The Way to Lasting Peace in Basilan By: 2LT BCT BACOLCOL PN(M)
July 29, 2009 was just another day for me in Basilan Province as we prepared for a convoy operation that will bring the First Marine Brigade Commander BGEN RUSTICO O GUERRERO AFP to Sitio Irelley in Sumisip together with the Civil Affairs Group of the USJSOTF-P, Local Government Officials of Sumisip, officials of the Department of Education, and other members of Non-Government Organizations. As the Commander of the Light Armored Company, I was tasked to be the Convoy Officer. For me, the activity was tactical in nature, I have to make sure that the convoy would be safe and secured.
As the sun rises, the convoy rolled down the paved Isabela to Maluso Road, I rode comfortably inside my V300 Commando peering out once in a while to check the integrity of the convoy. We rode in a steady pace until we reached Maluso. Then, the paved road ended. As the ride become bumpy, I remembered what BEN GUERRERO always tells us “…in Basilan, trouble starts where good road ends”. The Marines suddenly became alert busy turning and aiming its weapons toward the high grounds that are possible enemy ambush positions.
We passed rough, grueling roads that left us uncomfortably seated. I for one always bounced at my seat, grateful that I used my helmet and spared my head hitting the side of the armored vehicle. we passed by many kinds of roads, some are filled with water like a river; some are muddy that one of our vehicles was stuck up in the mud; other roads were too dry that we ate all the dusts made by the vehicle in front of us. I also remembered reminding the driver of the M35 truck following our armored vehicle to let us cross the bridge and reach the other side first before they would follow behind us, because the bridge was damaged so we need to be careful. Women and children gathered on the side of the road watched us, as we pass by their houses. Little children with torn clothes or no clothes at all waved their hands at us, greeting us with smiling faces, as if they knew each and everyone of us. I also noticed that their houses were already dilapidated, ruined by time, and the residents could not even have them repaired.
Before we went to Sitio Irelley, we first met with Commander, Western Mindanao Command and his party at Brgy Mangal where they were brought by helicopters from Zamboanga City. MGEN DOLORFINO was the guest of honor at the turn-over ceremony of the Sitio Irelley Elementary School buildings. After forty-five minutes of another bumpy ride, we reached Sitio Irelley, where teachers, children and residents were already waiting for us. The place was located in the remote area of Central Sumisip, where coconut trees and rubber trees are the primary source of living. There are no concrete structures in the area, only the wooden houses made by nipa and coco lumber. The only mode of transportation was either single motor or wooden cart pulled by a carabao. After the turn over of the school building and some school supplies to the children, a grave five pupil who rendered a song entertained us.
While singing, she was interrupted by her tears and I was moved when she said “I’m sorry, natutuwa lang talaga ako dahil may classroom na ulit kami” (I’m sorry, I’m just glad that we have a classroom again), then she continued her song. There were several times that her tears interrupted her, but she was determined to finish her song. She put all her emotions into her song that I noticed she clenched her fist, and stood with one foot forward, as if ready to give someone a strong blow. In her song, she showed me how grateful she was that her school was put up again, and in her tears she made me understood how important for them the school is. After she finished he song, I asked her why she cried, between sobs, she replied “masaya ako kasi may bago na kaming classroom, makakapag-aral na ulit kami nang Mabuti. Akala kasi naming hindi na ulit ksmi magkakaroon ng classroom pagkatapos sunugin ang aming paaralan. Itong paaralan lang kasi naming ang inaasahan naming ditto sa lugar naming, pag wala ito wala na rin ksming psag-asang umahon sa kahirapan’. (I’m happy because we have a new classroom, we can learn better, we thought that we would not have a new school after it was burned down. This school is all that we have. This is our only hope to give us a brighter future.)
Then I recalled what really happened to the school, the First Marine Brigade had an operation to rescue the kidnap victim. While pursuing the KFRG in Sitio Irelley, there were several encounters between the Marine troops and the lawless elements. After the firefight, the lawless elements burned down the school and several houses neat it, as a form of revenge for their losses. The burning of the school has become a constant reminder that these lawless elements are inconsiderate, inhumane, ruthless, and cold-blooded criminals.
Now I realized that being a 2nd Lieutenant, there is more to be done than commanding armored vehicles, managing convoy operations, and being an emcee. Being a lieutenant means not only fighting the lawless groups with guns, armored vehicles and artillery batteries, but helping the needy people residing in rural areas where we staged our battlefield. I also realized that lawless groups are not the only enemies we are facing but also poverty in these areas of Basilan that make the lives of our fellow Filipinos miserable. In order to defeat the lawless enemy, we need guns, armored vehicles, and artillery batteries but to defeat poverty, we need compassion, care and love, understanding for these people. they are people that only hope for the best in their land, that soon lasting peace and order will reside in the Island of Basilan.
***this article first appeared in the Official Publication of the Philippine Marine Corps, the CITEMAR6 July-December2009 Issue. ***names were omitted to protect their identity.