Quite a bit of information has been served to us lately via the recent legislative inquiries – information that would have probably remained recondite if not for the Mamasapano incident. This is a bittersweet blessing as I’m convinced the powers-that-be would’ve blithely left us ignorant if circumstances had allowed.
After the raucous House hearing last Wednesday, I’d wager some of us are fed up and saying “no more, thank you!” I feel duty-bound, however, to keep chewing (as it were) the unpalatable along with the savory to discover the tragic facts of Mamasapano and the manifold ramifications of a peace treaty with the MILF.
Easy for me to swallow is the showing of the PNP protagonists, OIC Director Gen. Leonardo Espina and sacked SAF chief Gen. Getulio Napeñas.
I was bowled over by the raw courage shown by Espina at the House on Wednesday. His righteous fury and his admirable mastery of it, his grief for the fallen, his defense of their widows and orphans, and his virile leadership in that climactic moment contrasted starkly with President Aquino’s flaccid declarations in all his public appearances since January 25.
Likewise I am impressed with Napeñas who, despite the miasma he wades through daily, never shirks from his culpability nor wavers from his assertion that his men’s mission was accomplished. Furthermore, he looks directly and with respect at his inquisitors (even when it is a spewing, sputtering Miriam Defensor-Santiago), answers questions without quibbling, and knows when to hold his peace. Yes, he made errors – likely grievous ones – and he must account for them. But I agree with Senator Miriam that, first, he is a gentleman and second, he is not alone to blame.
There were a few morsels, however, that, like gristle, were impossible to push down. These glaring inconsistencies seemingly went unnoticed by the men who spoke them, and I hope they will be revisited by the public and the legislators alike so as to highlight the facts and not the fiction we are being dished up.
Here is a sampling:
MILF Peace Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal stated on Thursday that the MILF was also saddened by the deaths of the SAF 44 and is equally fervent in its pursuit of truth, justice, and peace. In his opening statement at the Senate, Iqbal offered as a bona fide gesture the return of the firearms and equipment taken from the dead. But when asked when this would happen, Iqbal explained euphemistically – enigmatically – that they too suffered losses and thus emotions would have to be assuaged and troops persuaded before the items could be restored. That describes a bereaved portion of the MILF which is understandably grieving and also, significantly, restive, and seems reluctant to comply with the central leadership’s directive. How many are they? Can the leadership control them? Does the leadership represent them? If not, then how reliable was the commitment made last Thursday?
Iqbal also said that the MILF now trusts the Philippine government more because of the Mamasapano clash. But he also insists that an independent, foreign body (he suggests the UN) conduct its own investigation so objectivity is assured. “On the part of the MILF, aside from our investigation, we push for a truly independent group that would conduct a fair and impartial investigation of the incident,” he said in his opening statement. That implies that the Senate and the House of Representatives of the Republic of the Philippines as well as the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines will possibly be unfair and partial in their respective investigations. The MILF trusts the Philippine government more, but then again, it doesn’t trust the government at all.
When the discussion ranged on the MILF-led transition government contemplated by the BBL, the questions were raised: Can the MILF subdue the BIFF? and Does the MILF legitimately represent the various groups in the region? In reply, Iqbal said that these matters entailed process, thus the BBL first had to be passed and the MILF ensconced in order for these issues to be worked out. This dubious answer sadly reminded me of the man who applied for the position of my Father’s driver and ended up badly denting our newly painted car on his test drive. My indignant brother asked him how he was going to pay for the damage. The applicant brightly replied, “You can take it out of my paycheck, sir!” The analogy is clear, I think.
And then there is the issue of allegiance. Iqbal passionately recounted the travails of the Moros throughout history and the egregious wrongs perpetrated against them, particularly during the Marcos dictatorship. This is a fact we as a country must acknowledge and strive to understand. I join many who seek their healing; I am trying to learn about their sorrows that I may stand with them intelligently for justice, reparation, and wholeness. However, I cannot see that they consider themselves Filipino. From Iqbal’s words and demeanor, I perceive that they are a proudly distinct group and that the Bangsamoro (“Bansang Moro”) is their true and only identity. I respect that, sincerely. What I cannot comprehend is how Iqbal can argue for autonomy and the Bangsamoro identity yet in the same breath claim that they are Filipino and so qualify for government subsidies. To his credit, though, he did not actually utter the words “we are Filipinos.” The closest he came was “we are part of the Philippines.” Enough said.
Apart from Iqbal’s inconsistencies, there was that doozy – the embarrassing moment when none of the members of the President’s security cluster could tell the frustrated senators exactly when Aquino was informed of the Mamasapano clash. They checked their cellphones; they looked at each other; they fell silent; they even drew away from the microphones and leaned back in their chairs (probably to avoid amplifying any inadvertent admission). No one knew. Yet Aquino himself told the silent SAF troopers on January 31, 2015 that he learned about it early on the morning of January 25th. Who told him? A comically nonplused Alan Purisima was asked and hurriedly grasped executive privilege. Illegitimately. Another inconsistency. But it worked,
What I find most questionable, however, were parts of the testimonies of DILG Sec. Mar Roxas and DND Sec. Voltaire Gazmin. Both confirmed that they received text messages early on the 25th informing them of the encounter between the SAF and MILF, but both claimed they did not consider this extraordinary since such encounters were reported to them daily. Daily? Clashes between the MILF and government troops? How can this be when the government staunchly insists that the ceasefire has held and that there have been no clashes between the MILF and the government forces since 2011? OPAPP Sec. Ging Deles and Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the CCCH and AHJAG representatives, Roxas, Gazmin, Gen. Pio Catapang and his commanders, and even President Aquino himself have said so. How could they then treat the report of this clash with such nonchalance? Are we seriously expected to believe this?
I call upon the respective legislative committees and boards of inquiry to consider these and other inconsistencies as they continue their pursuit of truth. We as individual particles of sovereignty must insist on proper treatment from our government leaders and demand utmost respect, especially when we seek justice. We are not easily discombobulated like imbeciles led down the garden path. We know a lie when we hear one. We deserve no less than the whole truth.
The most invidious of all the inconsistencies, however, is the allegation that those who oppose the BBL oppose peace. It is a subtle and malicious assertion that does not satisfy even basic logic. I desire peace in this land, yet I am convinced that the BBL as it stands is not an instrument of harmony but of further division. Unless it is rewritten to encompass all affected groups in the region; unless the plural identities that exist there and not just the Bangsamoro are equitably delineated, upheld, and protected; unless there is a firm expression of fealty and union with the Republic of the Philippines; unless all questions of conformity with the Philippine Constitution are satisfied, I will continue to question the BBL in the name of peace.
I appeal to our government to stop serving the Filipino people half-baked stories and fantasies of peace through the current BBL. A great segment of us seeks effective measures that will guarantee sustainable peace in this country. Respect that quest, and let us have a serious conversation.
Banner photo, original photo credits: Rappler, newsinfo.inquirer.net