Misencounters, self-inflicted casualties, schism, low morale hound AFP’s focused military operation in Southern Mindanao

Southern Mindanao Regional Operational Command (Merardo Arce Command) | Rigoberto F. Sanchez | Spokesperson | New People's Army
August 29, 2020

To the utter dismay of the AFP’s top brass in Southern Mindanao, the intensive and expensive focused military operation in their “sole-win focus” region has fostered their own worst nightmare: a series of misencounters and friendly fire between their operating troops which resulted in several self-inflicted casualties and an atmosphere of schism and low morale among their ranks.

The recent incident that transpired in Sitio Dasuran, Brgy. Golden Valley in Maco town on August 19 where operating troops of the 71st Infantry Battalion clashed with soldiers belonging to the 66th Infantry Battalion is a telltale sign of the inherent rift among fascist units of reactionary armed forces in their harried but futile attempt to outdo each other and curry favor from their higher-ups. Unfortunately, it is the lowly foot soldiers who bear the brunt and are virtual sacrificial lambs of this mercenary competition: the August 19 incident killed two and wounded four 66th IB soldiers, while one 71st IB soldier was wounded. The beleaguered troops likewise had a taste of their own bitter medicine when, an hour after their misencounter, they were bombarded with mortar shells fired from their own Howitzer cannons.

A few days after the August 19 incident, 71st IB Commander Ltc. Sonny Gonzales unleashed a very scathing and very public rant against his troops that only underscored the power dynamics that exist within the AFP, one that is characterized by fascist and feudal relations between their officers and men.

This incident of friendly fire, in fact, is far from isolated. The AFP’s unrestrained and indiscriminate use of ground and aerial bombardment, apart from costing tens of millions in Filipino taxpayer’s money, has taken a toll on its own forces. Between March to July in several areas in the region, aerial combat support (using Augusta Westland attack helicopters) and mortar shelling (Howitzer cannons), not including regular drone surveillance—even without engagement with NPA troops—have logged no less than 10 times every month, resulting in some cases in casualties among their own operating troops.

On June 25, for instance, two 3rd IB troopers were felled by mortar shells from Howitzer cannons in yet another bombardment spree in Sitio Maro, Brgy. Senuda, Kitaotao town in Bukidnon. In less than an hour, two attack helicopters dropped bombs and strafed the area as their troops scrambled to take cover.

Despite the forward deployment of at least 17 regular battalions, AFP forces in the region are still spread too thinly and widely, forcing their foot soldiers to be on combat duty for more than regular intervals with very little time for rest. Unlike Red fighters who wield revolutionary iron discipline in the face of difficulties, mercenary AFP troops have very little regard for sacrifice, rendering them vulnerable to miscommunication due to fatigue. On May 1, for example, CAFGU members on patrol around the vicinity of their detachment were fired upon by operating troops belonging to the 3rd IB in Sitio Bagong Silang, Brgy. Senuda, Kitaotao. Meanwhile, in Davao de Oro, where the AFP’s assault has been sustained and vicious since April to make way for the entry of large-scale mining in mineral-rich mountain range called Black Mountain, peasant masses have reported that a number of 28th IB and 71st IB troops have privately expressed disgruntlement toward their superiors and resentment at being forced to take part in combat operations even during the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The NPA’s superior guerilla tactics are likewise more than able to thwart even the AFP’s planned strike operations. In Sitio Catandungan, Brgy. Baganihan in Marilog District, Davao City, Red fighters were able to maneuver out of the encirclement campaign mounted by the 17-column joint operations of the 3rd IB and 27th IB, culminating in a botched raid by the enemy on July 3 where at least 3 of its own soldiers were killed by friendly fire.

Peasants and Lumad masses, who find their lives and livelihood routinely and brutishly disrupted by so-called the AFP’s community support program (CSP) activities that involve being forced to surrender and subjected to psy-war, have likewise witnessed infighting among AFP troopers in some villages in Davao de Oro and Davao del Norte. They report that more and more dissatisfied soldiers are openly criticizing the fascist measures that their units undertake in their counter-insurgency war.

It is high time for foot soldiers of the AFP to realize the futility of their combat operations that put them on the crossfires of each other and only ever victimize civilians, most of whom are their own peasant and Lumad families. We urge them to denounce and finally desert the fascist and mercenary AFP that treats them as pawns in its anti-people counter-insurgency war, especially in this time when the Filipino people are being confronted by the socio-economic effects of the US-Duterte regime’s criminal ineptitude in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The AFP’s focused military operation in Southern Mindanao is finally showing its cracks in the pressure of its own making. Its continued forward deployment of exhausted and disgruntled troops and the relentless combat operations that drain the reactionary government of precious resources are pushing not only the masses to resist even more valiantly but are also making their own armed forces lose allegiance in a war the US-Duterte regime and the AFP cannot hope to ever win.