Monthly Archives: January 2007

Operation Daybreak

Letter2_1 In Gracia Burnham’s website, the first letter in the mailbox is from a crewmember on the American helicopter that flew her out of the battle zone.

Did US forces help in her rescue? All the accounts I know of agree: They helped in everything but the actual fighting.

For instance, a CNN dispatch, dated June 7, 2002, detailed the limits of American participation:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. advisers helped plan a Philippine military operation that found an American couple being held hostage by Muslim guerrillas, but Friday’s rescue attempt came after a “chance encounter,” Pentagon officials said Friday …. Pentagon officials described “Operation Daybreak” as a Philippine effort, underway for about a week, to hunt down a group of Abu Sayyaf rebels believed to be hiding in the jungles of the Zamboanga peninsula. An official told CNN the U.S. military help planned “Operation Daybreak” and provided “technical assistance,” but that no U.S. troops were involved in the overall operation — or Friday’s rescue effort.

A follow-up story on CNN the following day put the matter even more succinctly.

During a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, U.S. Gen. Richard Myers confirmed the rescue operation had taken place. He said United States troops were not involved in the rescue attempt, but did provide a military helicopter to fly Gracia Burnham to safety.

A man riding that very same military helicopter wrote Gracia to ask a simple, straight-from-the-heart question (please click on the image above). It is a haunting one: “I have often wondered if you and your husband Martin ever heard us as we searched for your location in the months leading up to your rescue?”


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Gracia’s enemies, 3

A better title: Gracia’s love and faith

The third part of my report-review of "In the Presence of My Enemies," Gracia Burnham’s deeply affecting memoir of her year in captivity, was published on May 11, 2003.

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Gracia’s enemies, 2

"Contrary to both their self-image and the public image they carefully cultivated, the Abu Sayyaf bandits lacked elementary discipline. They had commitment, which was not necessarily the same thing."

The second part of the report-review I wrote after reading Gracia Burnham’s "In the Presence of My Enemies" came out on May 10, 2003.

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Gracia’s enemies

Turns out Abu Sulaiman was killed on Gracia Burnham’s birthday — one of those accidents of circumstance which, if it had happened in fiction, we would dismiss as implausible, impossibly contrived. (Sulaiman was the Abu Sayyaf strategist behind the Dos Palmas abduction, and Gracia the hostage they held longest.) She told her mission partners what she felt when she heard the news, on January 17.

Gracia wrote a beautiful account of her harrowing year-long captivity; according to her website, "In the Presence of My Enemies" has already sold some 300,000 copies. I may have been one of the first to read the hardback in its entirety; I got a copy a few days before it was launched, here in the Philippines, in May 2003. I volunteered to write a report-review; a three-part series in the Inquirer first saw print on May 9.

The introductory note read: "Gracia Burnham’s ‘In the Presence of My Enemies’ answers many questions and confirms old answers about the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping spree, but it also creates new puzzles. The Inquirer, which obtained one of the first copies of the book, relates some of the highlights."

Here’s the first part.

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Lamitan hospital siege

Everything is context. The other day, Howie Severino reminded us that the military’s ultimately successful pursuit of Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khaddaffy Janjalani cannot be fully understood without the debacle that was the Lamitan hospital siege. Here is an infographic from the Inquirer’s June 2, 2003 issue that summarizes the seven basic facts about the siege.



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Battle of Patikul, first report

Inquirer reporter (and, ahem, Inquirer labor union president) Dona Pazzibugan filed the following report from Camp Aguinaldo last September. This version, which ran in Inquirer Compact on September 7, 2006, is both tighter and longer than the story which appeared, on the same day, on Page A3 of the broadsheet. It’s a good read; Dona did a good job, and I think perhaps more people ought to be able to read it.

There is a book in here somewhere.

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Battle of Patikul

I was so struck by the details of the so-called Battle of Patikul I used it on the front page — four and a half months ago. Here’s a copy of the front page of the September 7, 2006 issue of Inquirer Compact.


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YOU’re the person of the year?

I meant to add this to my list of best online reads, as an Honorable Mention: Steve Safran’s treatise on the wussification of Time’s Person of the Year award.

Well, TIME has really gone out on a limb for its Person of the Year for 2006. They gave it to you. And me. All of us. Everyone who contributed to the web. Nice sentiment, but pretty wussy. And totally in keeping with their disturbing recent trend of making safe, largely uninspired choices that are no longer in line with the original mission of the honorific “Person of the Year.” Seriously – what could be safer than giving it to all of us? Talk about the “Me Generation.” The “Person of the Year” is supposed to be someone who for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year. Sure, they’ve given it to groups in the past and often rightly so. But you? I mean, I like you and all, but did you really most influence the events in the preceding year? Did we? And if so, where is our beer?

The wussification of the Person of the Year choices started in earnest in 2001.

I think Steve (of favorite site Lost Remote, of course) nailed this one.


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Promises, promises

When Che-Che Lazaro made the mistake of guesting me on her Media in Focus show last August, I blurted out something about the blog medium’s “three promises.” All I wanted to do was point to the three elements that make up a blog — its regular frequency, its hyperlinked character, its interactivity — but I used the word “promise” advisedly. Each blog, I thought then and still think now, makes the three promises; fulfillment, however, is very much each blogger’s lookout.

Butch Dalisay’s finely wrought pieces, for example, do not depend on the comment button, which is disabled (he does run some feedback every now and then). Jay Rosen’s lengthy and learned disquisitions in PressThink are less frequent than they used to be (unless I subscribed to the wrong RSS reader, I think the pace has slowed to about one post every few weeks). And I can think of a few bloggers who practice the art of linking minimalistically.

The (real) point is: I’ve been remiss in meeting all three promises! Of the failed commitments, the one that really nags at me is the failure to reply to or even acknowledge the comments some of you have been kind enough to leave in this particular intersection. Granted, I read each comment and always feel compelled to write a reply long enough to be construed as a regular post; as you can readily see, however, I have learned quite well how to cope with the compulsion. (I make a silent promise to reply “later,” and then move on to the next comment or blog or post.)

This nagging feeling reached crisis proportions last month, after I wrote a piece on the Jesuits and their role in miseducating me — and I got wonderful feedback from, well, all over. Most of the feedback came in the form of email; every single one was written with unfailing gracefulness — thus making the art of the delayed response even heavier to bear.

(Oh, there was also a wonderful comment from Darren, who used to frequent Wild Card Gym in LA. That really floored me.)

Really, I must find a way to reply, and to reply fast enough. (How hard can it be, I ask myself at stoplights, to reply to visitors “bound by blog” to me like never-missed-simbang-gabi Dom and say, “Merry Christmas to you too, man”?)

Naga’s essential blogger, Willy Prilles, was good enough to read my first column for and then leave me with a pivotal question. I’ve been meaning to answer it since he asked, let me see, three weeks ago. Maybe I can start with that. Soon. Maybe later. Maybe tomorrow.

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Tuesday is the new Monday

One of these days, I am going to get the hang of column-writing. In the meantime, I will have to rely on the preternatural patience of my editors at Inq7 — or, rather, at

Last week’s column was sent off so late (ah, the pleasures of the passive voice) it came out the following day: Tuesday is the new Monday.

This week’s edition came out on the day it was supposed to; unfortunately, that day was New Year’s Day, and if you squint hard enough while reading the piece you can still see the confetti and the wine labels and the firecracker shells. Auld lang syne and all that jazz.


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Constipation rapturous

Spare a thought for the art (or the artlessness) of the spam.

I do not know what it is that makes spammers tick, but I cannot imagine that writing code for subject headings is at the top of their, ah, priorities. Does anyone seriously think that a reader will be intrigued enough to open email with the following incomplete, illiterate heading?

“Re: whoeve = felon”

You know what the spammer (or his code) was trying to get at, but we can see right through the trick. I would think that the vast majority of all spam is titled this way, offering no obvious incentive to the reader.

But other titles are a little more subtle.

“Low-Profile Company With High Profit Potential”

Whets the reader’s appetite, but for the name of the “sender.” I, for one, do not know any “Madge Peters.” (What, no algorithm for Asian addresses?)

Other titles are suspiciously complete, with initial capitals and a period.

“I don’t do therapy or engage in any form of treatment with patients here.” (from “Dorothy”)

“Your storm is headed my way, now.” (from “Kline”)

“But what’s in a name, my sweet Rom-Rom.” (from “Matilda,” whose relationship with sweet Rom-Rom I can, like you, only guess at)

Still other titles depend on some sort of shock value.

“The flat-out refusal to yield to Christ our Lord.” (from “Morris,” an evangelist who drives a hard bargain)

“I mean, how do you kill a community?” (from the appropriately prophetic “Correa Elijah”)

And there are the emails from senders one ought to be familiar with.

A letter titled “mark fib,” for example, from “Jesus Christ” (no less)

For my money, however, the “best” series of subject headings in 2006 spam was the forced-to-fit two-word combination: “sigh solemnity.” “Acrobat filigree.” And so on and so forth. The hands-down winner: “constipation rapturous.”

In 2006 they sprouted like digital mushrooms. I don’t think they tempted anyone to open any letter, but in their randomness, their beautiful absurdity, they often sounded like refrigerator poetry.


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