Ravages of war

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Thursday, September 19, 2013


REPORTS say commander Habier Malik, the rebel who is reportedly leading the siege on Zamboanga City, is a key senior aide of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari. “Senior” does not necessarily mean old. I saw one photo of him in the rappler.com website and I say he is in his forties or fifties. Misuari is in his seventies.

If Malik was already an MNLF fighter in the 1970s, he surely wasn’t in the top echelon of the rebel organization at that time. He must have missed discussions on strategy and tactics as the MNLF battled troops sent to Mindanao by Ferdinand Marcos to quell the Moro rebellion.

That time, MNLF rebels initially engaged government troops in conventional warfare.

They defended their positions like regular armies instead of choosing to be mobile.

The body count was therefore high on both sides. But the Marcos regime had time on its side and the longer the war raged, the more the advantage of the government was magnified.

When Malik’s people laid siege on some villages in Zamboanga City, they were foolish if they thought they could hold on to their positions for long against a government force with overwhelming advantage in resources. Superior MNLF forces of old couldn’t do that for long in Mindanao areas in the 1970s. They had to shift to guerilla warfare.

On the 11th day of the siege, Malik’s forces have already been dislodged from much of the Zamboanga City villages they initially controlled. It won’t be long before they scamper back to Sulu.

***

“Don’t talk to me about atrocities,” British military leader Lord Kitchener once said adding: “all war is an atrocity.”

With the siege on Zamboanga City about to end, trickles from the field of photos and video footages of the devastation the battles have wrought on the attacked villages have become a flood. We are seeing structures reduced to rubble, walls dotted with holes, bodies piled on trucks, people scampering away amidst hails of gunfire, and tent cities.

But then, wars are the same everywhere. The devastation they bring, always, is proof of the truism that there are no winners in armed conflicts. The late Pope John Paul II said it well: “War is a defeat of humanity.”

***

When I was with The Freeman in the mid-‘90s, I supervised the publication of a newspaper for the youth run by young writer-activists. We talked about revolutions and waging these. I was amused by their lack of informed appreciation of what wars are about. (A few years later, one of those activists died in an armed encounter in Bohol.)

“A revolution is not a dinner party,” Chinese leader Mao Zedong had warned. But its meaning can only be learned when you are in an actual rebellion. It’s the difference between merely doing a war movie and being in an actual war. In a war movie, the actors get “hit” and “die” in a scene, then wipe off the catsup after the director shouts, cut!

Not so in war, in a revolution:

Two young men carrying short firearms once chanced upon a member of a civilian auxiliary force with an M-14 rifle riding on top of a passenger jeepney in the hinterlands. They decided to make a hit and clambered on the vehicle’s rear to get a better shooting position.

Before they could fire when the jeepney slowed down, their target noticed them and fired first, hitting one of the attackers in the shoulder. The attackers jumped off the vehicle and took refuge in the woods. They managed to evade the pursuers until darkness came. But the wounded was bleeding, his left hand hanging limp from his
shoulder like it was about to fall.

He was slowing their escape, so his companion left him while he looked for help. But help couldn’t get to the wounded for a few days. He died in the woods alone. Some three days later, in a house not far from where his body lay, a farmer was shocked to find that his dog had brought home from the woods a crimson “food.” It was the young man’s left hand.

(khanwens@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 19, 2013.

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