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3 A.M. MAGAZINE REPORTS FROM THE PHILLIPINES


JOLO UNDER SIEGE

Commentary by Rolando V. Ecarnacion Jr

Copyright © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


FOR THOSE WHO have been waiting for it to happen, it finally did happen. The Abu Sayyafs are under attack.

During the last five months, the Philippine government has suffered from both local and international criticisms for its lack of toughness in dealing with that group of bandits otherwise known as the Abu Sayyaf, a group of Muslim extremists notoriously known for several bombings, assassinations, and kidnapping incidents in Metro Manila and Mindanao. In fairness, though, the government has made a good decision in its attempts to peacefully settle the situation.

But as Malacaņang Palace officials put it into words, enough is enough.



The Jolo diary


If you haven't been reading the news lately, 21 people were abducted from Sipadan Island, Malaysia by a group of armed men nearly half a year ago. It didn't take long to determine that the bandits were Tausug-speaking, a dialect commonly spoken in southern Philippine provinces. It would later be confirmed that the bandits were no less than the Abu Sayyafs.

The Sipadan incident launched the Abu Sayyafs into the international scene, mainly because of the fact that half of the hostages taken were from countries like France, Germany, Lebanon, South Africa, and Malaysia.

So for the next few months, the Philippines would be a regular on CNN and BBC World, with the Mindanao situation as the main focus. The Love Bug may have made it big on the international news scene, but not as big as the Abu Sayyafs. I mean, I should know. It was the time I was nursing a broken ankle on a hard cast and I had nothing to do but watch the whole thing happen on television.

Except for putting the Philippines badly on the world map, it didn't make much impact at all. After all, the same thing was going on in Sierra Leonne and several other parts of the world.

But everytime a news report mentions the phrase, "hostage drama," I couldn't help but give more interest on the "drama" part of the phrase. Well, you know... Hostage taken. Hostage released. Another hostage taken. Another one released. No ransom paid, just "livelihood development funds" given.

It was a circus on deadly grounds.

So the government got tired of talking, and now the talking is over.



Assault begins


I was in an IRC chatroom when I heard the news. Talking to me on one window was a young German girl asking questions on MILF and Abu Sayyaf. She said she needed it for a class report. Obviously, she already had the facts. She just needed a few perspectives. And it seemed, I wasn't the only Filipino she was talking to.

When she asked me on the latest in Mindanao, I gave her the website of a popular daily national paper in the Philippines. About a minute later, she responded with the words, "So they've launched an assault already, huh"

I said, "What?" And I found myself clicking on the website that I just gave her. And there it was. Right on the headline.

"RP troops assault Abus"

I suddenly realized I was surfing the net the entire afternoon and missed a few television hours. I wasn't updated.

When I went home that day, I caught a news replay of the President addressing the nation. He was reluctant in giving the attack order. But he seemed he had no choice. Later that night, Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado justified every move that President Estrada has made in the last 48 hours.

A lot of people have a different view on the matter, though. They say that it could have been settled in

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