Pushed into Violence

Capt. Ricardo B. de los Santos (Res.)

Deutoronomy 7:16: “Devour then all these peoples whom Yahweh your God delivers to you. Show them no pity, do not serve their gods, for otherwise, you shall be snared.”

The above quote seems to be a cruel command which does not seem to come from a loving God. But during the Mosaic times, this stance was a necessity for the survival of the people of God. Perhaps this was the same spirit that the endangered Christians of Mindanao experienced during the onslaught of Muslim attacks in the late sixties to the seventies of the past century.

During those times, Mindanao was alluded to as the last frontier and the land promise such that many from the Visayas and even Luzon found their way working on homesteads in the once abandoned lands. But the Muslims who were the first settlers of Mindanao never saw it this way. For them, Mindanao in its vastness was their ancestral land and the Christians were simply intruding and worst grabbing the land of their ancestors. Hence, they thought, the Christians have to be taught a lesson. Unless they convert to Islam and become Muslims themselves and therefore worthy of Muslim inheritance. But since the Christians were adamant to accept the religion of submission, they have resorted to Mohammed’s formula of omission; those that would not submit will simply be eliminated.

The process of elimination actually could mean annihilation and thus, the Muslim leaders thought of scaring the intruders out of their wits. If a Christian is caught as a prisoner of war, the Geneva convention is never invoked. Who have heard of such thing? Giving humane respect to captives? In the early days of Philippine history, Muslim raiders attack Christian towns and apply has taught so well in the Quran. Captives may be owned or sold as slaves. Pretty Christian women are made sex slaves unless they convert. This is the reason why almost every seaside town had watch towers and mini-fortresses. The watch towers were not built by Americans or their Filipino converts to Jehovah’s Witnesses, for they were muros (walls) put up against moros (Muslim) pirates.

The modern captive will be flayed alive, meaning the epidermis would be peeled off, just like what the pagans did to St. Bartholomew in his martyrdom. When they feel that all of the skin is already removed, the POW will now be ordered to crawl all the way to the grave he himself has dug and there, he will be decapitated as the Muslims shout praises to Allah. This was markedly made to instill fear among the Christians and it was quite effective as many families who have experienced the atrocities joined the exodus back to their islands of origin.

But some remained because they have no more means to travel back or simply had invested everything in the promised land. It was therefore better to die there instead than still leave the homestead granted by the government. Consequently, they grouped themselves together and formed their own militia since the constabulary came just too late as evidenced in Philippine movies. Not that they don’t want to fight but logistics were so bad that combat boots smile their way into the mud refreshed with a new natural odor.

Among those that banded themselves together were people from Western Visayas and they called themselves Ilaga (Field Mice}. In answer to the Muslim psy-war, their psychological warfare included the literal interpretation of the introductory quote. They take no captives to toy upon. They would even allow a POW to be witness to what they will do and instruct him to tell everything he saw. Then that started the terror which was the Ilagas of the battlefield; they would lop of the ears and the nose, the tender parts and savor them in sight of the chosen informer. They did not just take the command to heart; they took it to the guts!

A few years back, I escorted a missionary to this same group which has grown into a formidable force through the years. The Muslims have long since stopped engaging them in the war of attrition even if Nur Misuari and his raiders made a siege in Marawi. They have now signed the peace plan providing autonomy and everything; even if it were abused by some in building medieval palaces which are illusory as Mohammed’s dreamy imagination. But the Ilagas are still vigilant.

In fact, on that Good Friday when I escorted the missionary who is now, a busier Monsignor. I met Kumander Ligaya and Kumander Toothpick with whom I had breakfast with. Usually, on Good Friday I fast during the day but on that day the priest requested me to eat with the hosts as they might misunderstand my not joining them for breakfast as a sanctimonious or elitist attitude. Yes, I obliged but when then started talking to me about how they ate the nose and the ears of the Muslims they killed in battle, the little fish I was eating already sparingly seemed to have grown noses and ears and it was more sacrifice than fasting when I tried to finish my breakfast faster. One couldn’t even tell if it’s a continuation of their psy-war stance to tell stories like that. But I didn’t mind for I was there for the indulgences which my soul could get by escorting a man of God in his dangerous mission. Nice topic during a meal, right?

The Ilagas actually became notorious when Fr. Tulio Favali of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions was allegedly abducted by Norberto Manero a.k.a. Kumander Bukay and his men who suspected him as a communist sympathizer. He was shot by Manero at a close range, it was said, and when the brain parts scattered, he ate some of them. Since it was a high profile story, it was alleged that Manero had to be the scapegoat. After 20 years in prison, Manero was set free and continued his innocent stand. He became one of Manny Pacquiao’s cock handlers.

As a member of the Guardians and founder of a clan, I am reminded of another story here. Sgt. Leborio “Abraham” Jangao, Jr. started the Diablo squad around 1976 when the esprit de corps of the men fighting the Muslims was quite low, again because of the barbaric atrocity of the Muslims. At that time, field commanders tell their men to spare one last bullet to take his own life rather than suffer the inhumane treatment of Muslims to their prisoners of war. With the psy-war technique of having the enemy believe that they are not just fighting mere men but the devils (diablos) themselves, he was able to raise the morale and turn the tide of the battle. When the organization grew among the fighting ranks, the civilians joined in and the rumors started that it was in fact a Satanist group! Hence, with the advice of the then acting chief of Staff, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos the name of the organization was changed to Guardians. During the Cory coup attempts, I met a mutineer, Sgt. Crispin Bohol for the first time. We were on the opposite sides although I also supported the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM). As a teacher, I wasn’t marked then because DepEd suspects tattooed teachers ominously as Spaniards suspected the pintados as ladrones (thieves) all.

But I was just a thief of Baghdad who has nothing but goodwill for princes and princesses (my students) and is only interested in taking things from the depository of knowledge. Later, the mutineer and the teacher met and formed the teacher group along with some reservists and ex-servicemen. This was the Magdiwang clan which gained popularity with its organizational project USAR-CRG which had overgrown the clan. So, you see, and I hope my Lyceum Muslim friends will forgive me, as they have wanted me to convert to Islam themselves, the Muslims had indeed inspired many positively-charged organizations. Please don’t that as strange.

Truth is stranger than fiction. I was having meals with characters I only read in papers before. But I started understanding them more. They were forced by circumstances into such violence because they needed to survive. In fact, they told me that the Ilaga Kumander Manero did not really kill the martyred Italian priest, Fr. Favali. The missing brain parts were not eaten by him. He was made a fall guy, they said, because the Muslims do not want him anymore in the battlefield. Anyway, whatever the truth is, sadness should not stand on the way of forgiveness as the Archbishop of Zamboanga said after his release. How I wish the Catholics in Mindanao would start researching on Fr. Tulio Favali’s life for who knows he may be a saint worthy of canonization. The Easter Sunday which followed even became more meaningful to me, as my brother missionary raised the Sacred Host during consecration and communion. I was emboldened to believe that someday, the Ilagas, as the priest hoped, will go back to mainstream Christianity of Catholicism where flesh and blood spell the Real Presence. I hope and pray they their confession and communion will not be in vain. Anyway, my communion with them and their confessions to me were not.

After the mass, despite the sacerdotal dismissal, they didn’t leave. Kumander Ligaya had ordered all of them to stay. She would want the missionary and the escort to say something. What more could I say? A lot of them were Guardians and I said I was happy being just with all of them especially during the mass. Some of them expressed in Ilongo and Hiligaynon that they were happily surprised when I joined them in their sunrise prayer on the sea where everyone was instructed to thank God for having survived privately. Well, that’s how far my ecumenism would go and why would I say no to giving God thanks along with the Virgin for making me survive life’s battles?

Even Kumander Ligaya seemed pleased. He asked all former soldiers and those still in active duty from the nearby camps to give me a snappy salute. Then, I was a bit taken aback. She became angry when no one was saluting me despite her order. Gently, I whispered to her not to be furious and just look at her back. The soldier group has gathered together at our back. I waited for her to turn and give them a smile. Then I turned back and returned their salutes singularly. That’s the problem sometimes when you are in the theatre on the round.

The Ilaga story may be doubtful for some but for me it’s not.

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