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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