That statement was made by Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro after three International Red Cross personnel namely Andreas Notter of Switzerland, Eugenio Vagni of Italia and our kababayan Jean Lacaba were kidnapped by the alleged Abu Sayaff gang just outside the provincial capitol of Patikul, Sulu.
He was aghast that the latest kidnap victims refused the security escort offered by the military. So he declared journalists and foreigners should not be allowed to roam Mindanao without coordination from the military. Otherwise, “we do not want to risk our soldiers’ lives” just to get these people free.
There is a sense of helplessness and at the same time urgency in Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro’s statement. I understand he said it with the best of intentions, but his statement bothers me because it contains the implied admissions that
1. the civil government in Mindanao does not have the control over the area,
2. the Abu Sayaff does not respect the authorities,
3. and the military is no longer willing to die fighting the bandits.
Early this year when bands of Abu Sayaff burned a village and killed most of its inhabitants, and kidnapped ABS-CBN senior reporter Ces Drillon and her two crews, the military sent battalions of soldiers to run after, catch the culprits, and put them to justice to end the reign of terror by the Abu Sayaff in the area. Obviously, the government was only bragging.
The statements of the Magdalo leaders when they and around 300 soldiers commandeered Oakwood few years ago echo in my mind. The leaders who served in Mindanao were fuming about the government’s lack of seriousness in flushing out the rebels. In fact, they even suggested that politicians were using the rebels for political gain or to extort money. As a result, soldiers who had their last breath in that promised land gave up their lives for nothing. Take for example Nur Misuari. When he became governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, the money entrusted to him to finance livelihood projects, build infrastructures to aid our brothers and sisters in Mindanao were spent to build bankers for the MILF, and other things that did not help the situation in that part of the country. How many soldiers died because of this bankers when they captured the MILF stronghold? Politicians could not discipline erring subordinates there, otherwise they would loose the local support in the elections. While Mindanao is an integral part of our country, it seems a very far away and an isolated island we only care about when there is news about kidnapping or burning of villages and shooting of civilians.
Our government tolerates terrorist acts by only running after the bandits when the issue is “hot”. After a while, when another scandal hits our nation, it forgets about it.
Secretary of Defense Gilbert Teodoro was only echoing his soldier’s sentiments: we do not want to risk our lives anymore.
Our soldiers have been in Mindanao long enough to realize politicians grab the headlines at the expense of the their life.