By ALI G. MACABALANG
Police and military establishments in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao stand to enjoy better bilateral rapport with the recent installation of two “mistahs” in the leaderships of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) and the Police Regional Office (PRO) for BARMM.
Army Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., current WestMinCom commander, and Police Brig. Gen. Samuel Rodriguez, new police chief for BARMM, are “mistahs” or members of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class 1988. They assumed their new posts last Aug. 17 and Sept. 21, respectively.
On Sept. 28, Gen. Rodriguez paid a courtesy visit to the WestMinCom headquarters in Zamboanga City, and drew a warm welcome from his classmate. Gen. Vinluan and his staff even provided a military honor parade for the visitor.
Director Rodriguez expressed his “sincerest gratitude” for the cordial reception, which he interpreted as a show of AFP’s “wholehearted support in our law enforcement operations.”
“Peace is best achieved by cultivating harmony and understanding. It will be easier for me to do so since the director of PRO-BAR is my “Mistah”,” the WestMinCom quoted Gen. Vinluan as saying in response.
Gen. Vinluan as WestMinCom commander wields administrative and operational jurisdiction over military activities in BARMM and the Zamboanga peninsula.
BARMM is composed of the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato as well as 63 barangays in North Cotabato. Police affairs in BARMM are under the supervision of Gen. Rodriguez.
Peace advocates and stakeholders were equally optimistic that the reign of the two “mistahs” would redound to more cordial and smoother rapport between military and police establishments in the Bangsamoro autonomous region.
Some officials and even enlisted personnel of the police and military organizations are believed still reeling from bitter feelings spawned by “tragic encounters” of soldiers and policemen in BARMM, notably in Sulu and Maguindanao.
Last June 29, four military intelligence operatives in civilian attires were killed by police elements in Jolo, Sulu who reportedly mistook the soldiers as adversaries. The slain soldiers were on surveillance of suspected suicide bombers in Jolo town.
A Senate inquiry was conducted on the incident alongside separate probes by the National Bureau of Investigation, and other authorities. The police and military hierarchies have also traded barbs as well as legal suits over the issue.
In 2002, Sulu-based police and military elements also figured in a bloody firefight that left 16 people, mostly members of the Philippine Marines. The incident preceded separate shooting incidents and eventually led to the pullout of Marines from Sulu.
The police-military relationship was also strained in the death of terrorist-hunting 44 elite police commandos in armed clashes with resident-combatants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mamasapano, Maguiindanao on January 25, 2015.
The police, particularly the leadership of the Special Action Force, blamed the military for not providing them prompt artillery support. The military and the MILF, on the other hand, accused the SAF of non-coordination. (AGM)