Angst of August

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

‘TIS said that August is the wettest month of the year, and the first two weeks of the month did wit-ness rain pouring for days on end. Yet August, for all its wetness, has had a way of causing me ennui normally experienced and characteristic of summer, when the dry, humid air seems to rivet in your senses a fit of unease or uncertainty over something you just wouldn’t know.

Which of the angst of August must I bother about first, which next, and which after next. There’s much too much of it.

August is the deadline I had set for myself to finish the book project I had started back in late May. Tentatively titled Mandirigma, it is a biography of retired Maj. Gen. Alexander Ferrer Balutan, who at the start of the Duterte administration was prevailed upon by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd to go on early retirement so he could accept the post of Director of the Bureau of Prisons. It turned out that worse than the National Penitentiary in terms of corruption (the BuCor was exposed as the heart of the illegal drugs trade operated by drug lords living high inside the Muntinlupa prison) is the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). So, after a brief stint at the BuCor, General Balutan was tapped by the President to be the general manager of the PCSO.

Of that decision, President Duterte has been quoted as saying, “I need a killer for the job.”


Balutan was a no-nonsense military officer, a member of the highly respected Class of 1983 of the Phil-ippine Military Academy whose war exploits during his 22-year assignment in Mindanao (two of them in Marawi) had earned for him the moniker “Mandirigma”. He headed the Marine Battalion which crushed the MILF’s Camp Abubakar in 2000. Over a threat of court martial, he testified in the Senate hearing in 2005 on the scandalous “Hello Garci” tape which recorded the conversation between Come-lec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo purporting to show irregu-larities in Mindanao in the conduct of the presidential election of 2004.

The alleged irregularities happened during Balutan’s watch as battalion commander of Marine Battal-ion Landing Team 7 (MBLT 7). In an interview, General Balutan said his response to pressures from “higher ups” to engage in election-rigging was, “Pag pinilit nyo ako, dadalhin ko ang batalyon ko sa bundok at doon magrerebelde kami (If you force me [to rig the elections], I will take my battalion to the mountain and there declare a rebellion).”

Into the third week of the month, the Balutan book remains in the rough drafting stage, still lacking two major highlights: the transcript of the Senate investigation into the Hello Garci tape and of the court martial that immediately followed of General Balutan as a consequence of his Senate testimony in defiance of a direct order from President Arroyo, the Commander in Chief, for him not to testify.

Monday in the second week of August, I went to the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO) to se-cure copies of the needed transcripts but was that office adamantly refused to provide me the same.

Very politely, I told the young lady clerk who entertained my verbal request for the transcripts, “Aren’t those transcripts public records?”

“No,” said the girl. “They are confidential records.”

So, as far as the minutes of the Balutan court martial proceedings were concerned, I was facing a blank wall.

Next,I proceeded to the Cultural Center complex where the Senate is, intending to secure this time transcripts of records of the Hello Garci investigation, particularly those of General Balutan’s testimo-ny. But just my luck, the Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting was in session at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) and President Duterte had ordered public vehicles barred from the com-plex.

I went home to my Antipolo City abode empty-handed. But definitely the Balutan Senate testimony and court martial as a consequence thereof must form part of the highlights of my book. These I owe to the nation and to posterity,

Meantime, more apprehensions. Second week of August a 6.3 magnitude tremblor rocks Luzon, with the epicenter at Nasugbu, Batangas, but with shockwaves reaching as far as Baguio City. This resur-rects fears of the already anticipated Big One from the Marikina fault line which runs through the Marikina Valley, cutting across Metro Manila, proceeding precisely to where the 6.3 shocker ema-nates.

Fears of earthquakes are compounded by the continuing siege of Marawi City by reported foreign Muslim jihadists in cahoots with locals, the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorist groups, ostensibly for propagating the IS in the Philippines. The continuing offensive by the military in Marawi and the inten-sity of their attacks that not only involve land-based weapons but also powerful jet-propelled high-end US bombs must belie their claim that there are fewer than 100 terrorists who continue to hold out in the city.

In any case, General Balutan, who should be very knowledgeable of developments in Marawi, explains that the Filipino Muslim terrorists who participated in the takeover of Marawi on May 23, 2017, have all executed a retreat, successfully losing themselves among the people. Because of this, as far as Maute and Abu Sayyaf are concerned, the attack on Marawi should have been long over by now.

According to General Balutan, the remaining Muslim combatants who are engaging the government troops are too Arab-looking to do a Maute or an Abu Sayyaf. Once they attempt to do that, they would be easily recognizable and the people themselves will execute them.

Anyway, there’s no indiction that the Marawi crisis is about to end soon. Congress has already extend-ed to December 31 the martial law declared by President Duterte for Mindanao. Before we realize it, August shall have slipped away but leaving behind all its fears and apprehensions for September to worry about.

Twice already, September 22 has done it amidst chaos and turbulence. The first one was in 1944 when President Jose P. Laurel finally declared martial law in the face of the intensifying bombardment of the country by returning American forces in World War II. The next, of course, was in 1972 when President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law in a determined effort to make the nation prevail over the upheavals caused by leftist rebellion.

This 2017 offers President Rodrigo Roa Duterte the golden opportunity to make good on his wish to save the republic, protect the people – making his own grand repeat of history come September 22.

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