Michael's Dispatches

Philippines: Some Notes, Thoughts, and Observations


06 June 2009
Filed From Chaghcharan, Afghanistan


Until recently, Afghanistan was called “The Forgotten War.” The dramatic domestic, regional, and international politics of the Iraq war largely eclipsed the fact that our people were fighting just as hard in Afghanistan. Although we’re paying attention to AfPak now, off the radar screen an important and related fight has been unfolding in the Philippines.

At the invitation of the Philippine government, the U.S. maintains about 600 troops, including Army Green Berets, Civil Affairs, and Military Information Support teams, Navy SEALS and Seabees, along with Air Force personnel and Marines.  Our military forces are deployed in six locations: Zamboanga, Mindanao, Jolo, Basilan, Tawi Tawi, and a small number of liaison staff on Luzon. Their mission is to help the Armed Forces of the Philippines eliminate terrorist groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf Group and to prevent them from establishing safe havens from which to train other terrorists, both internal and external.

The small airport at Jolo is being expanded to accommodate civilian traffic.  The U.S. contingent uses contracted aircraft to island hop.

The importance of the Philippines to American Pacific interests in defense and trade becomes clear when you spin a globe and note its location: The Philippine Archipelago is a geographic bottleneck that allows the holder a significant political and military advantage throughout the area and far beyond.

In the last century, the dominant insurgencies that jousted with the Philippine governments—and us—were linked to communism. The Chinese and the Soviets were happy to instigate rebellion in impoverished places such as Luzon and Mindanao, and to back the indigenous New People’s Army against the U.S.-backed Philippine government.  Russian and Chinese interest in limiting American hegemony in the Philippines (a former U.S. colony), and surrounding areas, has been a constant.

Mindanao: Fighters from this village surrendered on 20 April 2009.  Instead of incarceration, the villagers are being welcomed back by aid projects from the Philippine and U.S. governments.  This is causing defections among the enemy.  The guerrilla leader told me he had been fighting since 1976.

After the Soviet Union fizzled and the Chinese communists became interested in wealth, the armed insurgencies of the Philippines gained new vitality from association with rising Islamic fundamentalist ideology and organizations.  There are direct links between Philippine domestic insurgents and Indonesian and Malaysian terrorists.  Foreign Islamic terrorists also have been captured in the Philippines.  The U.S. Government regards this as a key front in the global war on terror.

With the large, poor Muslim population (called Moros) on Mindanao and other islands, it is no surprise that Islamic nationalist movements have found a home among the Moros.  The Moros have been fighting nearly all comers for centuries.  That said, this does appear to be a war that “we” are winning.  “We” means that probably 98% of the hard work is being done by the Philippines, but the 2% the United States brings to the table is crucial.

The term Moros was coined by the Spanish who described any of the Muslim peoples as “Moros” (Moors), but in the context of the Philippines, the term itself is as ethnologically vague as calling modern Europeans “Christians.”  While Islamic nationalism is a force in Mindanao, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, no matter what jersey it wears, much of the Philippine fighting is not religiously grounded.  For example, the relatively isolated people have a long memory for past political feuds and are mired in a revenge culture.  The population is fragmented into clans and other affinity groups.  The very idea of a Moro is politically subjective, as the “Moros” themselves are an amalgam of peoples forming anthropological sediment that predates Christianity itself, while Islam reached Mindanao approximately 600 years ago.  Jihadists and Crusaders collided here centuries ago.

Mindanao: We drove two hours, often through ambush country rivaling any I’ve seen in Afghanistan, to get to this remote village.  The jungle and terrain favor the enemy.  This Moro fighter had a permanent scowl until our troops (Philippine, and U.S. Navy and Army) greeted him, and then he brightened up.

Politically, the southern Philippines is an “over-determined” mess.  Many potent indicators of instability are present. It’s poor. The national government is weak and has a history of atrocities. Political corruption is rampant at all levels of government. The education system is weak. There are overlapping claims of national, tribal, and Sharia law. The culture is deeply fractured.  The borders—in this case beaches—are vast and porous.

The two “M’s” of Mindanao: Malaria and Moros.

These cultural, historical and political dynamics have proven to be a breeding ground for insurgency, lawlessness and terrorism. In terms of the insurgent and terrorist groups operating in Mindanao, it can be instructive to think of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) as analogous to the Philippine Taliban, and JI/ASG (Jemaah Islamiyah/Abu Sayyaf Group) as the Southeast Asian al Qaeda.  Though the MILF is more culturally advanced than the Taliban, JI/ASG are typical AQ-type scavengers.  Many of the Taliban are more like cavemen with RPGs, while the MILF are more like Filipino Muslims with gripes, grudges and claims.  AQ is always AQ. All of these groups want some form of independent Islamic state. The U.S. military is in the southern Philippines to help the AFP (Armed Forces Philippines) defeat JI and ASG, but they are also concerned about lawless or “rogue” elements of the MILF who collaborate and provide safe haven to JI and ASG.

Central Mindanao and the MILF

I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Central Mindanao where the U.S. military is concerned about the presence of JI and whether or not the rogue elements of the MILF are providing them safe haven. Unlike al Qaeda, which is a non-state organization committed to terror in the name of ideology whose guerillas usually function in small, unidentified groups, MILF fighters—even the grunts—, actually wear uniforms in an attempt to gain international recognition and to gain protections under international law. Their primary struggle is local, and nationalistic.  The MILF is not per se an enemy of the United States, or even the Philippines, other than that it wants sovereignty, and this conflicts with Filipino desires.

Numerous Filipino officers have described the combat prowess of the MILF, noting that they are not good fighters, but that they are smart, very tough, show great heart and their courage is unquestionable.  And they have home field advantage.

Faces of the enemy: Moro children turned out to be just like other kids.  The kids were well-mannered, never asked for candy, and loved the camera.  (Mindanao)

The Moro fight in the Philippines is largely about ancestral domain which, in that light, could be claimed by someone before them.  The people who happen to be Muslims want land and independence.  Sharia law is the law of the land in some places.  Pitched battles are unfolding on a daily basis.  Up to 300,000 people have been displaced by fighting between the MILF and the AFP.  Journalists, aid workers, missionaries and locals often have been kidnapped, causing the AFP to expend great energy in search and rescue operations. Some officers—U.S. and Filipino—believe at times the KFRs (Kidnappings for Ransom) are about money, but at other times the KFRs are simply strategic diversions; the enemy knows the AFP and the PNP (Philippine National Police) will divert great resources to the hostage crisis.  U.S. officers agree.

While in central Mindanao, I spoke with Philippine Army Colonel Rey Ardo, who explained some dynamics of his area of operations (AO)—which includes a large MILF camp near his AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) camp, across Lake Lanao.  The colonel, who is Commander of the 103rd Brigade, said his fight is less with MILF as an organization and more with lawless elements, a sentiment that various commanders expressed.  We saw this in Iraq and lawless bandits are a great problem in Afghanistan.

We spoke while walking around his gigantic sand-table (a sort of handmade relief map showing terrain features in 3D), where it occurred to me that, using his 105mm guns, he could easily shoot over the lake and destroy the Moro camp.  I asked why he doesn’t unleash on those guys.  Colonel Ardo noted that the MILF lives there with women and children and the AFP doesn’t want to clobber the children. The Philippine Army has not always exercised that kind of restraint in the past, but there is recognition now within the AFP that roads, wells and schools and good governance are going to ultimately end the conflict, not bullets and bombs.

Mindanao: Evil Moros.  Muslims one and all.  Everything looks different up close.  I felt at home in this 'enemy' village. This photo, and many others, was taken by Navy Lt. Lara Bollinger using my camera.  The Moro woman, using stuttering English, asked Lt. Bollinger if she has a wife.

As a result of fighting smarter and combining their combat operations with aggressive civil military operations, the AFP is making slow but tangible progress in its struggle to bring the MILF into the fold.  Philippine Army Colonel Rey Ardo echoed the emerging view that some in the MILF are tired of fighting and can be wooed away with sincere promises of prosperity.  In fact, in the month prior to my arrival, more than 100 MILF fighters had surrendered to the AFP, tired of being on the run and hoping for a better life for their families. They are now being provided security and livelihood assistance by the AFP and the government. Identifying fissures and fault-lines in Iraq, and exploiting them, was paramount to the incredible turn of events in 2006-2007.  Each enemy group that agrees to end the fighting brings crucial information, and fighters who will join us, while allowing the good guys to concentrate on the remaining violent actors.

Laundry day; every village we passed through had the laundry on the line.

Our troops call laundry day 'no pants day' because the little kids all run around wearing shirts but no pants.  The bigger kid saw us and ran over to lift the baby’s arm to wave.  In Iraq he would have ran to us for candy because too many troops make brats out of the kids by playing Santa Claus.  It’s dangerous to throw candy to kids, too.  They run out and sometimes get run over.

A Potent Mix of Conflicts

If the MILF insurgency were the only thing standing in the way of peace, security and development in Mindanao, then prospects for Mindanao might be rosier. But there is a subtlety here that Filipino commanders are quick to point out:  there are two major layers of violence.  The first layer, which the Philippine military must address in the short term, is the organized violence against the government that has killed thousands over the years and displaced hundreds of thousands.

If the Filipino commanders that I spoke with get their choice—there are other camps within AFP who, I am told, are more prone to use force—the violence will mostly be resolved with civic action, not guns.  They say that 80% of their actual fight is on the civil affairs side, and only 20% is gun-related.  That’s great news and in itself demonstrates much promise.

Filipino officers were open about their combat operations, but in each case tried to put the fighting into an 80-20 context, lest the public lose track that this war is better resolved with patience and thinking rather than bullets.  But make no mistake; fighting happens every day, and if you check the news, there are more war stories coming from here than any person can follow.  This is a no-kidding war.

Sulu Island: Local legend has it that Alexander the Great made it this far, and that some islanders are his descendents.  One hears similar stories in Afghanistan.  It seems quite odd that Afghanistan and the Philippines would have so many real or imagined connections.  Whatever the case, there were many old signs of yesteryear’s initiatives, and an Italian hostage from the International Red Cross is known to be near this area.

Underneath this first layer of anti-government violence, however, is a whole other layer of inter-clan, tribal violence, known in the Philippines as “rido.”  Standing over the sand-table, Col. Ardo talked about the hundreds of these “rido,” or clan feuds, in his area.  As with other Filipino officers, Islam is not his big concern.  Islam is an overlay.  The local culture is the plumbing.  The clans and their infighting cause persistent bloodletting.  The similarities in Afghanistan are remarkable, where the equivalent Dari term for rido is “gangi qabilaui” (for tribal fights within one ethnicity), and “gangi meliaty” (for fights between ethnicities).

Rido sometimes persist for generations, perpetuating a cycle of violence that is not easily broken. Combine that dynamic with one million loose firearms in the Philippines, and you can see how this might create a volatile climate.

Another peculiarity in the southern Philippines fighting is something called pintakasi, which I first heard about from an American Navy SEAL just before a mission was to launch that evening.  He was concerned that a small group of AFP forces, who were going on the mission, might get killed in a pintakasi.  A pintakasi (cockfight) occurs when fighting erupts, and all the fighting-aged males flood out of villages with any weapons they can find (M-16s are plentiful), and try to overwhelm the invader.  One day, ten AFP Marines were beheaded, for example.  Sounds similar to the events that occurred in Mogadishu as depicted in “Blackhawk Down” where our own people were nearly overwhelmed.

Mindanao: Philippine troops see much combat down here.

I asked Colonel Ardo about rido dynamics and he said there were too many feuds even to count.  “Dozens?” I asked.  He shook his head.  “Hundreds?” I asked.  I was aiming too low.  “What causes them?”  It had been a long day out in enemy country (I saw no fighting; we were talking with MILF members and their families who had surrendered) and I didn’t take notes.  But his answer was, effectively, “There are countless rido caused by anything you can imagine.”

Interestingly, Colonel Ardo explained that he sees rido violence between Muslim clans, and between Muslim and Christian clans, but not between Christian and Christian clans.

Both U.S. and Filipino commanders will say that rido and tribal rivalries—over the long haul—are more problematic than religious grievances and cause more violence than anything else. Many of the inhabitants of Mindanao and other islands hail from cultures which have been persistently violent—with or without outside influence—for centuries.  And so the Filipino commanders know that even when they end the major warfare, the basic culture of violence will persist, which, again, sounds like Afghanistan.

Indeed, Colonel Ardo said, almost in passing, that he is not fighting “people”; he’s fighting a culture.  Afghanistan.

Americans think of Filipinos as pleasant, likable and good workers—as indeed they often are. But at home, Filipino culture is, of course, messier.  The nation’s approximately 7,100 islands are home to over 100 tribal groups, which speak at least 70 languages.  One of the most unhelpful internal cultural dynamics is an expression of the tribal rivalries, which takes the form of something widely known in the U.S. and the Philippines as “crab mentality.”

When a fisherman has one crab in a bucket, the crab can escape and so the bucket needs a lid.  But if there are two or more crabs, every time a crab starts to escape, the others—so they say—will pull it back down.

Mindanao.  Most of these Moro women were happy to have their photos taken, and only a few were shy, but even when they were shy they laughed.  The men of this village had fought for decades and only surrendered with dignity on 20 April 2009.

Mindanao: The villagers served us lunch.  I felt no danger in the village and would have been happy to spend the night, but that might be a hard sell to the U.S. and Philippine forces.  Philippine forces are guarding this village because other MILF who have not surrendered are threatening them with death.  Other fighters, I am told by villagers, wish to surrender too, but they are waiting to see what happens.

A vigorous, economically powerful drug culture is part of the political problem.  In the United States, despite the serious drug problem, cartels do not run our government.  But in places like Afghanistan, or Mexico—and over in Mindanao—drugs are a T-Rex.  If Afghanistan is a poppy farm, Mindanao is a meth-lab, according to the U.S. and Filipino officials.  Methamphetamines serve as an oxidizer for civil chaos and a revenue source for terrorists.  And, predictably, drugs corrupt and de-legitimatize the government.  We see this in Afghanistan where top leaders are implicated in the drug business.  Stories are similarly rife in the Philippines.

Weak, corrupt governance is a sort of civil AIDS.  AIDS is not the direct killer, but it unlocks the doors for all the killers, such as drug dealers, and ideological or religious insurgents, to crawl in and grow.

Besides government law, Sharia “law,” and tribal/clan “laws,” there is Jungle Law.  Jungle Law lurks in the global shadows even in the spotless marbled halls of Europe and the United States, but in most parts of the world Jungle Law is on the surface for all to see.  An American officer said that in the Philippines, if you want to stay poor, go into business.  If you want to get rich, go into government.  In Mindanao the people complain that the “government” is just an extortion racket and not part of any solution.  Sounds like Afghanistan, and to a lesser but cripplingly real extent, Iraq.

AFP and U.S. civil affairs brought wood and other building supplies to this village.

Powerless National Government

Philippine commanders explain that government authority ends with the paved roads.  Vice Admiral Alexander Pama showed me maps of his safe areas versus enemy-controlled areas.  Sure enough, the arteries were paved roads.  Where arteries ended, necrosis began.  We see a similar dynamic in Afghanistan.  Paved road ends: Enemy country begins.  But this is not always so.  In some areas there are no paved roads yet I have driven for mile upon mile with no issues, though central government is completely absent in most of Afghanistan and much of the Philippines.  Politics abhors a vacuum. Terror thrives in ungoverned regions, as Donald Rumsfeld used to say, though more accurately he might have said “can” thrive; I frequently travel in ungoverned areas where there is no terror.

Saudi Troublemaking

Whatever its natural shelf-life, the Islamic aspects of rebellion are being supported by inveterate meddlers and fomenters of Islamic fanaticism and terror.  Saudi money is pouring into the southern Philippines just as it did in Afghanistan and Pakistan two decades ago; mosques and madrassas are being built. Some money has been used for projects such as road-building.  The nature of Saudi money inflows is unclear to the various U.S. and AFP officers I’ve spoken with, but concerns about a Pacific Wahhabist haven would seem justified, given what’s happened elsewhere in the last quarter century.  Unfortunately, even if the money were coming straight from hardcore Wahhabist troublemakers in Saudi Arabia, the Republic of the Philippines would be in a weak position to shut it down.  The Philippines is relatively poor, and dependent on the economic largesse of Arab states.  Lack of economic opportunity at home has forced Filipinos abroad as guest workers. The country needs the remittances from the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia.

The Sulu Sea.

Chinese Ambitions

Some officers believe that Chinese proximity, maritime, and territorial ambitions bring the Chinese into the dispute.  The Chinese have vested interests in keeping the U.S. out of the Philippines, while keeping the Philippine government preoccupied. Meanwhile, China continues to hit the economic and military gym in preparation for political and possible military struggles ahead.  Chinese global ambitions are clear.  They have been launching people into space and all over the world.  China is evolving into a considerable force, and to fuel its economy it needs resources.  On the strategic level, the resource-rich area of the Philippines is glinting off China’s hungry eye.  Some Americans believe that at least a portion of anti-American rhetoric in Filipino press is instigated by the Chinese.

Long term approach: As with Afghanistan, solutions will require generations of work.

Some Differences

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, motivations and fighting styles swing widely.  Disgruntlement flows from many wells.  The fight in the Philippines is constructed with all the care and organization as a plate of spaghetti.  The wise use of money can be a great antidote for some of the Philippine ills, but not all.  Between money and justice, the perception of justice is always King.

Thinking about what is possible to actually accomplish in the Philippines requires a long time frame, as in Afghanistan. It will take decades, perhaps a century, to guide and nudge these insurgencies and tendencies to civility, by means of subtle cultural persuasion, and ensuring that groups with grievances share in the benefits of economic prosperity.  Just as the violent cultures of headhunting Iban on nearby Borneo are no longer headhunting, the primitive (yet cell phone-toting) feudal clans of the southern Philippines are clashing between themselves and others.

Insofar as our folks go, morale of American troops appears to be high.  I’ve talked with dozens of them on three islands—Luzon, Mindanao and Sulu.   The soldiers are well cared for, and in some areas they have freedom of movement even on Mindanao.  Attacks on our people are very uncommon compared to Afghanistan.

The U.S. team in the Philippines is in the experienced hands of Colonel Bill Coultrup, who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, including being in the middle of the “Blackhawk Down” fight in Mogadishu.  He was involved in the hunt for bin Laden, and it was actually Coultrup’s folks who captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  Admiral Timothy Keating recently told me in Singapore that Colonel Coultrup is a national treasure.

Lt. Lara Bollinger waved at hundreds of people that day.  These women waved back, but the camera missed the moment.

Moros on Mindanao.

Mindanao: No pants day: These kids were in a town near the sea, and apparently were from Christian families.  Inland were many mosques, but along the coast were churches.

A hundred years for an American is like an eternity.  Our society dramatically changes in just a few decades. But a century to more stagnant peoples is a mere blink of an eye.  Colonel Bill Coultrup, commander of JSOTF-P (Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines), told me that “The Bud Dajo Massacre,” in which U.S. forces killed hundreds in a volcano crater back in 1906, is still often portrayed daily in local media as “The recent American slaughter.”  Take these interesting words from Sulu Island, where I visited with U.S. and Philippine forces before landing back in Afghanistan:

“My great-grand-father on my mother’s side was massacred. So it is in the blood of the Tausug people to take revenge. And I know even in the hinterlands, they are preparing for the arrival of the Americans,” Samny Adjuh said. “We see it all the time with troops arriving every day and the construction of airfields and harbors for military craft.”

Samny Adjuh said the island’s native Tausug were getting ready to certainly take revenge if Americans come again. Insi Tubjil, from a village known for its rebel activity, had this unwelcoming message.

“Anybody who will come here, any foreigner that will come to invade us... my advice to them is that if there are three Tausug killed, 300 of them will be killed,” he said. “Even if it is to work on these so-called internation[al] development projects that in the end only serve to make the oligarchic families in Manila richer."

To most people, “The Recent American Massacre” might seem like flagrant propaganda, keeping in mind that since the Moro-American war the United States and much of the world have been radically transformed several times.  We fought World War I; watched the Soviet Union rise; suffered a Great Depression; fought World War II, Korea, Vietnam; put a dozen men on the Moon; then watched the Soviet Union dissolve.  Meanwhile, some Tausugs are singing those same old songs, often apparently in the same old huts without running water.  Like the Afghans, they are waiting for people to build roads for them, and they are their own worst enemies.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul S. · 12 years ago
    Interesting and insightful as usual, Michael. Two points I'm reflecting on:

    "the basic culture of violence will persist."

    "Between money and justice, the perception of justice is always King."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David St Lawrence · 12 years ago
    It is an unusual role you have chosen and I feel your place in history is already assured.
    You are the self-selected man in the field who brings back information that is not available elsewhere.

    Your insight and honesty provide a welcome alternative to what the media giants provide as news.

    Your comment on the relative rates of change in American and Philippine culture might be a key to dealing with almost any group that is not connected to the world. It will be interesting to see how cellphones and the Internet open the door to progress for those that desire it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike S · 12 years ago
    This is a great primer to the situation in the Philippines. I knew next to nothing about our situation there, but now feel like I am relatively educated about the matter. Your writing style is interesting like a good news article and as objective as an encyclopedia. Thank you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MzJosephine · 12 years ago
    Thank you for your insightful observations on the situation in the Philippines with regards to the Muslim problem, i.e. the secessionist ambitions of the MILF, and more importantly, in my opinion, the deadly amalgamation of terrorists in their (the Filipino Muslims') midst that has been going on over many years, like perhaps over two decades now.

    And if I may say so, this piece is like a breath of fresh air in the sense that it was written the way a true journalist writes/reports: factual, fair, truthful.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mac · 12 years ago
    Amazing the amount of non-information in the news these days... Thanks for providing some of it here. Sobering, when you view information and circumstances worldwide. The trip flares went up sometime ago but everybody thought they were fireworks instead.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Renee · 12 years ago
    Your articles are always the best. You faithfully present us with the facts and allow us to form our own opinions. I appreciate this update on the Philippines since I didn't really know what was going on there right now in the broader sense.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Chaney · 12 years ago
    The Moro woman, using stuttering English, asked Lt. Bollinger if she has a wife.

    Note that Tagalog and other Filipino languages in the country lack gender-specific pronouns and gender-specific words for "spouse". My Filipina wife has spoken English most of her life, been working in the US for 15 years, and married to an American for 10 years. The last 5 years she's worked in "telephonic nursing", talking to Americans on the telephone. Even with that exposure to the language, she still mixes up husband/wife and he/she on a very regular basis, almost daily. All Filipinos that I know are like that.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    marcus aurelius · 12 years ago
    My wife is from the island of Cebu and has a brother living on MIndanao. Mindano is agriculturally rich and bountiful, and it is thought that there is black gold under the earth in the region.

    If things work out on some personal fronts we'll be visiting Mindanao in the near future. A great website for more information about Mindanao -- its dangers as well as its beauty is Bob Martin's Mindanao Blog -- http://mindanao.com/blog/. Bob does a good job of putting it all in perspective while there are definitely no-go areas in Mindanao they are well known and easy to avoid.

    It is good to point out the Filipinos are hardly a homogeneous group of people. Even on a single island there can be different cultures, e.g. Negros is divided into two regions one half speaking primarily Bisayan (which is different from the official language arising from the Manila region) and the other half a native dialect ( Hiligaynon).

    Also, adding the the grief of the Philippines are leftists who operate in Luzon The New People's Army and a host of other smaller groups (the one that jumps to my mind all the time is Alexexander Boyncayao Brigade aka the ABB or The Sparrows). The corruption in the PI is infamous and oft times groups such as the MILF, the MNLF, Abu Sayyaf, etc say their most reliable arms dealer is the AFP -- soldiers who did not get their salary. Google up "General Carlos Garcia".
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Grant · 12 years ago
    If you want to stay poor, go into business. If you want to get rich, go into government.

    This aligns with my wife's family's perceptions as well. Her uncle told me on our trip there last Christmas that he actually misses the days of Marcos's rule for one reason: When Marcos was in power, he took his 10% cut of every deal. Today, the national government takes its 10%, the provincial government takes its 10%, and the local government takes its 10%.

    Thanks for the insight, and the pictures. I absolutely love the children there. I visited Mindanao very briefly in 200 , but stayed in the northern part. A gorgeous island. I wish there were more I could do to help.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    J.Bautista · 12 years ago
    Being a Filipino, I would more than welcome the return of the US military in the country in whatever capacity. The politicians who voted Clark & Subic out of the country were all self-serving hypocrites who spend their vacations in the US and have their children go to US colleges. These are the same politicians who are currently selling out pieces of the country to the Chinese and whoever else will give them a cut of the profits.

    Both my grandfathers were in the Death March and fought for the Philippines. My uncles and cousins have served both in the Philippine military and the US military...those who are still currently serving have said the same thing - the problem is the current government's corruption as well as the corruption of some of the generals. Money that should be used to equip our troops end of going somewhere else.
    WE NEED the US for military assistance but there's always some hypocrite politician who say the country will give in to "imperialism" if we allow US troops in the country.

    My relatives in the Philippine military have told stories about how they were always so close to wiping out the MILF/MNLF at times when they were suddenly ordered to stop the attack by some politician in Manila.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan Cecil · 12 years ago
    You are so right on. Our family lived on Mindanao for 8 years in Davao. The great Filipino people are so warm, one on one. Communism was more the threat then though the Muslim influence has long been strong in the west and central mountains of the islands. I remember getting caught in a demonstration among thousands as the only white face as students chanted, "down with the Marcos/US Dictatorship", only to be suddenly greeted with a smile and a "Hey, Joe!" when spotted. As soon as the throng got 5 feet past me, it was back to the chants. As a Christian missionary I admit my bias, but God can change the hearts of people. Thank God for men and women of reason, Filipinos and Americans, Christian, Muslim and others who lay their lives on the line for others. Thanks for your service, your insight, your reporting, and your heart.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    J.Bautista · 12 years ago
    I forgot to say this in my previous post...Thank you Mr. Yon for the great article!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tupian · 12 years ago
    I am struck by how the pictures and some of the story line remind me of my time in the Peace Corps in southern Thailand. I wonder how much that you observed can be translated to over there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Melissa · 12 years ago
    Thanks so much for your work. May God bless you, and keep you safe.
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