By Fidel V. Ramos
Former Philippine President
(First of Two Parts)
In adverting to these two significant happenings in Marawi City 45 years apart (almost to the exact days in the month of October), under the similar political-legal conditions of a Moro rebellion during a period of Martial Law – but, of course, under two different Philippine presidents – Ferdinand E. Marcos and Rodrigo R. Duterte – FVR’s intention should be clearly understood.
It is necessary to provide an immediate top-level comparative analysis of these two calamitous national events in order that our present leaders and strategic planners insure a better future for our beloved Philippines and the Filipino people.
This is essential so that the rehabilitation, reconstruction, and recovery of Marawi City by the P.Du30 administration will result positively towards the greatest good for the greatest number.
Supporting our troops
Previously in this column, we paid tribute to the gallant troops of the AFP, PNP, and PCG for their valor in the defense of Marawi City/Lanao Del Sur and the defeat of mindless, stateless terrorism within our shores. Likewise, we the Filipino citizenry of today, should unwaveringly support our men and women in uniform in their holy mission of protecting our peace and development, which should endure.
Marawi 2017 and 1972
The “termination” of terrorist leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute this week in Marawi City created all kinds of “flashbacks” for this writer as it may have done for atty. Makabangkit Lanto, retired Philippine ambassador, congressman, cabinet undersecretary, and faithful government functionary.
In his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer of 28 May 2017 titled “Flashback to Marawi in ’72,” Lanto recalls: “A sense of déjà vu overwhelmed me as we drove through Marawi City on Day 3 of the siege (which started 23 May 2017). We were headed to City Hall, where Mayor Majul Gandamra and some relatives had dug in. It felt weird to see a situation almost the same as that 45 years ago, starting on 21 October 1972, or a month after then President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law.
“Rebels calling themselves ‘Iklas’ had attacked Marawi and declared Moro independence….. Fully armed rebels occasionally marched in the streets, as now.
“The 1972 rebellion lasted for about three days. I remember it clearly. It was a quiet, chilly morning (22 October 1972). We were walking briskly from the mosque toward home after dawn prayers when we met ragtag groups of boys in full battle gear marching and shouting ‘Allah Ho Akbar (God is Great)!’….. They had overwhelmed the local police forces and overrun government installations and facilities. At radio station dxSO, these boys, some my students at Mindanao State University, took turns declaring the start of the ‘Moro revolution’ and ranting nonstop about Moro grievances. Marawi came close to falling into their hands but for the resistance of Camp Keithley (renamed Camp Amai Pakpak), where outnumbered Government forces fought valiantly.
“There was a clear stalemate….. The rebels had regrouped and were targeting Camp Amai Pakpak (which was the Lanao Sur Philippine Constabulary provincial headquarters), the government forces resisted fiercely. It was promising to be a drawn-out battle but the arrival of PC Chief Fidel V. Ramos broke the impasse.
“News of Ramos’ ‘reinforcement’ spread fast…. It dampened the fighting spirit of the rebels who believed that General Ramos had ‘come with battalions of soldiers’ to defend Marawi. It was Psywar in action.
“I learned later that Ramos was then ‘on routine inspection of PC units in Cebu City.’ He flew to Marawi with only some staff when he learned of the siege.
“But his presence proved to be the tipping point. The flagging morale of Camp Amai Pakpak’s defenders was lifted when they saw their chief among them. True to his sobriquet, ‘Steady Eddie’ was in his element rallying the soldiers. He ‘personally reorganized the defenses by strengthening fighting positions and rallied the men to carry on the fight….!’ The rebels eventually withdrew. For this singular feat, Ramos was awarded on 14 January 1991 the distinguished conduct star ‘for conspicuous courage and gallantry in action.’
“These came to mind as I pondered on how to end the violence in Marawi. Maybe the wisdom and courage of a General Ramos are needed? Maybe one decisive, surgical military operation is required, avoiding hitting civilians, to drive away the terrorists…..?”
In his book, “FVR Through The Years (1997),” veteran PNA reporter Ben Cal narrated: “Based on initial reports, Marawi City was attacked by a still undetermined number of rebels who surrounded Camp Amai Pakpak (named after a Muslim datu/hero). Several people had been killed but the troops held their ground.
“General Ramos had proceeded to Marawi to get first-hand information about the siege. His other mission was to escort Japanese Ambassador Toshio Urabe, who was visiting the MSU, safely out of Marawi..…
“After a briefing at the Baloi Airport in Iligan City, General Ramos with his accompanying senior staff officers, Colonels Rey San Gabriel (PC PIO) and Fidel Singson (PC Deputy Intelligence Chief), clambered aboard an armored personnel carrier while the rest of the party boarded two 6×6 trucks. The three-vehicle convoy would pass through a dangerous route. But Ramos was unperturbed and, as Colonel San Gabriel would tell later, ‘apparently focused on the fulfillment of his mission come what may.’
“An hour’s travel under a hostile environment was like eternity. General Ramos was onboard the lead armored vehicle. But because the night was pitch black, the driver did what was considered a cardinal breach of security – he turned on the headlights to avoid falling off the road. To die in a vehicular accident was totally unacceptable – it had to be in battle.
The Pantar Bridge leading to Camp Amai Pakpak was blocked by a burning Pepsi Cola truck which lay on its side – making it impossible for the armored carrier to proceed. Because of the concrete railings on both sides of the bridge, the only way to remove the vehicle was for it to be pushed all the way across the bridge. All hands were needed to move the truck but some troopers had to stand on guard in case of an attack. Without hesitation, General Ramos together with his party jumped out of their vehicles to push the burning truck out of the way.
“Pantar Bridge is located in a mountainous area ideal for an ambush….. Colonel Singson whispered that they were like sitting ducks. It was 8 p.m. when they started pushing the burning truck with General Ramos in the lead. It took them almost two hours to clear the bridge. Exhausted and hungry, General Ramos blurted out, ‘Okey na ba?’ (Is everything now okay?) ‘Yes, sir,’ came the snappy reply in unison.
“Nobody met Ramos and his party when they arrived at the PC camp. Apparently, everyone was expecting an attack by Muslim guerrillas and electricity had been turned off. From the light of a single candle, the PC Chief was briefed on the situation, including the rebels’ plan to abduct Japanese Ambassador Urabe.
“An hour before the MNLF commenced their assault on the camp, Ramos whisked the Japanese envoy to safety on board a PAF helicopter under the care of Army Task Force commander Brig. General Bienvenido Castro (who was Ramos’ Korean War buddy back in the 1950s) – but that’s another story.
“Ramos took charge of the defense of the camp with a small group of 30 soldiers. At 2 a.m., the attack began. Rattling sounds of gunfire from machine guns and assault rifles reverberated in the otherwise tranquil atmosphere.
“‘Mortar shells started raining on the Camp, barely missing the area where General Ramos and the rest of us were staying,’ PC photographer Exequiel Valle vividly recalled. ‘All of us rushed to the newly-constructed foxholes,’ he added.
“As everybody scampered, Ramos told his handful of troops, ‘Relax lang kayo (Just relax). Hold your fire and stay inside your foxholes….’ Just like the old times, Ramos probably thought. The last time he himself was in a foxhole was in the Korean War when he fought Chinese communist and North Korean troops…..
“Ramos inquired from the camp supply officer how much ammunition and hand grenades they had. The unidentified PC sergeant told him that they had five big boxes of ammunition for M-16 and M-14 assault rifles and one huge box of grenades. Ramos realized that these were not enough to sustain a protracted battle. On several instances, Ramos told his men to ‘hold your fire,’ thus conserving precious bullets.
“As the fighting progressed, Ramos became confident that his men, composed of tough Marines and PC troops, could stave off the ferocious attacks..… After four hours of battle and heavy casualties on their side, the rebels retreated.
“Ramos and his men waited for the first crack of daylight before they went out on mopping-up operations to make sure that all rebels had fled and no snipers were in hiding.
“Shortly after daybreak, government troop reinforcements on board tanks and V-150s arrived. Bodies of rebel raiders were strewn all over the Camp’s grounds, disfiguring the beautiful landscape…..
“Despite the volatile situation, Ramos proceeded to the Marawi City hall to talk to Mayor Dianalan and rally the people….. It was this kind of leadership demonstrated by General Ramos in the wake of adversity and hopelessness that the troops and the people needed at the most trying time…..” Concluded Ben Cal.
Abangan. Part II.
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