Written on 24 August, 07:49 local
Choices choices. With a new Colonel in command, and the need to not get as many soldiers killed as they did last time, the planning for the next Big Operation Against Abu Sayyaf is taking a long time. The common story, no matter who I ask, is that there is an operation in the works, but they can’t say when it’ll be. It might be tomorrow. It might be in a week. This puts me in a difficult position. I need to be in Manila in a week’s time, but up until then I can stay as long as they’ll have me. The issue is that on trips like this, I need to maximise the number of stories I can get. I’m here for the radio, and for photographs, and while I can get another radio story out of interviewing the commanders, which I’ll do today, and perhaps a photostory from around the camp, I’m going to run out things to cover. A staff reporter with a forgiving editor might be able to justify the time spent here idle, but I can’t.
This is made worse by the main story I’m here to cover – the refugees from the fighting – are going to be impossible to get to. According to Philippine military intelligence, there are no refugee camps or areas per se, rather everyone goes and stays with their relatives, and more to the point, they stay in places that are out of bounds to the Philippine Army. Apart from Abu Sayyaf, the government are facing an insurgency from the Mindanao Islamic Liberation Front, and it’s their areas that the refugees are fleeing to. There is a ceasefire between the MILF and the army, but it’s mostly reinforced by standing orders not to interfere, or enter, MILF territory. Without an armed escort, I can’t get there, and the only armed escort available is forbidden to go.
Meanwhile, there are stories to cover on the mainland. It’s not war, but Sunday in Zamboanga is the special day for the biggest local sport: cockfighting. That would make a great photostory, in a way that hanging around the base for a few more days would not. I could, I suppose, leave and then come back if things are going to kick off. Ponder…