


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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Top Rated Comments   
"I guess Will Durant was right. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Man has been at daggers drawn with his neighbors since the world began. We should be grateful for what peace we have." - Wretchard

It always amazes me how after a few years of full bellies and relative safety and security, people forget about the nature of man and nations. I would think that anyone who remembered the WWII Battle of Manila and other atrocities experienced by Filipinos would demand a first rate defense over any social program. I would think self-preservation would keep at least a few politicians honest. It's not that the Japanese are Filipino's eternal enemies, but that enemies are always eternal.

America and the Philippines are joined at the hip, I suppose, but corrupt liberal socialists who can't wait to get theirs.

At my age and with my knowledge of history recent and history past, I'm one of those American's who has little hope for the future. The only thing that will convince the 51% now running America about the nature of the world and need for a strong America militarily, economically, and otherwise, over an America focused on gay rights, gun confiscation, and getting the last 1% of wealth out of the top 1%, is death and destruction. It'll take a lot of dead American's to change peoples attitudes, and even then, they'll be blaming George Bush, the Capitalists, and "global warming" producing industrialists for all the evil.

The Philippines was always such a beautiful place, with such a warm and engaging people, when I was last there almost 30 years ago. However, it was also a sad place as well, i.e. there was a tremendous sense of melancholy and fatalism among the people there. I don't know if anything has changed in the PI, but it has here in America, and none of it is good, i.e. America has become almost as sad a place as the PI, i.e. the same melancholy and hopelessness. American's feel that they have little control over their lives and their now quite capricious government.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The helicopter story was embellished, it being fiction. But it's fiction based on fact. The guys in the Philippine military are for the most part, poor people who are like rats on a treadmill.

The rebellions never come to a stop. Imagine, the same guys I actually had to do with are still the game thirty five plus years later. Can't these guys get a life? And as for peace negotiations, I wouldn't be surprised if both sides are still meeting in the same old hotels being served by the same old waiters dishing up the same old menu from three decades ago.

The fact is that for guys like Misuari this is the only game they know. Hostage taking, town-burning, school abduction, piracy, extortion and mayhem. The press calls them "Islamic insurgents", but they are no Holy Joes or Mohammeds. In fact a striking number of said insurgent leaders are reputedly gay. Don't ask me why, but the rumors swirled around even then.

About the most one can hope for in life is moments of comparative calm, when the hatreds and greeds burn low. Zamboanga is for the most part a calm Wild West type city, just as Ipil was the calmest of localities until the day it was torched to the ground.

Once you know how fleeting peace is, the less you take it for granted. I think the Western Liberal Left believe war is something that happens someplace else. But they only think that because they've lived in the shelter of the Pax Americana. Once that umbrella is removed, why should Milan be any different from Zamboanga?

The peace we have been bequeathed is precious beyond words. We shouldn't trade it off for a bunch of Obamaphones.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The only thing the private sector can't provide for is the Armed Forces."

There may be a literary opportunity to articulate such a story. Perhaps we may see a form of security governance in which the ostensible official government is merely one player among several. Corporations local and international along with other large institutions, civil and religious and tribal, could all contribute to the allocation of resources to social goods including disaster relief and physical security. In many countries the government does not exist at the behest of the inhabitants and does not depend on them for sustenance. The government exists to receive and distribute resources from NGOs and foreign aide and ultimately from the US taxpayer. There are other, often more efficient, agents competing for those same dollars.

We can expect China and others to foment disorder to prevent the unified resistance to aggression that we have talked about on other threads. The Philippines Vietnam India and others are all subject to disruption. So is China if any dares to remind her that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

This would be a splendid opportunity for the new government in Australia and Japan to cooperate in reequipping and assisting the Philippine military. As for America, well I know that most younger Americans have a hard time finding the place on a map, and most current Filipinos have been schooled to refer to the time when their grandparents were US citizens as "the colonial period" but in my heart I think that both sides find it hard to believe that we would not be there for them. Just as the English sometimes infuriate by assuming that Ireland is really more a part of their country than Scotland I consider the PI as more American than Canada, which persists in the delusion that they are another country. The Philippines certainly seem more American than the blue model counties that voted 110% for Obama.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (32)
All Comments   (32)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
The Philippines desperately needs its own shipyards so it can construct and maintain its own navy. Relying upon hand-me-downs may be better than nothing, but it is not much better than nothing. The Philippines is independent, so it should act independent. It shouldn't act like someone who prohibits his parents from visiting their grandchildren while expecting his parents to pay his rent.

The Philippines needs its own strategy and its own idea of what it wants. Vacillating between complacency and panic projects weakness, and so does hiding behind America's skirt. Would Filipinos rather be free or corrupt? If they prefer corruption, they will always be pawns of foreign powers that own their gilded cage. If they prefer freedom, they need to plan for their future.

It is much easier to ally with someone who pulls his weight than ally with someone who weighs his allies down. If the Philippines seeks to be strong, it will attract allies. If the Philippines seeks to be weak, it will attract predators.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
My squadron visited PI briefly in 2002. We were hosted by the Philippine air force on the former Clark AFB. The Philippine military folk were gracious and friendly, but the poverty outside our immediate area was mind blowing. I've never been able to take U.S. Dems' whining about poverty in the U.S. seriously, since. I was impressed when I saw an engine change in Philippine F-5, 4 guys created a cradle by interlocking their arms and carried the old engine away. All the groups mentioned above are familiar from our ATFP briefs, except we also were warned about the Nice People Around.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
From the Wall Street Journal

Philippines Looks to Revive U.S. Naval Base

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324665604579078833308333984.html?mod=ITP_pageone_3

"In 1991, after the Philippine Senate voted to close Subic Naval Base—then the largest American overseas military facility—an emotional Sen. Agapito Aquino summed up the popular mood. It was, he said, "the dawn of our nation's birth."

Tossing out the Americans from Subic and nearby Clark Air Base, he added, had ended the country's "crippling dependence" on its former colonial overlord.

Now, the Philippines wants American forces back in Subic to counter Chinese moves off the Philippine coast. Just west of Subic, Chinese ships have fenced off the Scarborough Shoal, one of the world's richest fishing grounds, which falls within the Philippines's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

This month, Manila also produced evidence that suggested China is preparing to build permanent structures on Scarborough, as it has done on other rocky outcrops in the South China Sea. "

45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Philippines is actually now one of the fastest growing countries in Asia, due in large part to overseas workers who send back scads of money.
.........
There's another reason for the growth. A lot of internet based businesses are shifting work from India to the Philippines because costs are lower and the English spoken in the Philippines is closer to US English than the English spoken in India. In my business especially, there are 1000's of small internet marketing/web development people in the USA hiring 1000's of people in the Philippines to do internet marketing/web development work online. Its both seamless and ubiquitous.

45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have no knowledge of the Philippines other than a little US history and tid bits gained here.

I have questions, especially for W.

1. Was it a mistake for the Philippines to sever their relationship with the US? Maybe maintaining it in a different form?
2. My experience with Latin and Mideast cultures are that graft and corruption are ways of life and expected behavior. Not that it doesn't exist here but, at least a generation or two ago, was somewhat held in check. Anglo-Saxon Protestantism I think. Has the US influence, especially that of the 30's and 40's been that completely wiped out?
3. Would the Philippines be well served by reestablishing the relationship with the US?

I still say colonialism gets a bad rap. The anti-colonial narrative and "Naming of Colonial Evils", especially in ex-British colonies is hard to back up with fact.

thanks for reading.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Was it a mistake? In the last analysis, the answer is probably "no", any more than it was a mistake for the US or Canada to separate from Britain. The RP is sufficiently different yet at the same time bound by deep ties, not in the least culture and the vast Filipino-American community.

The Philippines is a place where crazy stuff can happen in ways that America, as a nation, can't abide. Just as the individual states create an internal diversity, so too I think, does the wider community provide an external diversity.

Distance allows idealization. Filipinos will often see America not as it is, close up, but as it wants to be; as it aspires to be. There is of course another sort of love that comes from real closeness, from the acceptance of blemishes. But that is not the sort of love that comes easily. No, it's better this way.

We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
W, thnx.
I think you are saying, and I believe correctly, that a special relationship, not unlike the one with the UK, is best.
Now we only have to get others to put some effort into the idea, for I am sure the Philippines are becoming very important, again.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
"EU and the UN”

European colonialism and its mask the UN, never weary, never tire, never fade. Europa delenda est.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
>>It will astonish some to note that not every Catholic clergymen recoils at the sight of guns.<<

"Hijo de trueno, caballero en carcel blanco,
Hijo de trueno, guianos y haznos vencer"

God is just and good. God is merciful and longs for repentance, but his patience is not infinite. Fight evil and God fights with you.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I guess Will Durant was right. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Man has been at daggers drawn with his neighbors since the world began. We should be grateful for what peace we have." - Wretchard

It always amazes me how after a few years of full bellies and relative safety and security, people forget about the nature of man and nations. I would think that anyone who remembered the WWII Battle of Manila and other atrocities experienced by Filipinos would demand a first rate defense over any social program. I would think self-preservation would keep at least a few politicians honest. It's not that the Japanese are Filipino's eternal enemies, but that enemies are always eternal.

America and the Philippines are joined at the hip, I suppose, but corrupt liberal socialists who can't wait to get theirs.

At my age and with my knowledge of history recent and history past, I'm one of those American's who has little hope for the future. The only thing that will convince the 51% now running America about the nature of the world and need for a strong America militarily, economically, and otherwise, over an America focused on gay rights, gun confiscation, and getting the last 1% of wealth out of the top 1%, is death and destruction. It'll take a lot of dead American's to change peoples attitudes, and even then, they'll be blaming George Bush, the Capitalists, and "global warming" producing industrialists for all the evil.

The Philippines was always such a beautiful place, with such a warm and engaging people, when I was last there almost 30 years ago. However, it was also a sad place as well, i.e. there was a tremendous sense of melancholy and fatalism among the people there. I don't know if anything has changed in the PI, but it has here in America, and none of it is good, i.e. America has become almost as sad a place as the PI, i.e. the same melancholy and hopelessness. American's feel that they have little control over their lives and their now quite capricious government.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The corruption and greed is not only on one side. Money from competing sources floats the terror groups, insurgents, NGOs, "charities," politicians, and the rest of the low-talent meddlers of the world. Chaos is good business. Yassar Arafat died a billionaire. The socialist solution to life's problems is to throw money at them, and the oil sheiks fund their United Fund for jihad. The irony is that the loose money only prolongs and exacerbates the problems. When problems are income they never go away; the middle managers aren't looking for solutions-----they have jobs.

The attack in Zamboanga is the latest squeaky wheel looking for grease.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks Richard. Having recently finished No Way In (great read), I was hoping you would address this news, since it's ripped right out of the pages of the book. Crazy stuff. I know it's fiction based on fact, but I was kinda hoping that stuff like the medevac heli story was embellished a bit for the story. Sad to hear that it's not so far fetched after all. God bless those men fighting for their country under such banal corruption.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The helicopter story was embellished, it being fiction. But it's fiction based on fact. The guys in the Philippine military are for the most part, poor people who are like rats on a treadmill.

The rebellions never come to a stop. Imagine, the same guys I actually had to do with are still the game thirty five plus years later. Can't these guys get a life? And as for peace negotiations, I wouldn't be surprised if both sides are still meeting in the same old hotels being served by the same old waiters dishing up the same old menu from three decades ago.

The fact is that for guys like Misuari this is the only game they know. Hostage taking, town-burning, school abduction, piracy, extortion and mayhem. The press calls them "Islamic insurgents", but they are no Holy Joes or Mohammeds. In fact a striking number of said insurgent leaders are reputedly gay. Don't ask me why, but the rumors swirled around even then.

About the most one can hope for in life is moments of comparative calm, when the hatreds and greeds burn low. Zamboanga is for the most part a calm Wild West type city, just as Ipil was the calmest of localities until the day it was torched to the ground.

Once you know how fleeting peace is, the less you take it for granted. I think the Western Liberal Left believe war is something that happens someplace else. But they only think that because they've lived in the shelter of the Pax Americana. Once that umbrella is removed, why should Milan be any different from Zamboanga?

The peace we have been bequeathed is precious beyond words. We shouldn't trade it off for a bunch of Obamaphones.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
I know that Liberal of the Boomer generation absolutely believe that war is something that happens to other people. I have dinner with my father regularly and that is his anchor belief...
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
If they copy Arab/Afghan customs then what we call "gay" is pretty nearly universal for males?
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
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