By ELLEN T. TORDESILLAS
DO we still have a President?
More than 20 Filipinos died Saturday in a clash between government forces and the terrorist group Abu Sayaf in Barangay Baguindan Tipo-Tipo in Basilan. And there’s not a word from the commander-in-chief of the country’s Armed Forces.
As I was writing this piece at 5 pm, Sunday, there was no statement from President Aquino. I texted his spokespersons but didn’t get any reply.
I opened the TV for the vice-presidential debate and I saw the President endorsing Mar Roxas as his successor and Leni Robredo as vice president in a Liberal Party advertisement.
Does the President know about the tragedy in Basilan?
An ABS-CBN report quoting Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Major Felimon Tan said at least 23 were killed and more than 70 others were wounded when the 44th Infantry Battalion and the 4th Special Forces Battalion engaged in a 10-hour gun-battle against at least a hundred armed members of the Abu Sayyaf group.
Tan said of the 23 dead, 18 were soldiers while 53 others were wounded. At least five bandits were killed including a Moroccan-based terrorist identified as Mohammad Khattab, as well as one of the sons of ASG top commander Isnilon Hapilon, identified as Ubaida Hapilon.
Will this be another April 1 Kidapawan tragedy where three farmers died and many were wounded including policemen when the latter tried to disperse farmers rallying for rice because of poor harvest due to El Niño that was met by a deafening silence by the President.
It took a week for Aquino to comment on the Kidapawan tragedy. No one told him about it, he said.
It is not funny.
At least two presidential candidates issued statements of outrage over the Basilan tragedy.
Sen. Grace Poe condemned the “the brutal and treacherous murder of our troops.”
“These terrorists should be immediately pursued and crushed by the full might of our military and police forces, with due regard for the safety of the innocent civilians,” she said.
She also urged the public “to be vigilant in reporting to authorities those groups and individuals, including public officials, who support and coddle the Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups for their selfish gains at the expense of peace and security. They should be exposed and answer for their criminal acts.”
Even Mar Roxas, through his spokesperson, Rep. Barry Gutierrez, said something about the tragedy noting it happened as the entire country was commemorating the Day of Valor, (Araw ng Kagitingan).
“The Daang Matuwid Coalition celebrates their courage, and wishes to extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of our fallen soldiers. We are one with those who honor their sacrifice, grieve for their demise, and seek justice for their deaths at the hands of the bandits of the Abu Sayyaf. To all the soldiers who took part in the battle in Basilan, thank you for your service, your heroism will not be forgotten, “Roxas statement said.
Vice-Presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. called on the AFP to disclose the details of the Basilan encounter.
“Here were go again. We are again in the dark of what happened,” he said noting of the country’s experience with the ill-fated Mamasapano operation which led to the killing of 44 members of the Special Action Force.
He said, “We need a full picture of the encounter. We should not hide these details. The Filipino people and most especially the families of the soldiers killed and wounded deserve to know the whole truth.”
Meanwhile, where’s the commander-in-chief?