February 2015

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Vladimir-Putin-and-Barack-Obama-angryIt wasn’t too long ago when President Barack Obama was the undisputed world leader since the end of the Cold War in 1989; he reigned over the greatest empire the world has ever known. But recently, he had become too complacent lording it over a unipolar world order, confident that the sun will never set on Pax Americana.

But little did Obama know that while he was basking in the glory of American exceptionalism, a militaristic Russia was slowly rising from the ashes of the defunct Soviet Union under the autocratic rule of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy of dubious provenance and questionable morals.

Putin came to power in 1999 when then President Boris Yeltsin appointed him as Prime Minister. On December 31, 1999, Yeltsin abruptly resigned and Putin became Acting President. He was elected President in 2000 and reelected in 2004. Constitutionally prohibited to run for a third term, Putin stepped down. Dmitry Medvedev was elected in 2008 and he appointed Putin as Prime Minister.

In 2008, Putin was termed out after serving two terms. He made a comeback in 2012 when he was elected to a third term. It was at that time that Putin had set his sights on the Soviet Union’s former republics and satellite states in what he calls as the “near abroad.”

An opportunity for Putin to show his mettle presented itself when Obama — in an apparent demonstration of weakness – did not act when Syria crossed the “red line” he drew on Syria’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels. By failing to respond with the use of military force against Syria’s use of banned chemical weapons, Obama sent the wrong message not only to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but also to the entire world, particularly to al-Assad’s benefactor and protector, Vladimir Putin. Putin saw Obama’s wishy-washy hesitancy to act as an opening to engage him in geopolitical brinkmanship. And thus far, Putin is ahead in the game.

Round 1

Putin's "little green men" in Crimea.

Putin’s “little green men” in Crimea.

Their fight began when Putin sent Russian soldiers — with no identifying insignia on their uniforms who came to be known as “little green men” – to Crimea. It didn’t take long for Putin to annex Crimea, which stunned the U.S. and her NATO allies. However, the U.S. and NATO had a chance to react with force to the Russian incursion – or as some say, “invasion” — but instead they stood down and allowed Putin to grab Crimea. This was a major victory for Putin because he could now deploy land-based nuclear missiles as well as missile-firing warships and submarines in the Black Sea that could reach NATO’s southern flank from Turkey to the Balkans, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Russia’s Crimean territorial grab diminished the U.S.’s credibility as the world’s superpower. For the first time since the end of World War II, the U.S. failed to protect her geopolitical interests since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when the Soviet Union attempted to deploy nuclear missiles 90 miles from U.S. mainland. Simply put, with Putin breathing down NATO’s southern flank, it puts the 28-member Atlantic alliance on notice that Russia is a power – economically and militarily — to be reckoned with in the Mediterranean Basin.

It did not then come as a surprise when it was announced that Russia is holding bilateral negotiations with Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt that could establish Russia’s military presence in the Mediterranean. Right now, Russia and Greece are in the midst of negotiating a financial bailout, which could result in Greece getting out of NATO and the European Union (EU). If that happens, it would break NATO’s defenses on her southern periphery.

RAF airbase at Akrotiri, Cyprus.

RAF airbase at Akrotiri, Cyprus.

Russia is also holding bilateral negotiations with another EU member, Cyprus, which is having financial problems. Russia is offering financial aid; however, she also wants to station air and naval assets on Cypriot ostensibly for “humanitarian” reasons. These Russian bases would be located near the Akrotiri Air base where British personnel are stationed to support ongoing operations in the Middle East, which makes one wonder: What would Cyprus do in the event Russia and NATO went to war? The specter of the tiny island of Cyprus becoming one bloody – and possibly nuclear — battlefield should be a good enough reason for Cyprus to reject Russian military presence on her territory.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi greets Putin in Cairo.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi greets Putin in Cairo.

Meanwhile, not too far away, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi gave Putin a “hero’s welcome” in Cairo. They discussed a slew of economic and military deals including the purchase of MiG-29 fighter jets and attack helicopters worth $3.5 billion. But the irony of this is that the U.S. had been sending billions in military aid to Egypt for the past three decades! Last year, the U.S.’s military aid to Egypt was $1.5 billion, which makes one wonder if the U.S. were indirectly subsidizing Egypt’s arms deal with Russia?

Round 2

Last February 12, after a marathon 17-hour summit of Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, they agreed on a ceasefire and a number of measures to achieve peace in Ukraine. But no sooner had the ceasefire agreement been signed than Russian tanks, missile systems, and troops crossed the border into Ukraine.

Heavy weapons exclusion zone along ceasefire line in Ukraine.

Heavy weapons exclusion zone along ceasefire line in Ukraine.

Apparently, Merkel, Hollande, and Poroshenko had played into Putin’s game. The ceasefire called for heavy weapons from both sides to be withdrawn from a line drawn dividing the country into two regions – the government-occupied region on the western side and the Donbas region in the east controlled by the rebels. They agreed to establish an “exclusion zone” – 200 kilometers long and 50-70 kilometers wide – separating the two sides, which would be policed by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and a “joint contact group” of Russian and Ukrainian military personnel. Heavy weapons would be withdrawn from the exclusion zone; however, the ceasefire agreement allowed armed combatants to stay within their side of the exclusion zone, which is not unlike the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divided North and South Korea since 1953 when the Korean War Armistice was signed.

But the way Putin played his game is that whether the ceasefire would hold or not, he wins. A stalemate would result in a “frozen conflict,” just like what happened in Georgia and Moldova when Putin sent Russian “peacekeepers” – or occupation troops? — to preserve “peace” between these countries and the self-proclaimed republics that broke away.

Evidently, Obama lost Round 2 because he had a chance to take the bull by the horns when the Ukrainian government forces had the upper hand in fighting the Donetsk and Lugansk separatists. But due to Obama’s refusal to send lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend her territory, Poroshenko had to “surrender” the Donbas region to the Russian-backed separatists.

Round 3

Baltic states.

Baltic states.

After Ukraine, what is Putin up to next? There are strong indications that Putin would try to reclaim the Soviet Union’s three former Baltic republics – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – and force them to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan formed as an economic union similar to the EU.

Interestingly, at the time the EEU was formed in January 2015, Russia made a proposal to Europe: “Dump the U.S. and join the Eurasian Economic Union.” While it may sound ludicrous, the way Putin had been playing his game of “deceive and conquer,” it may not be long before some European countries particularly those near Russia’s border would consider joining EEU as a means of self-preservation… unless the United States overcomes her fear of a resurgent Russia — whose unpredictable leader Vladimir Putin is bent in reclaiming Mother Russia’s glorious past – and use her might to stop Russian imperialism. But does Obama have the cojones to lead?

So far the scorecard shows 2-0 in favor of Putin. Can Obama survive Round 3?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Doomsday Clock

Doomsday Clock

Every year since 1947 in the month of January, members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists meet to perform an annual ritual of setting the time on the “Doomsday Clock.” It is a mechanism designed to warn the world of how close we are to doomsday; the closer the clock moved to midnight, the closer we are to a nuclear holocaust. In 2007, the scientists added climate change as one that could also cause global destruction.

In 1947, the scientists agreed to set the clock initially to 11:53 PM or seven minutes to midnight. They hang the clock on a wall in the Bulletin’s office at the University of Chicago to remind everybody how close we were to the threat of a global nuclear war.

The following were the years when the Doomsday Clock was closest or farthest to midnight:

In 1949, the clock was set to 11:57 PM or three minutes to midnight. That was when the Soviet Union tested her first atomic bomb, which officially started the nuclear arms race.

In 1972, the clock was set to 11:48 PM when the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

In 1984, the clock was set once again to 11:57 PM when tensions escalated between the U.S. and the Soviet Union when the arms race intensified. The U.S. deployed Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in Western Europe.

In 1991, the clock was set to 11:43 PM – 17 minutes to midnight — the earliest setting since its inception. That was when the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the collapse of the Soviet Union thereafter.

Doomsday-Clock-graph-1947-2015

 

The most recent setting was made on January 22, 2015. The clock was set to 11:57 PM or three minutes to midnight. That was the closest we were to doomsday since 1984. It was due to the modernization of nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russia, the specter of a new Cold War, the problem of nuclear waste, and the danger of global climate change.

Ukraine civil war

Civil-warWhat the scientists did not take into account when they set the clock last month was the civil war in Ukraine where the U.S. and her NATO allies are being drawn into a proxy war with Russia. It is feared that the fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in East Ukraine might escalate should Russia decide to invade Ukraine in full force including the use of tactical nuclear weapons. But what is preventing Russia from intervening is that the U.S. has so far desisted from arming Ukraine. However, President Barack Obama is under tremendous pressure by high military officials and a growing number of U.S. senators and members of Congress to send heavy weapons to Ukraine. Obama is said to be weighing his options. And then…

Minsk Summit: Lukashenko, Putin, Merkel, Hollande, and Poroshenko.

Minsk Summit: Lukashenko, Putin, Merkel, Hollande, and Poroshenko.

Last February 12, after a marathon 17-hour summit of Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, they agreed on a ceasefire and a slew of measures to achieve peace in Ukraine.

Putin was the first to announce, saying: “We have agreed on a ceasefire from midnight 15 February.” Then he added: “There is also the political settlement. The first thing is constitutional reform that should take into consideration the legitimate rights of people who live in Donbas. There are also border issues. Finally there are (sic) a whole range of economic and humanitarian issues.”

Peacemaker or renegade?

Vladimir Putin: Peacemaker or renegade?

Vladimir Putin: Peacemaker or renegade?

But peace was as remote as it was before the summit. No sooner had the four leaders signed the agreement than Ukraine claimed that 50 Russian tanks, 40 missile systems, and 40 armored vehicles crossed the border into Ukraine. It was also reported that an armored column of Russian-speaking soldiers without insignias – the “little green men” — were advancing around Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub, which had been under intense artillery shelling by the rebels.

Once again, Putin denied sending heavy weapons and troops to Ukraine. But the U.S. released photos taken by satellites showing the movement of heavy weapons into eastern Ukraine right after the ceasefire agreement was signed.

Evidently, Putin is doing everything he can to make the ceasefire fail just like the first one he agreed to last September. And this leads many to believe that the ceasefire would not last too long, which then begs the question: What exactly does Putin want?

While speculations abound about what his real intentions were, one known fact is that he felt very badly about the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During his state of the nation address to the country’s parliament in April 2005, he bitterly said: “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.”

Territorial expansion

Novorossiya-map
It did not then come as a surprise that when Putin was elected to a third term in May 2012, he embarked on a road map to restore “Mother Russia” to her old imperial glory. In 2014, he made several moves to assert his leadership over the Eurasian subcontinent that includes all of the defunct Soviet Union’s former republics and the Eastern European client states from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

It didn’t take long for Putin to annex Crimea, which stunned the U.S. and her NATO allies. Unprepared for such a blatant act of aggression, all they could do was impose economic sanctions.

Emboldened by the ease with which he grabbed Crimea, Putin then called Ukrainian President Poroshenko and threateningly told him: “If I wanted, in two days I could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest.” These are the capitals of NATO members who were formerly aligned with the Soviet Union before her demise. It gave them an eerie feeling of déjà vu when the Soviet Union forcibly imposed her reign over them in the closing days of World War II.

Now, in the midst of a civil war that could escalate into World War III, pitting NATO against Russia, planet Earth has never been closer to nuclear annihilation. The warring sides have enough nuclear warheads between them – NATO has 8,175 and Russia has 8,420 — to fry the world into radioactive smithereens. And all it would take is for Putin to press the “doomsday button.”

From Munich to Minsk

Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler: "Peace in our time"

Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler: “Peace in our time”

In retrospect, one wonders if the Minsk Agreement was an attempt to appease Putin by acceding to his demands including the “division” of Ukraine into several autonomous states within a federation. But once the Ukrainian Federation is created, what would prevent the pro-Russian autonomous states – Donetsk and Lugansk — from seceding, ala Crimea, from Ukraine in the future? Which makes one wonder if the Minsk Agreement of 2015 had the hallmark of the Munich Agreement of 1938? That was when the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy signed a settlement allowing Germany’s annexation of parts of Czechoslovakia in return for peace. But less than six months later, Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. World War II had begun.

Mutually-assured-Destruction-MADFor as long as the U.S. and her NATO allies stay out of Ukraine and refrain from sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, Putin is appeased. But what if the ceasefire were broken? Would the U.S. provide Ukraine with the weapons needed to defend her territory? Or would Obama throw Poroshenko under the bus and turn a blind eye to the pillage that would follow the collapse of Ukraine? Or… and here is the big IF… If Obama decides to send all the weapons Ukraine needs, what would Putin do? Would he make good of his promise to go nuclear? And just the thought of Putin going ballistic, that alone would set the “Doomsday Clock” to 11:59 PM… or one minute to midnight. God forbid!

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Pax-Americana.3When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989, the United States of America became the only superpower left on Earth. It was the beginning of Pax Americana — American Peace. And for more than two decades, America was the undisputed arbiter of global affairs. She rules the deep blue waters with a nuclear-armed naval force that projects American power beyond her shores and keeps the maritime trade routes open for “free trade” to prosper. She provides a nuclear umbrella for her allies. She is the unchallenged leader in a unipolar world order.

TOPSHOTS-RUSSIA-CHINA-POLITICS-DIPLOMACYBut today, the United States’ global dominance is being challenged by two emerging superpowers – Russia and China. Russia wants to rise again from the ashes of the Soviet Empire while China wants to revive the imperial glory of the Ming dynasty. Russia wants to bring back to the fold the old Soviet republics and former satellite states from Eastern Europe. China wants to establish her hegemony over the entire Asia-Pacific region and turn the South and East China Seas into a “Lake Beijing.” If that happens, it will be the first time in more than a century that the U.S. would have failed to keep the free flow of maritime traffic in international sea lanes, which begs the question: What is the U.S. doing to prevent this from happening?

In 2011, the U.S. announced that 60% of her naval forces would be deployed to Asia. This came to be known as “Pivot to Asia.” But is it enough to stop China from taking possession of the South and East China Seas?

Russian imperialism

Novorossiya-mapMeanwhile, Russia is making moves to expand her influence westward. In a land-grab operation last year, Russia fomented dissension in Crimea among her large ethnic Russian population. That led the pro-Russian separatists to hold a sham election to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Russia then conveniently annexed Crimea, which stunned the U.S. and her NATO allies.

No sooner had Russia annexed Crimea than the unrest in East Ukraine turned into shooting war – or civil war? — between pro-Russian separatists and government forces. With Russia apparently supplying the separatists with heavy weapons and tanks – which Russia denies – the Ukrainian forces couldn’t match their firepower with antiquated Soviet-era arms. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had been begging the U.S. and her NATO allies for lethal weapons. Instead, U.S. President Barack Obama sent non-lethal supplies – blankets, bulletproof vests, MREs, and night vision goggles. But the Ukrainians cannot win the war with blankets.

Last December, the U.S. Congress passed the “Ukraine Freedom Support Act,” which Obama grudgingly signed into law. However, Obama indicated that he still wouldn’t send lethal weapons to Ukraine. He argued that it merely gives him the authority to send lethal weapons but it does not require him to. He believes that diplomacy is the way to go and that there is a good chance that peace in Ukraine can still be achieved through diplomatic negotiation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Fear of Russia?

Vladimir-Putin-and-nuclear-bombDuring a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Obama said, “there are clear limits in terms of what we would do militarily.” Then he added, “To those who would suggest that we need to do more … we can exact higher and higher costs … and we can bring diplomatic pressure to bear. I don’t think that it would be wise for the United States or the world to see a actual military conflict between the United States and Russia.”

Obama presumed that sending lethal weapons to Ukraine would lead to war between Russia and the U.S. But Obama should know that Putin – like himself — is aware that a nuclear war would lead to MAD; that is, mutually assured destruction. And unless Putin was suffering from Dr. Strangelovish megalomania, he wouldn’t dare push the “Doomsday Button.” No, Vladi may have a cowardly impulse to attack Russia’s neighbors but he’s not crazy enough to watch his beloved Mother Russia perish in a nuclear holocaust.

The last time the world came close to nuclear annihilation was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade off Cuba to prevent Russia from bringing nuclear missiles to Cuba. The blockade succeeded and the Russian ships turned back. When Mao Zedong – who called the U.S. a “paper tiger,” a term for something that seems threatening but couldn’t withstand a challenge – mocked the Soviet Union for backing down, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was reported to have said, “The paper tiger has nuclear teeth.” Indeed, for his resolute leadership at the height of the Cold War, not only did Kennedy endear himself to the American people, he earned a place among the immortals in the annals of U.S. military history.

It’s now apparent that Obama is no Kennedy. Kennedy did not flinch in the face of a nuclear threat. Obama, on the other hand, ran away from crisis to crisis, to wit: (1) His total withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011; (2) His “leading from behind” stance during the Libyan revolution; (3) His non-action to Syria’s crossing his “red line” warning on chemical warfare; (4) His “no boots on the ground” strategy in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); (5) His inaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea; (6) His refusal to provide weapons to the Kurdish peshmerga to fight ISIS; and (7) His refusal to send lethal weapons to Ukraine.

“Civil war”

Civil-warRecently, a White House spokesman said that the administration is “constantly looking at” whether to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons. But talks are talks. And for each day that Obama dilly-dallies, the pro-Russian rebels are gaining ground. And with Russia continuously sending heavy weapons and the “little green men” in unmarked uniforms to East Ukraine, it would just be a matter of time before Kiev falls. And then what?

It doesn’t take a military genius to figure out that Putin would not stop at Ukraine. He probably would try to finish his unfinished invasion of Georgia in 2008. Next would be Moldova, which has 1,200 Russian troops acting as “peacekeepers” in Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway state, Transnistria. Moldova would be an easy trophy for Russia. And what’s next?

NATO

NATO

If Putin goes further west, then Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — on Russia’s border — would be easy targets. The only problem is that these three Baltic countries are members of NATO. Article 5 of the NATO charter says, “An armed attack against one shall be considered an attack against them all.” But the question is: Would NATO go to war against Russia? And does Obama have the cojones to play nuclear Russian roulette with Putin? Kennedy played it with Khrushchev 52 years ago and won. And two years later, Khrushchev was deposed from power by his communist party mates.

After a quarter century of Pax Americana, America is now at a crossroads. Obama knows that American Peace could end during his presidency if he continued with his flawed Obama Doctrine. If there is one lesson that he must learn to be an effective commander-in-chief, he should read Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s farewell address to Congress in 1951. Towards the end of his speech, the five-star general said, “War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war there is no substitute for victory.” Yes, indeed.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Slain SAF commandos loaded in trucks.

Slain SAF commandos loaded in trucks.

In the aftermath of one of the worst massacres in Philippine history, questions were raised on who was responsible for the bungled police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, which is within Muslim Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) territory. And as the story had evolved, the massacre of 44 commandos of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) was the result of a poorly executed operation to capture Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” a member of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, and his Filipino henchman Abdul Basit Usman, a bomb-maker for the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

BIFF rebels (File Photo)

BIFF rebels (File Photo)

What makes the situation confusing is that the MILF and BIFF have overlapping territories, or a camp within a camp. Surmise it to say, the MILF and BIFF manage to co-exist peacefully; after all, a lot of their members are inter-related. The only difference is that BIFF wants total independence while MILF was willing to settle for autonomy. But what obfuscates the whole thing is that MILF is at peace with the government while BIFF is at war with the government. Government forces should therefore take extreme caution when entering MILF/BIFF territory. In fact, the peace accord that was signed by the Philippine government and the MILF a year ago stipulated that any military or police operation into MILF territories has to be coordinated with the MILF to avoid accidental shootouts.

SAF commandos (File Photo)

SAF commandos (File Photo)

It did not then come as a surprise that when 392 SAF commandos were sent last January 25 to Mamasapano to serve warrants of arrest against Marwan and Usman, all hell broke loose! According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), which has jurisdiction over the SAF, the commandos had a firefight with Marwan’s group and claimed that Marwan was killed. However, in their haste to withdraw from the scene after Marwan was terminated, they left his body behind but not before someone took a photo of him. But some people are questioning the authenticity of the photograph, which makes one wonder if the Philippine government would claim the $5 million bounty that the U.S. has posted for the capture of Marwan? But would Uncle Sam give the reward without producing Marwan’s body?

Reinforcement denied

The President's men: Alan Purisima, Voltaire Gazmin, and Jojo Ochoa (File Photo)

The President’s men: Alan Purisima, Voltaire Gazmin, and Jojo Ochoa (File Photo)

According to the PNP, a large group of combined MILF/BIFF forces pursued the withdrawing SAF troops and a gun battle ensued. Pinned down and surrounded by the Muslim rebels, the beleaguered commandos requested for reinforcement from a nearby military base. However, the military was unable to respond because there was no order from the chain of command. And this was where the debacle began to unravel.

According to media reports, the military was waiting for an order from the commander-in-chief, President Benigno Aquino III, who was then in Zamboanga monitoring the SAF operation. But the order never came.

And this was where weird stories began to circulate. A story goes that no sooner had Aquino approved the operation than he flew to Zamboanga where he waited in the wings ready to go to Maguindanao when the operation had succeeded. And the spectacle of Aquino receiving his laurels for the capture of the suspected terrorists would certainly add a feather to his cap, not to mention a great photo-op material for his memoirs.

Chain of command

The chain of command and the Fallen 44 (Photo collage by  Hataw/D'yaryo ng Bayan)

The chain of command and the Fallen 44 (Photo collage by Hataw/D’yaryo ng Bayan)

But what was really strange in this potential “movie production” — a la “Zero Dark Thirty” — had the operation succeeded, are the two “players” Aquino hand-picked to play key roles in the hunt for Marwan and Usman. Media reports said that the two whom Aquino put in the chain of command were Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa and suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima, which begs the question: Why were they included in the chain of command of this operation?

And this is where the weird got weirder. Rumor has it that the operation was hatched by no less than Ochoa who heads the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) to “neutralize” terrorist forces. As the head of PAOCC, Ochoa is known as the “Anti-terrorism Czar,” a position that gives him near-absolute power in fighting crime. Yet, the country today has never been as crime-ridden as it was before, which makes one wonder why Aquino would entrust Ochoa, a lawyer with no law enforcement or military background, with such a very – very – important authority?

Zulkifli Abdul Hir alias "Marwan"

Zulkifli Abdul Hir alias “Marwan”

And the weirdest thing was that Aquino appointed the disgraced and suspended PNP Chief, Gen. Alan Purisima, to run the SAF operation to get Marwan. And not only did he run the botched operation, he controlled its implementation directly under Aquino and Ochoa. Indeed, one might say that Aquino, Ochoa, and Purisima were the triumvirs who conceived, planned, and executed the failed operation to capture Marwan and Usman… at the price of the lives of the 44 fallen heroes.

What is appalling is that the people who should really be running the show were taken out of the loop and totally kept in the dark during the execution of the operation. Had the established line of authority been followed, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas, PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, and SAF Commander Director Getulio Napeñas should have been the ones running the show. Ochoa in his role as Anti-terrorism Czar should only have an oversight role while Aquino could just have stayed in Malacanang to monitor the operation.

But as it turned out the whole situation was a fiasco!

Out of control

Necrological services for the Fallen 44.

Necrological services for the Fallen 44.

Relatives grieve for the Fallen 44.

Relatives grieve for the Fallen 44.

Some media reports were critical of Aquino who played the role of a “Field Marshal,” directing the battle from a vantage point. He delegated the operational control to Purisima who received detailed reports from the field totally bypassing the PNP hierarchy.

When the operation went out of control and the MILF/BIFF joint forces ambushed the SAF commandos, Aquino was reported to have panicked. He reportedly instructed Teresita Deles, the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process, to call for a ceasefire on the ground. However, it was reported that the MILF/BIFF rebels did not stop firing at the SAF troops.

And this was where the situation became very political. When the SAF forces asked for reinforcement, they were told not to do so because Aquino didn’t want to jeopardize the peace process with the MILF. Pinned down for more than 10 hours, the SAF forces were easy targets to rebel snipers. It was a massacre… a slaughter!

When the gunfight was over, the government reported 44 commandos killed. However, in addition to the 44 SAF commandos, an MILF spokesman reported that eight members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), two members of the Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO), and six informants were killed. The MILF/BIFF forces suffered 18 deaths.

Blame game

But who would blame President Aquino or Ochoa or Purisima? They’re untouchable! But somebody has to take the fall for the slain commandos. In a situation like this, the low man on the totem pole usually becomes the scapegoat. And who else could the scapegoat be other than the SAF Commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, the “low man” in the chain of command? With the removal of Napeñas, the bloodhounds found somebody to blame for the deaths of the 44 commandos.

But at the end of the day, one can say that it’s not a scapegoat that got them killed, it’s reckless leadership that led to the massacre of the Fallen 44.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)