Saturday, April 07, 2012

Amulets shield “antingan” soldiers in combat

In the time of smart bombs and other cutting edge weapons, some Philippine Army soldiers, including me, still believe that amulets or anting-anting keep harm at bay during firefights.

One of my soldiers, Technical Sergeant Jose Sachiro Legaspi, combat medic of the 10th Scout Ranger Company, is among those who still wear amulets.

Legaspi started wearing amulets from a spiritual leader before being deployed to Sulu in 2000.

He and I survived violent clashes with Abu Sayyaf separatists in Sulu and Basilan since then until 2002.

Together, we had operated behind enemy lines at the height of the combat-rescue missions of the Army following the Sipadan and Dos Palmas hostage-taking incidents.

We were unscathed despite the whizzing bullets, some of which hit and scarred my soldiers.

Once, after a five-hour gun battle with over a hundred insurgents in October 2001, my unit was surprised to discover bullet holes in the backpack and even on the uniform of Legaspi, who has become a legend of sorts.

We wondered how efficiently he dodged the barrage of fires to treat wounded soldiers, all of whom survived the skirmish.

Antingan soldiers

Legaspi and I have something in common. We have worn amulets while flirting with death on the fronts.

There have been other well-known antingan (people with amulets) in the First Scout Ranger Regiment of the Philippine Army.

Retired Major General Julius Javier, a decorated former commander of the Scout Rangers, is known to be among us.

He survived at least four ambushes staged by the rebels, practically uninjured.

In Mawab, Compostela Valley, he was among the survivors of a stealthy attack carried out by New People’s Army rebels.

Surrounded by wounded and dead comrades, he escaped unharmed and was able to save his unit from being wiped out completely.

In Patikul town in Sulu, he was not hurt even when secessionist rebels peppered his car with bullets.

Major General Javier says he does not have full faith on amulets. He just wears a medallion given by his grandfather while serving on the frontlines.

“Though I was told that the medallion had some powers, I did not really rely on it. In fact, I ducked for cover and use the Scout Ranger SOP’s (standard operating procedures) to outwit our enemies during battles,” he says.

He adds that that his subordinates are the ones who spread stories of his being an antingan.

According to him, one of his soldiers who claimed to be an antingan would stay away from him during clashes because his (Javier’s) amulet would negatively affect his own anting-anting.
In one incident, he rose to his feet thinking that the attackers fled, only to be met with rapid fires, which hit his radioman.

He sustained only minor scratches from bullet splinters and was awarded the Wounded Personnel Medal by Brigadier General Felix Brawner Sr., his former commander.

Former Senior Master Sergeant Eugenio ‘Bobords’ Dela Cerna of the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion is probably the most famous of the antingan soldiers.

He retired from the service unharmed despite the countless combat missions he had fought since joining the military service in the 1970s.

Soldiers who had patrolled behind enemy lines with Dela Cerna were amazed by his bravery. They also would notice that Dela Cerna was not eating anything but peanuts during military operations. He would be the first to stand on his feet and engage the rebels in fierce duels.

Once, while going home, the public utility vehicle that Dela Cerna was riding was flagged down by at least 10 heavily armed men.

Sensing that he (Dela Cerna) had a gun, one of the armed men shot him from behind. But the bullet did not fire, giving him the chance to fire back.

Dela Cerna has received several combat medals and became an ‘action star’ in the Scout Ranger community.

Warriors and amulets

Wearing of amulets is quite common among soldiers, members of paramilitary forces and even among insurgents.

I joined a group of ‘antingan’ in Quezon town in Bukidnon upon the persuasion of my cousins and after I had been wounded in Maguindanao in 1997.

Mang Boy, the spiritual leader, took charge of all the rituals and ‘compliances’. I was just required to refrain from eating pork and having sexual activities before going to combat missions.

Since then, I wore on my waist an amulet composed of rolled papers containing oracion (prayer) soaked in a bottle of oil and worn like a bandoleer.

By chance, I got another amulet when I was adopted by a Muslim family in Basilan province in 1998.

Worried that I might become another casualty of the brewing skirmishes with the Abu Sayyaf separatists, my Muslim brother required me to use the pis-pis (scarf with inscribed Arabic prayers) all the time.

Like Mang Boy, he also warned me to refrain from eating food that is haram (forbidden in Islam) and having sexual activities before going on combat missions.

All I have to do is to say Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and to step out of my door first with my right foot before I go on combat missions.

Thinking that I have nothing to lose, I have worn amulets in all my combat missions in Basilan.
I was not harmed despite the violent clashes involving my unit and insurgents.

Dealing with ‘antingan’ soldiers

To recognize a tradition during Holy Week, I allow other antingan soldiers under my command to go home and pay respect to spiritual leaders, who “renew” our “dala-dala” (worn amulets).

I have worn amulets despite my reservations on its supposed powers.

But I have believed that only God has the power and ability to save those who believe in Him. That sole power could be the greatest reason why I did not lose even one soldier in my stint as a combat leader.

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