Posted: 0:58 AM (Manila Time)
DID Fr. Cirilo Nacorda himself arrange the entry of the Abu Sayyaf into Lamitan, Basilan, on June 2?
Was Nacorda's church the designated drop-off point for payment of ransom for some of the hostages abducted by the Abu Sayyaf from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan on May 27, 2001?
These questions were raised by embattled Brig. Gen. Romeo Dominguez who himself was accused by Nacorda of conniving with the Abu Sayyaf.
Dominguez sought to turn the tables against Nacorda in a four-page statement titled "Lamitan-A Soldier's Lament."
Dominguez was previously relieved as commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division after Abu Sayyaf bandits managed to slip out of a military cordon ringing the Lamitan church where they were trapped.
Before the bandits escaped, hostages Reghis Romero, his female companion, Maria Rhiza Santos, and 9-year-old boy RJ Recio were released.
Ransom was believed to have been paid for the freedom of Romero, a construction magnate, although he has officially denied this.
The Senate and House are scheduled to conduct a probe into the military's alleged connivance with the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.
According to Nacorda, who claims to have other witnesses to support him, Dominguez was seen with a suitcase full of cash before the bandits slipped out.
There are accounts that Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Abu Sabaya was talking to somebody, presumably a ranking military officer, about the pull-out of troops at the back of the church before the gunmen made their getaway.
In his statement, Dominguez said that after the fighting has ceased in Basilan, he and other officers heard Nacorda's assistant Fr. Rene Enriquez relating that when the Abu Sayyaf saw him (Enriquez), they asked: "Where is the money?"
"He (Enriquez) shut his mouth when he sensed the sharp look thrown his way by Fr. Nacorda," Dominguez said.
"Was there indeed prior talk about ransom? Had anyone arranged that the church would be the drop-off point for ransom? Who made the coordination?" Dominguez said.
Dominguez also expressed wonder who actually shot dead Nacorda's soldier-bodyguard when the church was occupied by the Abu Sayyaf.
"All that is known how Fr. Nacorda survived the standoff came from his mouth," the general said. "We certainly were happy he was alive but how really?"
Dominguez said the Armed Forces of the Philippines "did not find in its conscience to interview a priest."
Dominguez also pointed out that Nacorda does not even have a sworn statement to back up his accusations and in a Catholic country, it is regarded that a "priest would not tell a lie and the soldier would not tell the truth."
Dominguez likewise said that church personnel also refused to be debriefed by military investigators and probers "did not insist on getting their statement."
Dominguez also lamented that apparently out of religious reverence, military pilots deliberately withheld their fire from the church bell tower where Sayyaf snipers were perched.
Lamitan - A Soldier's Lament
by B.Gen. Romeo B. Dominguez AFP
TODAY I appear bludgeoned by a person known to me only by name; my head I hold high propped up by the knowledge that my conscience is clear and innocent of the wild charges; my spirit intact thanks to the wonders of technology; people most of who are not known to me but who genuinely believe in my integrity have expressed them thru text messaging: I received plenty of them. Many thanks to all of you who did.
I am being charged of conniving with the enemy; focusing on the Lamitan clash of 02 June, contending that based on affidavits of faceless individuals, in consideration of undisclosed amount, I gave the order to let the ASG escape!
Being the Division Commander, I remember having given only one order. "Assault, destroy the enemy before sundown!" I handed the order at about 1 PM to the ground (Brigade) commander after seeing for myself the situation on the ground and from the air. Any second longer could be an extension of the agony of the community and hostages. Every minute that ticked away would sink the spirit of the soldiers, who had been fighting not only since the entry of the enemy at 1AM, but a day before in Tuburan where the initial clash with the enemy took place.
In support of the allegation which was a corruption of the order I gave, my accuser mentioned of a meeting between me and the families of the hostages in Zamboanga in the morning of 02 June before I flew to Lamitan. I could have not met them; I did not even know if indeed they came. I didn't give a damn; I had no intention of seeing them. I did not meet any. I was never in Zamboanga that day having spent the night in Isabela, at the Hqs of 103rd Inf Bde, while monitoring the situation in Tuburan. I took a quick aerial survey of the battle area in the afternoon of 01 June but was not privileged to catch a glimpse of the skirmishes much more of the enemy below. My consciousness was centered on as to where the enemy could have vanished?
At Lamitan District Hospital where my casualties were brought and prepared for evacuation, indeed, I gave P5,000 to a Dr Aguila. Not much to defray hospital expense. The cash could have not come from RANSOM. It's from my MOE (Maintenance and Operational Expense), and medicine and supply are part of those it should pay for.
Soldiers and Everyone Else Are children of God, Too:
It's my word, I, a soldier, against that of a priest. In this Catholic country of a people with a bad case of Martial Law hangover, the bias could only be surmised through media reports that feasted on the so-called expose. Without saying it, the impression that filled the air was: the priest would not tell a lie, and the soldier would not tell the truth. In the eyes of God, that same priest will tell you, we are all His children, all created in his image.
The strength of the church teachings are deeply imbedded in our soldiers. After the first air attack at the compound, I confronted the pilots why the snipers perched at the church tower have not been neutralized. Before that sortie, I would learn later, no less than the CSAFP, Gen Villanueva, talked to them about their fears: their objective has ceased to be the House of God; it has been taken over by evils; therefore, it would not be a sin to destroy the structures. Apparently, the message did not come across: they carefully placed their fires in-between the hospital and the church! Thus, the snipers continued to keep the ground troops at bay. So I appealed to these gallant pilots, silence the devil ASG snipers; if you destroy the structures it would just be incidental. And so they did. The pilots would attack with ferocity our pilots are known for. The heavy fires would not all hit the target: Some would pepper the outlying area. Soldiers have to adjust position to keep themselves from being harmed by friendly forces. If this move was seen as "abandoning of post", subsequent investigations did not stumble on this angle. What we would learn later was that not one of those saintly figurines was scarred or nicked by bullets. The pilots indeed succeeded in their mission without hurting their saints!
The same reverence for all that are connected to the church would continue to be displayed by your soldiers. After the rescue of the hostages, and noting that church personnel preferred not to debrief, our own investigators did not insist in getting their statement; including the two (2) priests. Fr Nacorda and his assistant, Fr Enriquez. The latter was bubbly and would speak non-stop to whoever cared to listen. While taking lunch, he barked: " Nang makita ako ng mga bandido, tanong agad nila: nasaan ang pera?". [ saw the bandits, they immediately questioned: where is the money?] He shut his mouth when he sensed the sharp look thrown his way by Fr Nacorda. And we all proceeded to finish our lunch in silence.
Soldiers Love and Respect our Priests:
An officer, who was eating near me, asked me later: "What did Fr Enriquez mean?" Was there indeed prior talk about Ransom?" Had anyone arranged that the church would be drop-off point for a ransom?" "Who made the coordination?" Our reverence for church people dictated that we should not ask them for affidavits; the church should investigate their own. We could only hope they did. Their findings should answer the following in addition to the above:
a. How and when the Army-soldier bodyguard of Fr Nacorda was killed? Who shot him?
b. Fr Nacorda is said to be a target of the ASG, who should have known that the priest was somewhere near having seen (and killed) his bodyguard. All that is known how Fr Nacorda survived the standoff came from his mouth. We certainly were happy he was alive, but how really?
The AFP did not find it in its conscience to interview a priest; it quietly proceeded to immediately reconstruct the church. The Engineers must have done a fine job; they merited praises from Fr Nacorda - who then went on to unleash his attack on the so called long standing collusion between the AFP and ASG, the bandits "escape" in Lamitan and the lifestyles of senior officers.
Fr Enriquez is reportedly on vacation, he is said to have manifested serious effects of his traumatic experience. I wish him well.
Affidavits and the Truth:
Fr Nacorda is back celebrating mass in the church built by AFP. He talks a lot; but not about what really happened inside the church before and during the siege - he has no Affidavit to support his story. He has only stories about the AFP-bunglings outside the compound on 02 June. And he said he has affidavits to prove his accusation - and went straight to the Media without counter-checking the documents and the people who signed them. Needs or situations can produce people with affidavits. In certain places, such documents can be had at the flick of a finger. Remember how in the past, there were complaints of Japanese collaborators who were recognized as WWII veterans? . . and supposed wives who were not yet born when their supposed Veterans husbands died? They got their benefit on the strength of Affidavits. Everybody's familiar, of course, of that joke about a man who has not eaten for days, but would readily swear that in his place: "ang pira, ginapiko, ginapala!" ["The broken, ginapiko, ginapala!"]
If some residents in Basilan were mad at the soldiers, the reason can be traced to the earlier actions of the 103rd Inf Bde. The troops had religiously implemented the gun ban imposed for the Elections. They confiscated undocumented firearms including those from the boys of Gov Akbar, Lamitan Mayor Ramos, even Congressman Salapuddin who I heard genuinely praised Col Narcise for doing a good job. In our earlier talk, Gov Akbar said that because of the confiscation it might be difficult for soldiers to get cooperation from the public henceforth. After the Lamitan incident, he mentioned of an instance during the clash where somebody approached Mayor Ramos for meals to be given to the soldiers - and the Mayor obliged by sending uncooked rice to show his displeasure over the confiscation. Indeed, among people who hold guns as sacred, disarming - even if according to law, is a mortal sin.
I was replaced as head of JTF Comet 20 days after the Lamitan clash. Gen Villanueva said I needed the rest. By then the units in Basilan have nearly tripled: from one brigade, it has risen to three. I went back to my Hqs in Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur, consoled by the thought that at last I could focus my on my job as 1st Inf Div Commander! When I was advised to move to 8th Inf Div in Samar on 07 July, I complied like any good soldier would following a legitimate order. I have not committed an operational lapse; I was responsible for the failure of my brigade commander: one of five I operationally controlled.
Looking back, I realized Basilan took 3 dozen days of my 100 as 1st Infantry Division head. Her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo personally gave me the order to focus on the ASG, for which I received augmentation troops from the Marines, Navy and Air Force, in support of my own two Bdes (out of five under 1st Inf Div), already deployed in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.
The order is a singular honor given to me by the Commander-in-Chief through a Chain of Command that I hold sacred in my heart. Not in one instance had I violated that in my more than 30 yrs as Army officer, two People's Power and a number of coup d'etat. This same commitment saw me through in the darkest moments in Jolo (where I spent my first 2 months as head of JTF Comet): two days to the threat of Schilling's beheading. I would jokingly say: What a job! I could be relieved within 2 days of my assumption of Command, should the head of Schilling appear as a Presidential Birthday gift!
I am certain God knows I would never accept blood money; not all the money the ASG possesses can match the kind of honor/fame, goodwill - and even money and career opportunities, taken together, that I could gain if I succeeded in destroying the ASG. The many "texters" (and some Internet users) reassured me they believed I would not do the act (s) leveled against me. And I thank them all, from the bottom of my heart.
God knows the strength of my conviction. And as importantly: I know.