MAKATI CITY (MindaNews/27 October) — I think I have spent enough time in the field to know that the anger of foot soldiers is quite understandable, although sometimes misdirected. The same goes for the frustration they feel after suffering casualties.
However, what I cannot understand is how media screws it up every time. Every time. Is it a problem of ignorance, or arrogance? Or is it simple laziness?
1. This morning, one newspaper used the word slaughter in its lead to describe the death of the 19 troops. Talk about loaded words. The troops were not lined up and shot. The firefight lasted more than ten hours. Ten hours. This is not the only example. Time and again, we would come across the word ‘massacre’ to describe what happened in Basilan. Again, loaded words. We are agitating further those already agitated by using words in the wrong context. Why? Perhaps because they are sexier? BTW, I read the Inquirer.
2. I have the misfortune of having a car radio that only picks up FM, so I usually tune in to one FM radio station that has an AM news format. Last night, some marvelous commentators decided to talk about the five million pesos that PNoy gave to the MILF for leadership training. Now, that issue is explosive enough when viewed under present circumstances. The two commentators however chose to lay it out some more. One said, ‘baka naman kinaltas yang 5 million sa budget ng PNP at binigay sa MILF.’ Or, horror of horrors, ‘baka kinuha sa budget ng AFP?’
The speculation, ridiculous as it was, came out of nowhere and was basically unsubstantiated, yet it was said on the air. It was clearly pampagalit sa listeners. Of course they later said that these were questions that they want answered. But the fact is that they laid it out first as if these were valid questions to ask, even though there was no basis for this line of questions. Lay on the malice first, and then habulin nalang ang disclaimer – is that how it goes? Then of course, they talked about five million pesos for the MILF while troops had rotting boots. In the context of peace negotiations, both sides try to have confidence building measures. This is not the first time government committed an amount to rebel groups with the proviso that the amount be spent for building peace and understanding. In that context, 5M is small change compared to other government expenses such as waging all-out war or keeping our congressmen and senators happy. Kawawa at naapi na nga ang mga tropa, ginagalit at ginagamit pa natin. TV5, you have shown you can spend a lot of money on good equipment; sadly you haven’t shown you can spend money on good people.
3. I understand how some troops want a war to finish everything. That is gut instinct after losing so many men. But the decision is not theirs, so the responsibility for enlightening the public and the body politic falls on us. Yet we have just proven plain stupid, uneducated, and unenlightened. So many commentators are agitating for all-out war, as if they had ever stepped onto a battlefield. Too many strategists and armchair generals are out there, beating the drums of war, telling our troops how to fight. I have been to Al-Barka. In fact, I had even slept there a few days after the 2007 beheadings. When the Marines came in with 100+ men, four trucks and two APCs, they came away bloodied; when the Army went in with only 40+ people, half of them trainees, without any armor or backup, their commanders should have known what they were up against.
Is our anger driven by the supposed treachery of the rebels? Perhaps. Things are so muddled up there, that both the rebels and the Army cannot get their story straight. But you can also look at it this way – the Army went into Al-Barka, a community of MILF and ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) rebels, and so the fighting started. It looks fine and dandy on the map, especially when you see a neat dot that says ATS (Area of Temporary Stay). But in reality, there really is no frontline there, no delineation or line on the ground that says, this is where the ATS begins. Quite simply, they live there with their families, not on that dot, but all over that dot. So was it an ambush? Perhaps, perhaps not. If you are pinned down because the enemy happens to LIVE all around you, then perhaps it could seem like so. Jim Libiran got into an argument here with someone who tried to overanalyze the fighting there. The other guy insisted that it was a well-laid trap because the MILF supposedly did a pincer maneuver. So much for the armchair generals.
Ahh, so maybe our anger is magnified by the number of casualties that the government suffered. And yes, we should be outraged by the number of dead. But who do we blame then, for the high number of dead soldiers? Think about it. In battle, do you expect your enemy to say, tama na, marami na tayong napatay, atras na tayo? In other words, should we blame the enemy for fighting hard, and then let our commanders off the hook even after they let our troops down? In other countries, a full-blown investigation followed by a general court martial would be in order.
I propose, for our safety and sanity, that everyone now agitating for immediate all-out war be equipped with the latest gadgetry and weapons, and airdropped into Al-Barka so they can live out their deepest fantasies in the mud and coconut trees of Al-Barka. The mediamen can bring all their alalays and their makeup kits if they wish. After all, we all want to look good doing our stand-ups, don’t we? Oh and they can bring their writers too, since many of them can’t write sensibly even if their lives depended on it. Don’t bother to bring your expensive cellphones and blackberries; walang signal dun. Don’t bring your IPads, especially if you intend to stay for several days; walang kuryente dun para mag charge. Ang angry birds dun, ibang klaseng bomba ang iniitsa. Bring sunblock, bring bug spray. Bring hairspray na rin.
And if you still have room in your pack, try to bring lots of good sense, though, and bring an open mind. No matter how gory and bloody and terrifying it looks in the movies, Hollywood will never ever get it. You can never smell real fear in a moviehouse.
Oh before I forget, let Erap take the lead too. In fact, he is welcome to dress up again in his army uniform so he can prance around the hills of Al-Barka while the rebels nip at his heels and show him what it really means to be a tough guy. (Multi-awarded journalist Ed Lingao started as a print journalist, shifted to television and is now multimedia director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. He has covered a wide range of issues in various platforms and has covered war and conflict in Mindano, Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor. He posted this piece on Facebook. MindaNews sought and was granted permission to disseminate this).