Af­ter In­a­banga, keep calm and do carry on! OPIN­ION

Cebu Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - JOBERS R. BERSALES Past For­ward kyut­nga­sawa@ya­

Whether it’s the dev­as­tat­ing slave raids in the Visayas and Lu­zon car­ried out by Moro pi­rates from Balan­guigui and Jolo be­tween 1599 and well nigh into the 1850s or the re­cent furtive land­ing of Abu Sayyaf ter­ror­ists at In­a­banga River in Bohol last week, one thing is for cer­tain: the Philip­pines has the fifth longest coast­line in the world, all of 32,289 kilo­me­ters cov­er­ing 7,100-plus is­lands and pa­trolling it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.

This was what the Moro raiders of long ago took ad­van­tage of, ditto the Abu Sayyaf as it went is­land hop­ping from far­away Sulu and Basi­lan down to Bohol. Try pa­trolling all of those coast­lines and see how many Coast Guard cut­ters and boats the government will need. The na­tional econ­omy would most cer­tainly bleed at all the fuel to be used alone just to criss­cross all these coast­lines daily and nightly. This was the re­al­iza­tion that Gov.-Gen. Jose Basco made when he took the reins of the colo­nial government in Manila in the late 1770s.

What did he do to stem the hem­or­rhage in the pop­u­la­tion of the Visayan is­lands? Given the cash-strapped colo­nial econ­omy, he de­cided to es­tab­lish four naval bases, one each in Leyte, Cebu, Iloilo and Palawan and in­stead of send­ing vin­tas and gal­liots from Manila, he or­dered the es­tab­lish­ment of a “Ma­rina Su­til,” a light navy, com­pris­ing small “barangayanes,” baro­tos con­structed in each of the towns. Each barangayan had as many vol­un­teer oars­men pad­dling as there were men ready at any time to fire small can­nons called fal­conetes at the en­emy. A to­tal of 36 of these boats were pa­trolling the Visayan seas, and for about three years or so, the Moro raiders re­treated. But then cor­rup­tion and over­con­fi­dence took hold and soon the Ma­rina Su­til was no more.

The cor­rup­tion came via the al­caldes may­ores , provin­cial gover­nors who, in­stead of us­ing the arms and am­mu­ni­tions sent from Manila for the light navy, de­cided to cash in on the bo­nanza by sell­ing these to the en­emy. Sounds fa­mil­iar, peo­ple in Min­danao might say to­day. The sav­ing grace came early in the 1800s via Fray Ju­lian Ber­mejo, long-time Au­gus­tinian cu­rate of Boljoon, who con­vinced his fel­low Au­gus­tinian fri­ars from Si­bonga down to San­tander and across in Bohol, his Au­gus­tinian Recol­lect cousins, to build a line of watch­tow­ers that could com­mu­ni­cate with each other through flags, to sig­nal any strange move­ment from the seas. This vig­i­lance re­sulted in the growth of these Au­gus­tinian mis­sion towns of south­east­ern Cebu. Ber­mejo not only had these watch­tow­ers built, he also com­manded a fleet of 21 barangayanes from these same towns, ready at mo­ment’s no­tice to pur­sue and fight the en­emy.

The most fa­mous and un­for­get­table is without doubt the Bat­tle of Su­milon in 1813, which caused the to­tal de­feat of Moro raiders led by Datu Go­randin, who was killed, his head was put on dis­play in one of the barangayanes as it docked in Boljoon. The bat­tle also net­ted the cap­ture of three of his com­man­ders: Maluam, Cari­ciu and Gane, and the sink­ing of all their Moro panco boats ex­cept for one that was put on dis­play, ac­cord­ing to folk sto­ries, out­side the Boljoon church.

One im­por­tant les­son to be learned from these episodes are the same ones that made the In­a­banga at­tempt by the Abu Sayyaf ban­dits fail — the vig­i­lance of local res­i­dents mat­ter. Even if Fray Ju­lian built a thou­sand watch- tow­ers from Si­bonga to San­tander or even if he put up an en­tire wall on this long coast­line, without the vol­un­tary sup­port of a vig­i­lant local pop­u­la­tion, he would have failed.

That is why I think it is sheer folly to ques­tion why the Coast Guard or the Navy did not de­tect the ar­rival of this small band of ter­ror­ists. I am sure these ter­ror­ists did not bandy about their firearms while trav­el­ing on board their fast-mov­ing boats nor did they hold a large farewell party be­fore they left. How then are we to know if those rid­ing on fast pump­boats are not ter­ror­ists? Only through the vig­i­lance of peo­ple around those se­cluded ar­eas where they land or will land in the fu­ture. The big­gest mis­take these ter­ror­ists then and now com­mit­ted was to be vis­i­ble to strangers — some­thing that one can­not pre­vent from hap­pen­ing, un­less they know how to be in­vis­i­ble.

The only prob­lem with vig­i­lance is over-vig­i­lance, of course, as shown by those who im­me­di­ately posted on so­cial me­dia what they thought were strange-look­ing peo­ple or some­one here or there rid­ing a boat and hold­ing aloft some­thing that looked like a gun. Sow­ing fear on so­cial me­dia is not the an­swer. That is why vig­i­lance must be cou­pled with in­tel­li­gence, the proper use of one’s men­tal fac­ul­ties, be­fore re­port­ing any­thing and ev­ery­thing to the point that no one will be­lieve you, only to turn out to be true later. The les­son of “The Boy who Cried Wolf” must be taken by heart, now that it has be­come clear that ter­ror­ists have be­come bold enough to en­ter into ter­ri­tory not of their own com­fort. This is no time to slacken our vig­i­lance, but that also does not mean we should stop liv­ing nor­mally.

To bor­row from World War II Great Bri­tain: Keep calm and carry on!

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