“You hit one of us, you hit all of us. We will come after you.”
Those brave, fighting words came from Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, addressing the gunmen who killed eight civilians and a policeman and wounded 12 other civilians in an ambush at Las Castellana town, Negros Occidental province.
If that stern warning was addressed to the New People’s Army (NPA), it sounded hollow and full of hot air.
In the past, NPA guerrillas had ambushed and killed many soldiers and cops, but government troops hardly retaliated.
Of course, press statements were made by the government after numerous soldiers or policemen were killed that troops were in hot pursuit of the NPA or Moro rebels who staged the ambush.
But those press statements were not followed up with news that government troops had avenged the deaths of their comrades.
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Retaliation by government troops for the deaths of their comrades never happened because soldiers or policemen are confined to their barracks or police stations because of the peace talks with the rebels.
Besides—and this is more significant—the morale of soldiers in the field is very low.
Why? Because their personal welfare, as well as those of their families, is not attended to by the government.
For example, when a soldier is seriously wounded in battle and is treated at the Armed Forces or V. Luna Medical Center, he or his family is asked to buy his own medicines that are not available in the hospital’s pharmacy.
The soldier and his family are told the government will reimburse them for the medicines they buy outside the V. Luna Hospital pharmacy.
To an underpaid soldier, who has a family to feed and children to send to school, buying medicines is a big drain on his pocket.
And, by the way, the reimbursement for his medicines comes many months after he leaves the hospital.
And if the soldier is killed, his family has a hard time getting his pension.
Worse, a gigolo at the AFP Finance Center in Camp Aguinaldo seduces the dead soldier’s widow and runs away with the pension.
Now, if you were a soldier who is ordered to go after the rebels who killed your comrades-in-arms in an ambush, would you go after their killers hammer and tongs, given the situations I just mentioned?
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During my father’s time, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) took care of the medical needs of soldiers and their dependents.
My father was with the defunct Philippine Constabulary (PC), one of the AFP’s major services, and he and his dependents—my mom and us, his children—enjoyed complete medical coverage.
When one of the children was sick—which was often since there were 10 of us—we were sent to the military doctor who was assigned in every PC camp.
Soldiers who were severely wounded in combat were flown to Manila to be treated at the Camp Crame General Hospital or the V. Luna Medical Center.
It was unthinkable then for a soldier wounded in combat to complain that his needs were not met.
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If those gunmen who ambushed and killed or wounded innocent civilians were members of the New People Army (NPA), they have lost whatever moral ascendancy they claim they have over the civilian populace.
How can the NPAs now claim they protect the poor and the oppressed when they slaughter them?
Most of the sympathizers and supporters of the NPA come from the ranks of citizens disgruntled over the uneven justice system and the apathy of government towards their plight.
If indeed the gunmen who murdered innocent civilians in La Castellana are members of the NPA, they can no longer hide from the authorities.
The civilians who harbor them will tell on them. It will be the beginning of the end of the NPA.