Bound for Jolo

Jolo rises steeply out of the island-dotted Sulu Sea. Thick clouds hover above jagged volcanic peaks on this green and brown patch of tropical forest. Could there be smoke mixed in there too? A little fear mixed with anticipation is playing a few tricks on my mind. I'm on a Weesam-owned fastcraft ship approaching the city, wondering if it is being shelled or not. A former senator whom I know sent me a text message just after disembarking from Zamboanga which said she heard reports that the "lawless elements" are rumored to be planning an attack in the middle of the city soon and against the 104th Brigade. What a way to head south after rolling out of Zamboanga. I wish I had been able to catch a flight with the Borax crew. They weren't going today, so I raced over to the pier and got me a $10 ticket for a three-hour ride to the edge of a tropical hell.

I want to get there soon. I'm starving and a bowlful of Mamiseafood noodles and a Pepsi just hasn't cut it.

Plus I'm a little worn out on bad action movies. For the last 3 hours, D-rate war flicks have either transfixed or bored about 100 of us passengers who are heading straight for a real life war zone. Wonder if they think these films do conflict justice? I have to admit Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" kept me slightly awake because of it's brutal portrayal of the military's group-think culture and how soldiers never quite understand their rivals, nationalist insurgency or the land they were sent to invade. Watching this should be standard homework for all American boots heading to Iraq and Jolo. In the post World War II era, an invading army rarely has rarely been able to claim total victory. They've hamletted and killed and built classrooms and passed out rice and firebombed farmlands and won a few allies here and there, but in the end, organized insurgents almost always win. With that said though, the Abu Sayyaf is not the North Vietnamese Army.

Interesting how Filipinos exhibit some degree of fascination with America's experience in Vietnam. They've been waging three or four counterinsurgency wars of their own since the 1960's. None of them have been resolved yet.

I've read that it was throughout the Philippines, and most intensely in Jolo, where American forces tested its counterinsurgency formula against "unruly natives". In Mindanao, the fight against the local Tausugs proved to be tough. During the first decade of the 20 the century, General John Perhsing and his grunts massacred anywhere from 600-1000 Tausug Muslims inside the mouth of Bud Dahu volcano located near the town center. People have told me that the Colt .45 fast-action pistol was developed in order to shoot down sword-wielding Tausugs who would take four or five bullets before finally dying.

What became a military pacification campaign evolved into soft colonization. Americans started building schools for the same Muslim communities and taught them English. Ostensibly no shots are being fired right now by the current American units stationed in Jolo's 104th Brigade. However, schools are definitely getting built by guys from California and Utah. Turns out that one of Malik's mortars hit a school which US troops had just completed in the town of Panamao.

The water is getting choppy. And Chuck Norris' acting is getting worse. Chuck's in a boat, cruising through the Mekong Delta while looking for MIA's and the man who tortured him. I'm in a boat, cruising toward Jolo city, re-thinking my decision to come here.

Julie Alipala, the intrepid Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter, will meet me at the pier in 20 minutes so my ass doesn't get kidnapped. It looks like thunderclouds are gathering above Bud Dahu and the other volcanoes outside my window.

Last time I got off a fastcraft in this area, a careless soldier got up too quickly from his seat and accidentally pulled the trigger on his grenade launcher. An M-203 round got stuck in his chair three seats in front of mine. Fortunately it didn't bounce on the floor, spin, and detonate or else there would have been a mess at the Basilan dock. Im looking around and it appears that the three soldiers on our Weesam know how to handle their kit.

I'm off in a few. I'll write later.