THROWBACK: The fall of Camp Abubakar

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

The MILF flag is brought down after the seizure of Camp Abubakar. (Grab from ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol)

The MILF flag is brought down after the seizure of Camp Abubakar. (Grab from ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol)

[UPDATED] Camp Abubakar, a place firmly associated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the long-winded struggle for peace in Mindanao, no longer evokes the immense respect, fear or awareness it once did almost two decades ago.

Until the late 1990s, the camp was not just the stronghold of the rebel group but also its largest settlement and seat of its Shariah-based government.

Its territory stretched to tens of thousands of hectares (initial figures were 2,000, later stretching from 10,000-15,000; in some accounts, up to 32,000), covering the Maguindanao towns of Barira, Buldon, Matanog and Parang. Forests and bodies of water acted as natural barriers around the camp, augmented by trenches and tunnels dug by the MILF.

The group’s leaders—founder and chairman Salamat Hashim and then-military chief Al Haj Murad Ibrahim—lived and held office there. Abubakar contained a school, a training academy, a hospital, businesses, farms and markets, providing for the needs of its fighters and civilian residents.

The camp meant security for those claiming allegiance to the Bangsa Moro, but caution for the Christian locals and armed forces surrounding it. None dared approach or pass through.

All that changed on July 9, 2000 when Camp Abubakar fell into the hands of the Philippine military at the end of a two-month offensive. More than 20,000 residents were affected by the clash. Continue reading


Juan Ponce Enrile and history

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

*Read behind-the-scenes stories of the Corona trial verdict day here.

Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate President and impeachment court presiding officer banging the gavel on the guilty verdict against Renato Corona.(ABS-CBN / TV Patrol footage)

Click to watch highlights of the Corona trial verdict. (ABS-CBN / TV Patrol footage)

He was not a witness, but many dubbed him the “star” of the trial that ultimately removed Chief Justice Renato Corona from office.

Many followers of the impeachment proceedings found a renewed appreciation for Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile: firm, resolute, and–at 88 years old–mentally agile in his role as presiding judge of the court.

He insisted on the judges’ impartiality in dealing with the trial panels, hearing testimonies, and accepting evidence. He strove to maintain order when senator-judges raised hell or participants appeared to act with disrespect.

While he cast the final vote convicting Corona, his justification speech equally scored weaknesses in the prosecution and defense. More so, he bared the pros and cons resulting from either decision his court would make.

Enrile pounding his gavel would become one of the trial’s enduring images.

With high trust ratings, it appeared he was the one who gained the most goodwill and political capital from the trial–even compared to President Aquino, who had a big stake in the impeachment drive.

But JPE, also known more recently as Manong Johnny, was not always publicly seen as this lamp of wisdom and direction.

Political phoenix

Few politicians are widely recognized by their acronyms as JPE. A lawyer, bureaucrat, and lawmaker, the only thing missing was had he become President of the Philippines. And for a time, Enrile was in a position to possibly become that.

Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos withdrawing support for Marcos in 1986. (Footage courtesy of ABS-CBN's EDSA 25 documentary)

Enrile and Ramos in 1986. (Courtesy of ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs’ EDSA 25 documentary)

School history books written in the recent 20 years have cited him as one of the sparks that ignited the bloodless first EDSA revolt.

And it is to his and then Gen. Fidel V. Ramos’ withdrawal of support for Pres. Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 that some align his presiding of the Corona impeachment trial—both preludes to the downfall of public figures.

The high points of JPE’s public life are a string of reviled decisions and redemptive actions. Falls and rises.

Political phoenixes are no stranger to the Philippines. But Enrile’s career spanning half a century is perhaps the biggest testament to this.

Continue reading

Erap’s big move

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Change of address. More fun in the Philippines. In picture: Joseph Estrada driving his Jeep ni erap

(Shot by Gani Taoatao, ABS-CBN News; c/o

Manga Avenue rarely sees the bustle of the nearby residential areas in Santa Mesa, Manila.

While the buildings along this street are bounded by big gates and high walls, it isn’t part of any subdivision. There are few stores close by, and the traffic it usually gets comes from passing tricycles.

The quiet at Manga Ave. may soon change with the transfer of its newest and likely most illustrious resident.

If the house-move last May 9 gave any hint, hubbub won’t be stranger to this place in the next year. Former President Joseph Estrada has brought the noise of Philippine politics to his new territory.

As early as 4 a.m., the one-lane street was already choked outside the gate marked Number 589. News vans parked a pace away were culprits. Their portable generators injected a steady hum to the silence, as TV crews prepped for advancer live shots in the morning shows.

By mid-morning, around a hundred people in white, orange, and green shirts had gathered, holding up the traffic.

The prints on the shirts gave their aim: “Welcome to Manila Mayor Erap”. Others read “Manila ♥ Erap,” “Erap ♥ Manila.”

By then, Erap had left his Polk Street house in Greenhills and was driving to Santa Mesa in his pimped out “Jeep ni Erap.”

Impending showdown

This day would answer if Estrada would follow through on his next reported conquest—this time for the top seat of the City of Manila.

Riding beside him was Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, who with other members of the city council had transferred allegiance to Estrada from his former ally, incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim.

Estrada had hinted recently of challenging Lim in the 2013 midterm elections. The only deterrent to his qualification for running was his registered address, famously in San Juan.

The transfer convoy, which included three trucks laden with wood cabinets and hard-plastic containers, all timed to the year before the polls.

Erap poster and brass band outside Estrada house in Santa Mesa Manila May 9, 2012 (Shots Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shots by Anjo Bagaoisan)

At Manga Avenue, a brass band, complete with dancing girls, had marched in to perk up the welcoming throng. Ice cream and corn vendors had also stopped by.

Placards were passed around. Their messages ranged from the familiar slogans–“Erap para sa mahirap”–to the shout-outs–“Bawal ang Dirty sa Maynila”. “Dirty” an aside against Mayor Lim, nicknamed “Dirty Harry” for his hard-line stance against crime in the 1990s.

Erap had his own action star moniker: Asiong Salonga, after the mid-20th century local gang leader he portrayed on the silver screen.

The impending showdown in Manila has now been lent ready references to action movies.

Continue reading

Second-guesses at the Gloria transfer

ABS-CBN exclusive video - GMA arrives at VMMC December 9, 2010

After a month of stakeouts, the much-awaited move finally had a date: December 9.

It meant the news media could relax a little and even reassign momentarily some of the OB vans or people that have long-guarded the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City.

One station appropriated its St. Luke’s van for the “Occupy Mendiola” protests that diverted attention to the Palace doorstep days before the scheduled transfer. The van returned to find its spot intact and still reserved.

Reporters from the so-called “St. Luke’s press corps” could soon say goodbye to their joked-about Christmas party, and also to the air-conditioned waiting area complete with hot water and the occasional gratis snack courtesy of the hospital.

Media waiting outside St Luke's Medical Center in Taguig City

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

But while everyone finally knew the day, no one knew the hour former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would be brought to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City, where she was ordered by court to spend her hospital arrest.

And despite the frequent ambush interviews at the media area–all carried live on ANC–no spokesperson would drop a clue.

“Probably between 12 midnight and 11:59 in the evening,” said Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, lawyer to Arroyo’s husband Mike, and now infamous for humorously answering media queries and jesting with reporters.

Continue reading

Boodle fight

Live from Maguindanao, Day 4
11 days before Halalan 2010

KORONADAL, SOUTH COTABATO– Gastronomical adventures come with any visit to the far away. But that does not always sound appealing when you talk about a month-long need for sustenance.

On my first trip to Mindanao, I think we have had enough of meat. Pork is not a staple here, but from where we’ve eaten so far, beef seems to be.

Heard of the Arabic-sounding balbakwa? They call this soup the local relative of bulalo. Anything, as long as it’s from the cow, goes. One version we ate stocked on the flesh, skin, and hair. Others include innards. All overbear in sour beef-ness.

If not, it has been goat, chicken, the rare pork lechon, and more beef.

Resident Isko Lance Catedral says fruits and veggies are cheap here that they are actually frequent fare–but mostly at homes.

Watermelons sold along national highway outside Koronadal, South CotabatoMel Estallo halving watermelons

And the outside heat.

One nearby caf now seems to end our search for more than meat. “Food Harbor” is a canteen heavily patronized for its 35-plus choices of viands (yes, someone counted) and doubles as a pub come nightfall.

So along with carnivorous entrées such as roasts (inihaw) and bitter stews (papaitan), we’re again eating familiar greens like chopsuey and lumpia.

La Paz Batchoy in KoronadalRoasted catfish in Tacurong

In other restos, more variety.

Eating in Maguindanao, meanwhile, is a different story.

Continue reading