By Mauro Gia Samonte
“Paid my last respects to my former commander-in-chief.”
I’m awed, astonished and mesmerized. All imaginable extreme hyperboles in describing human reactions to the extraordinary, the bizarre and the utterly unexpected.
The opening quote certainly caught me by surprise.
Readers should be aware of what I wrote in this column about the passing of former president Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd.
I asked: Can an Aquino death be proud one more time?
“Oh, a stream once more of ugly images: the deadly hostage-taking of Hong Kong nationals; the government neglect of Super Typhoon Yolanda victims; the SAF 44 massacre; the stand-down order for the military in its fight with the MILF; the release of the Morong 38; the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement; the utter bastardization of judicial processes evident in the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona and in the arrest and detention of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo; the costly Permanent Court of Arbitration suit that was a total waste for the country; six years of ill relations with China, resulting in massive loss of opportunities for Philippine economic advancement, total Chinese embargo on Philippine agricultural products and the very lucrative tourist industry – oh the list is long.”
I say, I am only human, I cannot hide my ache. But this same humanism, of being true to what I feel, actually inspires me to pursue the topic further, albeit in a different vein. Frankly, I did not expect the opening reaction to come from the subject general of this piece.
Of the officials of note in the Philippine Army (PA), Southern Luzon Command (SolCom) Chief and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) spokesman Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. stands out as one who had bravely faced up to Noynoy. On at least two occasions, the general, in a manner of speaking, locked horns with President Aquino and stood his ground fighting.
The first occasion was the Morong 38 incident in 2010. The Philippine Army arrested 43 people claiming to be health workers during an alleged seminar in Morong, Rizal but whom the military caught in possession of weapons and paraphernalia for making improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or land mines.
Five of the 43 readily admitted they were members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army on a training session for making bombs and implicated the 38 others who stuck to their alibi that they were legitimate health workers.
Human rights advocates made much use of the Human Security Act of 2007 to create noise about the military arrests and drum up public support.
After hasty deliberations, with much push from the then Commission on Human Rights chairman (and shortly designated Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima), the Morong Regional Trial Court issued a release order for the rest of the 43 apprehended rebel suspects who from then on became known as the Morong 38.
Philippine Army commander Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz wanted to openly oppose the latent presidential consent of the Morong 38 release but then Philippine Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. prevailed upon him to keep his cool or else jeopardize his lifetime career. Ortiz was due to retire shortly.
So, General Parlade took up the cudgels for the Army commander in opposing the release of the communist terrorists. Shortly after, President Aquino would sack General Parlade as spokesman for the Army.
So, it would appear that General Parlade’s sacking from that post as Army spokesman was as a consequence of his opposition to the release of the Morong 38. I did write it as such in one of my past columns.
But General Parlade was quick with a clarification that his final sacking as Army spokesman came about because of one more altercation with President Aquino. This was over the massacre of Philippine Army soldiers by a combined force of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf combatants in Al Barka, Basilan in 2011.
The MILF had already reached a peace agreement with the government at the time under which the rebels were allowed what was called area of temporary stay (ATS). In such an area, the rebels may remain undisturbed by government forces.
General Parlade insisted that the government soldiers were a good four kilometers away from the ATS and were on a legitimate mission to serve a warrant of arrest to an Abu Sayyaf member. Against the 40 or so members of the government arresting team came 400 MILF combatants, rushing to the rescue of the Abu Sayyaf member.
In a lopsided battle, 19 government soldiers fell, in fierce firefights or were murdered while in captivity.
General Parlade insisted on an all-out war against the combined forces of the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf terrorists. President Aquino, with strong advice from the Peace Process sector, would have none of it.
For facing up to the President on the issue, General Parlade was removed from his post as Philippine Army spokesman and was sent to Australia for further studies.
All the better for the young general it would seem in any case.
While in Australia, he became privy to academic discussions of the South China Seas issues that Aquino’s foreign secretary was cooking for the Americans. He would know that conversations behind mainstream media accounts and the true intent of the United States and its allies, in repositioning of 60% of their war machine to the Asia Pacific, giving the Australians prominence it never had before.
Parlade said “Our discussions however were focused mainly on the 9-dashed line and what the Chinese were doing in Scarborough and Bajo de Masinloc. Was the Philippine government under advisement at all? Those were the recurring questions raised to me during discussions in class. I said I don’t know but I presumed our government was doing something about it.”
Of course, Parlade studying for his Master of Arts for Strategic Studies at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, would come across Hugh White’s “Power Shift – Australia’s Future between Washington and Beijing” that was fresh out of press just about that time. It would also be unlikely for any scholar in Australia, to miss the positions of Emeritus Professor Carl Thayer who taught at the Australian Defence Force Academy, the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the Australian Command and Staff College, and Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies at the Australian Defence College of the University of New South Wales. An American based down under, Thayer is one of most sought after independent consultant on South China Seas issues.
Strategic Studies enabled him to hone up further on his mettle at tactics and strategems which he admits now makes him more deliberate in his current task as spokesman for the NTF-Elcac and as SolCom chief personally sworn to crush the communist terrorist insurgency before the year ends.
For one thing, the Morong 38 have all been unmasked as what General Parlade had proclaimed them to be way back in 2010: communist terrorists.
Over time, the 38 would die or be captured in firefights with government forces.
Against his Commander-in-Chief once upon a time, General Parlade had to stand up as a matter of duty. It is also in that same manner that to the Chief he delivers his last salute.
“Nothing personal, it’s all about duty to my country. May his soul rest in peace.”
For that splendid show of military gentlemanliness, on his Facebook page, General Parlade garnered a multitude of praises.