The caption on this news photo read: “PO2 Joanne Daras (center), the fiancee of slain PNP-SAF member PO3 Jeds-In Asjali, weeps at the slain officer’s coffin at his home in Zamboanga City before burial on Wednesday, January 28. Asjali and PO2 Amman Esmila were among the 44 police elite commandos killed during a clash with MILF and BIFF fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25.” Photo by Hadji Rieta, GMANews

This picture brought it home to me. The actuality of it. Prior to seeing this, the news was merely words – unfortunate, yes, yet two-dimensional. But when I saw this, ah… everything about this photograph is eloquent. It communicated that the Mamasapano incident was not just another skirmish in troubled, far-off Mindanao; not some piece of information I can file somewhere in my mind and access only when I need to but most likely won’t. It was real. It cost lives. It ruptured relationships, sundered families, broke hearts. I know it broke mine. And I don’t know what to do about it.

It has been a disturbing day. I began it by watching the departure honors in Cotabato given 42 of the fallen and the arrival honors they received in Villamor Airbase. I don’t know any of them, but I wept for them like they were my brothers. Perhaps, in a way, they are now my brothers. Has this tragedy made a family of us all?

The grief I feel is intense and ineffable, and it helps that most folks I know on social media share it. We have comforted and kept each other company. The grief is not what disturbs me, though. What unsettles me to this moment is that there is so much I do not understand about this whole affair.

I don’t understand why President Benigno S. Aquino III did not have the decency to show up at Villamor today.

Yes, he had a good compound excuse – Deputy Presidential Spokesman Abigail Valte stated it efficiently enough: he didn’t show up for DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo’s remains either (remember?)/ he will lead the necrological proceedings tomorrow/ he has to carry on with national business. But as the self-proclaimed “ama ng bayan,” he should’ve known better. He should’ve been there instead of at a new Mitsubishi factory extolling the benefits of the Aquino legacy.

Imelda Marcos, Bongbong Marcos, and Jojo Binay were there, for goodness’ sake. They may be traditional politicians to the core and probably frauds of various hues, but by golly, they know enough about our people to show up when there’s a need. That’s what makes them tenacious and effective pols. That’s why they will persist when Noynoy won’t. If you can’t condole at the first instance with the families of men who gave their lives to serve and protect under your watch, no one will care about your tuwid na daan. They will only remember that you were an absentee father. And that’s what you are, sir.

I don’t understand why this debacle happened and why the heads of our security forces won’t be forthright with us, including their Commander-in-Chief.

To clear the air and settle the growing restiveness, the President addressed the country last night on TV. Typically, he avoided looking into the camera and displayed nary an ounce of compassion even as he again identified himself as the father of the nation. What people saw was a shifty-eyed leader disavowing knowledge of the details of the mission. No air was cleared and very few minds, if any, were set at rest. Essentially, he pointed fingers and ultimately, he swept the whole mess under the rug. Why? Who knows?

Social media was rife with speculation a minute after he ended. He left more unanswered questions and discontent in the wake of that broadcast than there were to begin with. The media busily churned out articles based on the meager leads available, and from what can be gathered as I write this, Noynoy’s story is full of holes. Very predictably, it appears a fall guy has been designated to muffle the rumblings, and he has, obediently, fallen. In fact, he took the plunge not long after yesterday ended.

The online edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer posted on January 28 at 9:34 pm  a story headlined “Aquino knew of Mamasapano mission; Purisima called the shots – SAF chief,” but at 12:40 am, January 29, it posted a report declaring, “SAF chief: I am responsible.” Figure it out; it’s not rocket science. I feel for SAF Commander Getulio Napeñas and I very much want to hear what he really has to say. I perceive that he was a father to his troops and that he was not merely paying lip service to the role.

I don’t understand the Bangsamoro issue as well as I should.

This is not entirely my fault. The topic is technically and historically complex, and I would need a tutor to educate me for a few days before I could say I had somewhat grasped it. Another complaint (may I call it that?) I have is the lack of effort on the government’s part to increase public awareness of this issue.

On January 25, I watched the hearing led by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, at which no less than former Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano pointed out the dearth of information surrounding the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. He wryly quipped that he didn’t learn about it until it was concluded. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles said that 442 consultations had been conducted nationwide. Yes, but how prominently were the results reported in our media? And what effort was made to make these reports accessible to the popular mind?

If we are serious about the peace process (and despite how things stand now, I still believe peace is the only option for us) then the government has got to involve the public in this discussion. It’s got to exert more effort to draw us into this conversation; to educate us about Mindanao and its context: its search for justice, acceptance, and respect, and its various people groups who each have a stake in that vitally distressed region. I long to understand their cause, yet I also want to be assured that their quest for autonomy will not split this country apart. I want to learn but I confess I am also afraid that what I will be told may not be wholly the truth. Who will allay these fears? Who will help the individual particles of Philippine sovereignty understand all this?

Unless the public is grounded in these fundamentals, we will never understand the debate surrounding the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law nor its substance. This is a piece of legislation that will affect all of us intimately, and we deserve to be in on the discussion. The President wants it passed in toto and is already putting us all on a guilt trip for not joining his bandwagon. Some legislators have raised concerns on its constitutionality, as have several former Justices of the Supreme Court, law professors, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. Let’s not rush this. Let’s study it and talk to each other, and insist that the government carefully explain to us what this radical change will mean for our country.

There is more that unsettles me, but I have said enough in one sitting.

The 44 deaths were not caused by a misencounter. Let us find out what did. Let us demand answers. Let us remember that their blood was spilt on Philippine territory as they pursued terrorists who threatened Philippine citizens and Philippine security. I am still disturbed, and I hope many who read this are too. Let us not stop asking questions until the people who have the answers are as disturbed as we are and finally start talking.

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Comments (2)

  1. Reply

    very nice. this is an eloquent commentary on how one’s arrogance can isolate him from the reality of grief and dismay. unless he admits his wrongdoing and shortcoming on this incident, he will find it very difficult to get back the confidence of the people on his competence and ability to lead.

    • Reply

      Thanks. I’m listening to him address the widows during the necrological service now. He began by speaking about himself and now he’s talking tough, promising various things. Still no evidence of compassion. What’s worse, he’s coughing throughout. 🙁 I only hope he will deliver.

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