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by MGen Romeo B Dominguez AFP
CG, 8th Infantry Division
was the Commander of the Joint Task Force Comet (JTFC) which had three
(3) brigades operating in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and TFZambo
that was deployed in Zamboanga City. SOUTHCOM Hqs created JTFC effective
03 April 2001, and designated him as head in concurrent capacity as
1st Infantry Division (1ID) chief. He left JTFC on 22 Jun,
and 1ID on 07 Jul and proceeded to head the Army's 8th
Inf Div deployed in Leyte & Samar. He was promoted to his current
rank effective 23 Dec 2001.)
I was commander of the JTF Comet during the clash between the
military and the Abu
Sayaff Group (ASG) on 02 June 2001 in Lamitan. It is one of the 6 towns
and 1 city of the island province of Basilan which fell under the Area
of Responsibility (AOR) of the Army's 103rd Inf Brigade; it's commander
was Col Jovenal Narcise until his relief on 06 June. Thereafter, the
troops in Basilan nearly tripled, increasing the erstwhile lone brigade
to three (3): two Infantry and one Marine; the deployment was completed
by the time I left Basilan.
to better understand the Lamitan incident is clarifying the existence
of two (2) hospitals: Torres inside the compound taken over by the ASG
and the Emergency District (LEDH), 1 km away, which I visited on 02
Jun from 10AM to about 1:30 in the afternoon. The subsequent vicious
media attacks against my person were centered on this visit. The complaint
that triggered two separate legislative hearings focused on the three
areas which the investigations have unraveled based on the Lamitan witnesses'
testimonies most of which merely confirmed the earlier findings of the
Army Inspector General; ie:
The escape of the ASG through the back door of the church-cum-hospital
compound o/a 5:30 pm. There was no order for the Army troops to withdraw:
a section of Ranger was moved to the front but the remaining troops
remained well positioned. The failure to stop the escape was traced
to the ASG's use of the hostages as shield. The soldier, police and
CVO's fired-to-miss; they could not risk to hurt the hostages.
There was no pay-off involving the military to free a
rich hostage. The assertions of the lone witness were proven contrary
to truth as follows:
a. That on my arrival
at the LEDH, a non-existent black briefcase full of money was allegedly
being carried by my aide who stayed outside the Head Doctor's office
where I stayed after a tentative look-see of my casualties.
If indeed the notional briefcase contained lots of money, would
I have not kept my aide within my sight all the time?;
would I allow my aide to deduct P5,000 from it to be given to
b. The time (11
am) she said I departed from the hospital (I left past 12 noon) to fetch
the hostages (and returned without the money) was long after
the hostages had been rescued by the troops (before 10 am).
c. The latest assertion
was that the (non-existent) money was a pay-off for the escape of the
ASG. If that was the case, then it would be unthinkable for the money
to be so-carried around; much more, shown to anyone.
d. She claimed that
Col Narcise had been waiting for me when I arrived; it was I who waited
for the Bde Comdr. Note
how the "witness" erred in his description of events; he adeptly inserted
her own "interpretation" of my own actions, slanting them to support
the main allegation.
My order not to redeploy the 18th IBn elements
from Tuburan to Lamitan had been discussed by me, CSAFP Gen Villanueva,
SOUTHCOM LGen Camiling and his AC3, Col Pabustan, weighing the following
fresh inputs: the continuing engagement in Tuburan, intel report of
an approaching ASG reinforcement towards Tuburan, arrival of CTF and a Marine Company and the presence of 120+
soldiers, 40 policemen, armor vehicles and helicopters in Lamitan. The
order was initially relayed by my aide, Lt Merioles, to the Bn S3 who
was on the radio, on order of CSAFP; and which I relayed personally
to Col Narcise when I met him in Lamitan. (I arrived at the LEDH by
helicopter o/a 10 a.m. of
02 Jun and sent the helicopter to pick-up Col Narcise at Campo Dos).
It was at this time that I formulated my order "Assault before sundown"
having received an information that the ASG at the "Hospital-Church
compound" would attempt a breakaway at sundown to take advantage of
back, the said Lamitan
clash showcased the commitment of our soldiers to the service. Within
24 hours, they rescued 21 of 30 (or 70%) Dos Palmas hostages; unfortunately, the bandits got away using the remaining victims as shield.
The media slant on this aspect easily re-opened fresh wounds.
Industry giants' sensationalized and biased reporting easily
blurred the line between fiction and facts.
Including the brief period to prepare the battle areas and the actual
clash of a little over 24 hours, the ''drama'' spanned about 2 days.
103rd Inf Bde had barely 2,000 troops less than half
of whom could be maneuvered as others were doing rear-area activities
and protection, camp and route security, CAA supervision, etc.
As it was a non-conventional situation, these "front lines troops"
have to be distributed to several "battle areas" - or pre-selected sites
of possible enemy congregations.
Civilian residents limited the potentials of indirect fires.
Commander's picture of his battle site is limited only to what
his eyes can see; no satellite, radars, sensors to aid him. Contrast
this with the months of mobilization the "high tech" U.S. Forces had
to take following the "9/11 Incident". Then, came the daily 24-hour
bombing of Afghanistan that took months.
Specific targets were shown in video screens moments before they
are blasted away. The enemy was defeated; Bin Laden and Omar, however,
are unaccounted for; Al-Qaeda remains a threat.
Nobody accused no one of "pay-off"; nor was there a call for
"hearings-in-aid-of-legislation". U.S. Congress simply appropriated for the war chest vs
We understand the long-suffering
of the residents in the 8 or 9 years of the ASG's depredation but their
fanned rumors about the
alleged soldiers' duplicity was insulting malicious and unfair. Small
lapses of the commanders at the lowest level were magnified and linked
to imagined collusion to feed
the whinings of an exasperated public; we would have wanted to
end the people's grief by destroying the ASG holed-up in that compound.
The dynamics of war as it impacted on soldiers steeped on laws, regulations,
SOPs and respect for human lives, however, are a bit difficult to understand
when the dust of battle and gunsmoke have settled down and the smell
of gun powder and unwashed human bodies, both living and dying or dead,
no longer permeate the air. Winning a battle is not like solving mathematical
problem. Suntzu's book on "War" tagged it as an "art" not a "science".
Your soldiers make mistakes; but under any circumstances, they wouldn't
accept blood money. The monster was a creation of the media that failed to validate
their source of information; they then pressed on to condition the mind
of people based on innuendos while the accuser mobilized witnesses who
were willing to sign fabricated testimonies, and who seemed unfamiliar
with laws on perjury and therefore unwary of the consequence.
believe I have given my best to provide command & leadership to
the five (5) Infantry Brigades under my authority at 1ID/JTF Comet.
I have suffered the ignominy of perceived failure due to breakdown of
chain-of-command in one of these brigades: the 103rd
Inf Bde. This was
deployed in Basilan, the
same place where I spent some time going to the "front" to see
the situation on the ground and show myself to the troops at
the real risks of being subjected to enemy fires. My actions have been
misinterpreted portraying the worst possible scenario and presented
to the public, in an extended trial by publicity that was applauded
by fence-sitters who only have hatred for the soldiers, all
in a way contradictory to the most cherished legal tenet: "the
accused is considered innocent until proven otherwise". This, after
an extensive investigation conducted by the Army Inspector General the
result of which proved I was not liable as I was allowed to head another
command. I sought to understand the difficult experience of my accuser;
but the motive of this stranger is something beyond my rational mind.
He claims to have a number of witnesses; two of those he presented
confirmed during the investigation that the area of conflict was totally
deserted by civilians.
wish all through-out the investigation has been for the effort to extend
to the moments the ASG decided to go to Lamitan, and why they targeted
the compound, of all places. Only then can answer be found to such other
questions as how the accuser's bodyguard-soldier was killed, and how
the complainant could be so sure of actions that transpired in distant
places and simultaneously be unable to recall those that happened under
his very nose. CBCP spokesman Msgnr Quilitorio told me that Fr Nacorda
admitted to him that the Lamitan priest never had any evidence; only
"witnesses". As observed
by two senior Solons, the twenty-one Fr Nacorda herded during investigation
bore affidavits uniformly written in English; although most of them
only speak in the dialect. And
when two (2) were allowed to talk freely (in Pilipino), they refuted
basically their written (English) testimonies.
is within my right to demand restitution of my honor, shattered in the
eyes of the public, but never in the eyes of God, my family, relatives
& friends that actually multiplied in an spontaneous show of sympathy;
this, I demand without prejudice to legal remedies I may take. They
are options that have remained open to me as a citizen of this Republic,
which I wish to continue to serve with the intensity of commitment that
has been the hallmark of my more than three decades as soldier.