Michael's Dispatches


9 Comments Helicopter flight over Jolo, the capital city of Sulu Island.

05 June 2009

This is the nicest war I’ve ever been to. Outside Magazine seems to think the same:

This Is the War on Terror. Wish You Were Here!

Welcome to the tropical Philippine island of Jolo, where life is like a Corona ad—coconut trees, white-sand beaches, bathtub-warm seas. Except those guys in the water are U.S. Green Berets, and those kids on dirt bikes are jihadists known for kidnapping Western tourists. Even stranger? On this front, at least, America seems to be winning.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Shelle Michaels · 12 years ago

    "Both the Philippine and U.S. military are giving me access to talk with their officers and enlisted soldiers, though they highly recommend not traveling alone around here because foreigners keep getting kidnapped."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 12 years ago
    I have not received one book, yet! To whom do I complain;-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Vernon Clayson · 12 years ago
    We are on the second century of fighting the Muslims in the Philippines yet you don't mention that or them by name. Don't you kind of think they are in there for the long run?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    T.G. · 12 years ago
    I spent 6 months in the Philippines working in the US task force and teaching our Filipino counterparts how we conduct operations. I'd say there are a few issues with the situation in the southern Philippines that as much as we assist them will not be solved until they make some hard choices.

    First, there's an understandable reluctance to actually engage the enemy in combat. One of my counterparts said, "It's hard because we're all Filipino. I don't understand why they want to kill us and why we kill them when we're the same blood." AFP commanders used to go and meet with the bad guys, asking them to stop what they were doing and leave. It worked far too few times. The most irritating thing was when we would give them time critical intel on bad guys they had been hunting and then watch, horrified, as they did nothing and let the bad guys slip away. A fully committed resolve to engage the enemy in combat would go a long way in winning the war. The AFP campaign in 2008 against rogue MILF leaders is a perfect example of the GRP drawing a line in the sand and thumping the bad guys who dared to cross.

    Second, other than the military, the rest of the country doesn't seem to be all in. It's like nothing's happening down south. Granted this is all based on conversation with my counterparts, but folks in Manila are more concerned about the latest political scandal than the conflict brewing a 2- hour plane ride south. If I lived in Chicago and saw on TV everyday that a separatist group in Dallas had just blown up a power line, or just kidnapped a Fort Worth business owner, or just killed a National Guard troop, I'd be concerned. I think getting the country as a whole more concerned and more involved could expedite the end of the conflict. Some perspective I may lack is that for the Filipinos this is a 4 decades long conflict, and they may be inoculated to it.

    It's this inoculation that frames the last issue. They have a penchant for giving the bad guys what they want. GRP made deals with the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front, the precursor to the MILF) back in the late 80's and again in the mid 90's, creating the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao as a result. The last round of MILF violence in 2008 was because the GRP negotiators had essentially acquiesced to the MILF, but the GRP Supreme Court sanely ruled that the deal they made was unconstitutional and a bad idea. The ASG continues to kidnap people because the ransoms are almost always paid. Giving them what they want isn't going to make them go away. I think if they stopped negotiating with terrorists, it could focus their efforts.

    There is hope. My counterparts were competent, eager to learn and took the lessons to heart, implementing many of the tactics and processes we showed them. I see light at the end of the tunnel, but only if the Philippines puts its foot down and says, "Here and no further," and then does what is necessary to make it mean something.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 12 years ago
    In response to T.G.'s comment, I too have spent some time in the the PI, two years @ Clark AFB ('78-'80). During our in-processing briefing we where told that the Filipinos had DEEP familial ties and that we should be always aware of this when dealing with any Filipino as we where not just dealing with one person, but a huge extended family in most cases.

    This became most apparent to me when I became a God parent to our house-girl Aimee's newborn son. In the Filipino culture this is like being adopted into that extended family with all the same rights AND responsibilities! In this process I met Aimee's entire family many times. Her father was one guerrillas who fought against the Japanese. Her oldest brother was an undercover PC agent while another was a black marketeer. You can know see how frustrating it is to deal with the issues T.G. is talking about from a military point of view. (This whole family had very deep seated hatred for the PI's biggest thief at the time, Ferdinand Marcos and his nasty wife Imelda, BTW!)

    That said though I found the Filipino people as a whole to be very respectful and admiring of Americans, especially the older generation who suffered under the Japanese occupation. There where ones that tried to exploit us for sure, but that was to be expected in a country with such high levels of grinding poverty by our standards, offset by opulent wealth, i.e. the Marcos' and their cronies! (To make any money in the PI one had to pay extortion and bribe money to the Marcos Mafia or else!) But on the whole I really enjoyed the PI and had some great experiences that no amount of money could buy.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TomasCTT · 12 years ago
    TG and Tommy Barrios have hit the nail on the head. In the south, blood is indeed thicker than water, and the same attitudes US forces see in Iraq and (to a greater extent) Afghanistan among the Iraqis and Afghan tribes ring true in the Philippines, especially down south among the Muslim families.

    Another reason for the seemingly "foot dragging" of the Philippine military is that it still carries a lot of baggage from the past, by that I mean the Marcos era when the police and the military were the tools of the Marcos regime to suppress dissent. It is because of that the military and police do not exactly have a high trust rating. Indeed, if one lives here for quite a while, you'll find comments made by us Filipinos about corrupt policemen and abusive soldiers. This is not to say that both police and the military are very corrupt. There are a few (I hope a few) bad apples in both establishments, and thanks (rightly or wrongly) to our rabid media, reports of these corrupt police and abusive soldiers end up giving an impression that both establishments are rife with corruption.

    Because of this baggage, the military and the GRP has to tread somewhat softly when dealing with insurgents, especially down south. Use a too big a hammer, and people will cry foul, saying that the police and soldiers are committing human rights abuses, etc etc and the like. It doesn't help that some so-called "civil society" groups always see military action as violating human rights and such, forgetting that there is a war going on, and that violent measures have to be done. Alas, we have our share of peaceniks, and thus the military and police sometimes have their arms tied. And when the military and police get pissed and starts really pounding hard, the same peaceniks protest. Oh well....

    The "professionalization"/"de-politicization" of the military and police continues. However, they will always be considered tools by politicians (both on the national and local level) who will use money as an incentive. Reports of soldiers being used to demolish structures and intimidate rival politicians are not unheard of, and it is this politicization of the military and police that give the two a bad rep. *sigh* :sad:
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gary Davis · 12 years ago
    Congrats to our troops in country. Your generosity, caring and respect do USA well. I'm proud of you.1jvL
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lea · 12 years ago
    Fantastic photos. Veterans deserve to be rewarded for their hard work. The new post 9-1 GI bill provides assistance to veterans while the earn their online degrees.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bruce in Iloilo · 12 years ago
    TG has a point about the country not being engaged. The country isn't. But after 40 years would you be following the guerrilla wars that closely? is the US as engaged in the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan now as they were at the beginning? Many here (I live in the Philippines) lump together the MILF and the communist New People's Army, the latter which has been fighting a guerrilla war since the 60s with no real end in sight. Frankly, where I live on Panay there are active NPA units but you don't hear much about them and I'm not sure they do too much to begin with. In it understandable that people do not follow that closely a fight that has been going on since the Johnson Administration.

    This is not to excuse Manila's and the media's myopic navel-gazing. Few in "Imperial Manila" think about or concern themselves with what is outside their little circle. Provincial mayors will be gunned down and the news will be buried well within an inside section. Meanwhile the latest Manila obsession will get front page news for days. Even Barack Obama and the US presidential primary contests in Iowa and New Hampshire were front page news for a week.

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