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by MGEN ROMEO B DOMINGUEZ AFP

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 thereon.)

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; ie:
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 proceedings.
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
soldier?
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 and Isabela?

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 off!

    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.

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