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by MGEN ROMEO B
A. On disposition
of 18IBn from Tuburan morning 2 June.
Gen Villanueva talked over the radio direct to CO,
18th IBn and told him to stay put in Tuburan and continue the contact
with the enemy. I supported that decision and took it as my own after
the Bde CO confirmed that there was an on-going firefight between 18IBn
and ASG in Tuburan. Note that when the ex-CSAFP gave the order to CO,
18th IBn, he by-passed 3 command levels: SOUTHCOM, 1ID/JTFComet and
103rd Bde. In adopting it, I gave the order to my immediate sub-commander,
Col Narcise of 103rd Bde; which I did personally in Lamitan, after explaining
the bases for the decision. Ex-CSAFP assured us, at the same time, on
the arrival in Lamitan of CTF within "2 hours" although at that point,
there were already 100+ troops in Lamitan supported by 6 Armor plus
2 UH-IHs and 2 MG520s.
Bde/Ground Commander (Col Narcise) couldn't tell
me which enemy group was in Lamitan and how large. He even was redundant
about going there until I went myself and had him picked up by the same
helicopter I had used. Intel reports at the time (from higher hqs) even
mentioned of ASG reinforcement from Tuburan coming from elsewhere.
Only upon my arrival in Lamitan (o/a 10 AM), that
was I told there were 14 ASG at the St Peter's Hospital-Church compound
which was located 1 km from the Lamitan District Hospital where I landed.
It's a question that time of which Command level
(Narcise's or CSAFP/SOUTHCOM/JTFC) had the best info and therefore in
the best position to formulate a course of action. Note that the force
ratio in Lamitan was 100(+):14 in favor of Narcise; but he left the
operation to Major Campued and Cpt Guinolbay despite my order for him
to lead the attack of the compound before sundown.(As it turned out,
the ASG escaped at about this time).
B. CG, JTFComet's Specific
Instruction: To Rush the Compound
Earlier, at about 6AM, Narcise said he had chosen
to retreat back to Campo Dos after a brief firefight near the compound.
This prompted me to go to Lamitan, from Isabela, and landing at the
Lamitan District Hospital or about 1 km away from the ASG's position.
If certain quarters had sub-plots for the unfolding event, I never had
time to think about that. My focus was to defeat the enemy: by an assault
of the compound before sundown. I firmed up this decision after seeing
the situation on the ground.
C. Army Inspector General Report
The trouble with the original Army Inspector General (AIG) report (based
on his investigations held in mid-June) is it was tainted: IG acknowledged
that he was ordered to revise the report. What was clear from the findings
was that there was NO AFP-ASG collusion. That "operational lapses" were
more due to inadequacy of resources; judgement call had to be
made under extreme pressure.
D. Pull-out (?) of Scout Rangers: Guinolbay's call
Confronted on the question, Major Campued said
he didn't receive any order whatsoever to that effect. Cpt Guinolbay
cited how he moved some of the troops to the front, justifying that
he wanted a frontal assault.
Narcise and I never had any contact ever since I
left Lamitan until about 8 pm thru radio; I didn't know Narcise's exact
location at sundown. (Later, he would tell me that he transferred from
Lamitan District Hospital to the residence of a certain Mr. Tan for
"security" reasons. It was where he said he developed his assault plan.
I went to 103rd Bde hqs, Tabiawan, Isabela a little past 1 pm and stayed
E. Defective Public Opinion.
Various intelligence reports found the soldiers'
actions in Lamitan above board, except for some tactically-inconsequential
indiscretions. Much of these findings were re-echoed by the Army Inspector
General (AIG) in his own report including the quibbling of Cpt Guinolbay
in two instances while in the periphery of the hospital-cum-church compound;
1 He claimed the early deployment of the 2nd batch of his Scout
Rangers and the late appearance of 55th IBn; subsequent checks revealed
that 55th IBn soldiers had long taken their position when the SRs arrived.
2 Withdrawal of his troops at sundown from the back of hospital;
this left a big gap between exit door and 55th IBn. Details of this
were revealed in the hearings. The public was never clarified on this
due to the following. . .
a. The media didn't have the patience to follow the
b. Too much media hype given on the "ASGs walk-in-the-park"
escape as alleged by residents, who as the two (2) CVOs revealed, had
all abandoned the place and therefore could not give a personal account
of the so-called troops withdrawal and ASGs' exit. c.
Transcript of the proceedings were not disclosed to the public.
F. Unasked Questions:
1. Why did the ASG go
to the church the night of 01June?
2. Who shot the soldier-bodyguard of Fr Nacorda?
3. How did Fr Nacorda evade the ASG who had shot his
4. Why the disparity in public pronouncements?: Recio
later claimed Sabaya appeared calm the whole day; Gracia Burnham said
he was in panic; captured ASG described Sabaya being shocked by the
heavy firepower display of the AFP in Lamitan.
5. In later interviews, Recio said there "might" be
collusion citing the calm demeanor of the ASG and the escape of Romero
along with Recio's son and a woman. Recio revealed that in mid-August
or months after his rescue on 03 June the ASG negotiated directly with
him by phone and he agreed to pay up for a lady relative still in the
custody of the ASG; she was released 3 months after. All these
without the knowledge of the AFP.
6. What caused the long delay of Counter-Terrorist
Force? (Promised to arrive at 10 a.m.; then 12 a.m., so and so forth;
actual arrival, o/a 6 p.m. CSAFP even redirected the ship bearing the
CTF to proceed to Lamitan instead of Isabela which accounted for a net
time loss of at least 4 hrs).
7. How valid were the information on the ASG's deployments
and reinforcements as relayed by the intelligence to JTF Comet that
came in flurry whole day of 2 June, targeting Tuburan, Lamitan
8. On the so-called black attaché case: (a) How could
Castro be so sure about dimensions and "crisp" cash contents when she
admited having bad eyesight and could not even identify the person carrying
the non-existent black attaché case? (b) If
indeed there was Ransom Money; who/which family, gave it? to whom? when?
How and when was it turned over to the ASG; who and to whom?
9. How come the so-called eyewitness of Fr Nacorda
and the priest himself were not cross-examined as to check
their credibility? In contrast, the testimonies of two (2) eyewitness
vs Gov Wahab were destroyed thru intense interrogations by the Hearing
Body. The two mentioned about an attaché case and pointed at the
Governor having slipped into the ASG position just before the ASG escape.
Recio mentioned of unidentified non-ASG group having met the ASG at
the time mentioned.
10. On Fr Nacorda's credibility:
a. In his presentation before both Hearing Boards,
Nacorda focused more on "previous" observations of alleged manifestations
of AFP-ASG collusions without presenting "evidence" or "eyewitnesses";
his "eyewitnesses" focused on the Lamitan clash but talked of "opinions".
Verbal dissertations-in local dialect, even contradicted their affidavits
which were all written in English. b. He claimed to
have clearly seen the ASG ambush of Scout Rangers at 1 a.m.,
which he said happened about 300 meters from his own location with a
fence and the church itself in between.
Finally, all the antics and manipulations served only to side-line the
truth, and denied my soldiers in Lamitan a modest claim on their undeniable
achievements: of having recovered 70% (21 of 30) of Dos Palmas hostages
in less than 2 days- plus 5 more before I left JTF Comet/1ID in mid-July
2001; this despite their obsolete equipment which the public seemed
to have realized only during the subsequent Balikatan.
As to the ASG, they never refuted reports that Janjalani
got killed in that encounter. The terrorists leader was never seen again
nor heard from. A recently captured terrorist revealed that Sabaya was
never as scared as in Lamitan, having been subjected to the firepower
of the determined AFP troops.
As JTFComet Commander, I gave order/guidance, information
to the Ground Commander. On the basis of the principle of "Command
Responsibility" I was moved from JTF/1ID to 8ID mid-July 2001.
The malicious focus was on so-called "AFP-ASG collusion
angle" although not one family of the hostages could truthfully claim
that they have ever talked to me in their understandable effort to assist
the recovery of their hostaged love ones. One more-media-visible former
hostage (Recio) has been insisting on the allegation's "truth" while
acknowledging that he directly negotiated with, and paid off, the terrorists;
and all these he did more than 2 months after the Lamitan 24-hr stand
As to Media coverage/reporting, wittingly or unwittingly,
it unmasked a Media industry where reporters would rather express personal
opinion than report facts; and opinion-makers sticking out their neck
on poorly researched, if at all, issues. Any half-wit can hide as a
"journalist source" while the subject of malice is feasted on by the
industry and given the burden of proving his innocence, instead of the
accuser being made first to substantiate his allegation.
Bishop Quitorio of CBCP revealed to me that Fr. Nacorda
told him that he really has no evidence only "witnesses". The two witnesses
who volunteered to my defense had to have their affidavits notarized
outside of Basilan due to warning that local lawyers will not notarize
statements in favor of the AFP.
After a comprehensive Army IG report and an extensive
"trial by publicity"' the entire issue appears to be back to square
one. You soldiers have equal rights, too; and by themselves are equal
to everyone in the eyes of God. Looking back at the hearings, we could
not help but have the impression that Fr. Nacorda and witnesses, despite
their faulty testimonies, were seen by the board as not capable of telling
a lie; while the soldiers were dismissed outright as a bunch of liars.
I have more than 50 medals and ribbons earned over 35 years as a soldier.
The "draft" report in declaring my wearing the uniform as "dishonorable"
dishonored the very institution I represent.