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

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The faces of war

Zamboanga City - Row of coffins containing soldiers killed in Basilan. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

IPIL, ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY–The arrival of flag-draped caskets did not seem to end.

Soldiers greeted them as they were unloaded from trucks at Zamboanga City’s Edwin Andrews Air Base.

The 19 coffins were flanked, three to four soldiers on each side, into a long row of blue and red, being readied for a march of farewell.

Their only identification was written on straps of packing tape: the surname and rank of the body they bore and the city they were headed for.

The coffins were led out to the waiting C-130 plane as a dirge filled the air.

A chaplain blessed the caskets. And as the grieving sobbed, all the soldiers at the tarmac raised a final salute.

Watch Jorge's report by clicking on the pic. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Reporter Jorge Carino observed later on TV Patrol: “The return of a soldier in this way is probably the saddest of all homecomings.”

Whether the escorts knew their slain comrades or not, the remains remind them of an end they have all prepared for as they respond to duty’s call.

This is the face of war.

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