The flight seemed to take forever. We looked so restless inside the Philippine Air Force’s refurbished Lockheed C-130H Hercules. We never talked much during the flight. We all looked like praying our asses off inside the plane. Most of us were standing inside the C130. The central part was full of jungle packs, weapons and boxes of ammunitions. I could hardly move to change position. The capacity payload was supposed to be either 92 passengers or 72 fully equipped troops which is also equivalent to 64 airborne troops only. Our Scout Ranger class was heavily equipped. Our strength was more or less 90 including the RIs. Aside from that, a light military vehicle was on board that military cargo plane. Undoubtedly, the plane was overloaded. I just closed my eyes. I shifted my thoughts somewhere else. It was a moment of reminiscence. I remembered where I came from.
I grew up in Maguindanao, one of the most battle-torn provinces in Southern Philippines. As a child, I was exposed to unending violence and other incidents of lawlessness. Kidnap for ransom was rampant in the province. The Pentagon Group believed to be former secessionist rebels were terrorizing the Christian communities. Chinese mestizos were mostly targeted for kidnapping. There was a time when almost all of my Chinese Mestizo classmates in elementary school transferred to Davao City and other Christian dominated towns and provinces in Mindanao. It was like an exodus. Our Cathedral Church in Cotabato City was frequently bombed. It seemed that there were no safe places for Christians anymore. Although, peace talks and negotiations were ongoing between the Moro National Liberation Front or the MNLF and the Philippine Government, still there were skirmishes in the countryside. Much worse, the breakaway group of MNLF known as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF continued waging war against the Philippine Government. When I was still an elementary student, I couldn’t identify Philippine soldiers from separatist rebels. They looked all the same to me. They were all wearing soldier’s uniforms. They were also conducting checkpoints simultaneously.
When I was travelling going to school, I could still vividly recall the Tamontaka bridge connecting Cotabato City and Datu Odin Sinsuat Municipality wherein the Philippine Marines conducted checkpoint on the edge of the bridge while the group of MNLF was also conducting their own checkpoint on the opposite edge of the bridge. I’ve heard there were incidents that they were sniping each other during their past time. I’ve also seen MNLF fighters paraded in Cotabato City Plaza when peace talk was on its final stage. They flaunted their weaponry. That time, it was only a rumor that Cotabato will be under the leadership of the MNLF Chairman. I didn’t give a damn about it. I didn’t understand about the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM before. It was a stalemate. Philippine soldiers were not even visible in the city. That was the environment where I grew up. I’ve also heard tales of bloody battles. My father told me that when he was still young, a battalion of Philippine Army was massacred in an ambush when they tried to cross a marshland. The battle was so intense that the impact of explosions has broken their windowpanes.
When I rode my BMX bike going to Grotto, I could still remember seeing M35 trucks with loads of dead Philippine Army soldiers covered with banana leaves going to the 6th Infantry Division at Awang Airport. I’ve felt sorry for them. “When will the fighting stop?” it was a question that I believed nobody could answer for the next hundred years.
The C130 was in a steady flight. It was a nice feeling. Still, I closed my eyes. I continued visiting my past.
I belonged to a Christian family living in a predominantly Moslem village. We were minorities in that place. Police never existed in our village. Philippine Army soldiers and Philippine Marines were our greatest allies. I looked up to them like our messiah. They were prophets of peace and justice. They were ready to sacrifice their lives just to protect helpless Christian communities.
I could still recall the incident during the early 90’s that changed my life forever.
(To be Continued)