Mind da News: An Inconclusive Apology

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, January 30, 2015 — In a 23-paragraph, 2,328-word speech to the nation last January 28 on the January 25 Mamasapano PNP-SAF covert operation turned massacre, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III delivered an apology of the much-publicized fiasco instead of the expected condemnation of the brutal killing. The mutilation of the slain was expected to be condemned.

In any military or police operation against rebels or armed groups, casualties from the two sides are normal. But in Mamasapano, the killing of the 44 SAF commandos as officially confirmed was barbarically brutal. Most them bore shot in the head and were completely stripped of their battle gear including shoes – no guns, helmets, etc. beside them as shown in close-up television footages. Two theories persist: they were shot while lying wounded or after their surrender. There was a media report of the first.

In the speech there were narration of the encounter, commendation of the slain as heroes and assurance of the truth to come out from investigations by the PNP Command and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front but there was no condemnation to assuage the outrage.

With reference to the English translation of the Tagalog original, what did the speech say – bewailed as late by critics for coming out three days after the incident?    

The President opened with the proposition “to report on what we know about the incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last Saturday and Sunday” for the reason that “you have a right to know what we know at this point”. [Paragraph 1] He proceeded to relate what had already been reported in the media [2], expressed his sadness as the father of nation for the slain proclaiming them as heroes, and declared “a National Day of Mourning to symbolize the sorrow and empathy of our entire country [3].

He said, “Marwan (Zulkipli bi Hir) and (Abdulbasit) Usman are not common criminals” as they have “a long string of outstanding warrants for their arrest” that were issued as early as 2002. To serve these warrants, he said, “our security sector, including the AFP, PNP, and NBI, has undertaken multiple operations to capture” them [4]. Clarifying his role, he explained that the AFP and PNP “are not always required to obtain my approval for each and every one of their operations” except, at “times when certain matters are elevated to my desk [5] – giving three instances as examples [6].

He gave a recital of the bombings and other acts of terrorism attributed to Marwan and Usman [6], [7] and [8] to justify their being the primary targets of the Mamasapano operation.

He emphasized that serving the warrants of Marwan and Usman was a primary duty of the government, citing the 1987 Constitution. Pursuant to this, the decision of the PNP “to take action and serve the warrants” covertly when they “uncovered the precise location of Marwan and Usman” was justified and imperative [9]. He related how the SAF carried out the operation ­– almost exactly as reported in the media – and how “the bloodiest part of the clash happened [10].

He said, he, too, has “many questions surrounding the incident” the truth of which he expects “the board of inquiry to uncover”. Referring to “the briefings the PNP gave me about the continuing operations against Marwan and Usman”, he said he had “repeated countless times the need for proper, sufficient, and timely coordination” citing the many hazards, especially the terrain [11]. He cited the need for the SAF to properly coordinate with the 6th Infantry Division for support [12]. He wondered why, despite the “Yes, Sir” of the SAF director to his reminders, no proper coordination had happened [13], [14].

Instead of condemning the MILF, he explained, obviously in reference to the peace process in Mindanao and the prospective establishment of the Bangsamoro as agreed and provided in the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill now under deliberation in the Congress: “We have already made such great strides because we trusted one another [15].

In the past: “We have already proven that we can work together: in 2014, a Japanese national was rescued in Maguindanao; in that same year, we were able to prevent the explosion of a bomb in Maguindanao.”

In the present: “I have also read the statement of Chairman Al Haj Murad about the Mamasapano incident; the MILF’s formation of a Special Investigative Commission in order to determine the details of the incident constitutes a good first step.”

His expectation: “I am hopeful that the MILF will show, in the soonest possible time, even more concrete evidence of their solidarity in the pursuit of peace, towards the pursuit of truth, and the accountability of those responsible.”

He appealed to the nation to keep the peace.

First: He cautioned: “Let us also avoid spreading rumors and fueling speculation about the incident. There is already a board of inquiry assigned to uncover the whole truth. Let us wait for the results of their findings [16].

Second: As a reminder: “We have already come such a long way in our quest to realize the peace that we have long desired for Muslim Mindanao. All sides exhibited great trust to reach this point.” As a warning: “The incident in Mampasano has already given rise to those who want to take advantage of this tragedy to undermine that trust; they wish to derail the peace process. There are even some already calling for a halt to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the House of Representatives and the Senate [17].

Third: The call to abort the BBL is not an option. “This should not happen. The success of the entire peace process is contingent on this law [18].

The stakes are forbidding: (1) “If this law is kept from being passed at the soonest possible time, the peace process will be derailed; the status quo will remain.” (2) “If that happens, we cannot hope for anything but the same results: Citizens who take to the mountains after losing hope; individuals kept from gaining justice who instead choose to exact violence on their fellowmen. It would be as if we helped Marwan and Usman to reach their goals.”

The burden is ours: (3) “Do we want to return to the point when communities are ready, at a moment’s notice, to flee to evacuation centers, because of the threat of an encounter? If this were to happen, who would benefit?” (4) If the peace process were derailed, how many more graves would we have to dig?” (5) “How many more children will idolize Marwan; how many will want to grow up to be Usman; how many engineers will choose to build bombs rather than buildings?”

Fourth: He also appealed in memory of the “members of the SAF[who] lost their lives while fulfilling their duty to maintain the peace” not to make the peace process fail [19].

Fifth: This must be for the Congress. In order to realize peace, instead of aborting the BBL, he exhorted that we unite and, with “greater determination”, pass the BBL, form the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, hence, “widening the opportunities for all and correcting a political system where a few benefit to the detriment of the majority of our countrymen [20]”.

In closing: He guaranteed the maximum assistance of the state to “the families of the SAF members who perished” and asked the public to extend their utmost support [21]. He recapitulated his appeal for peace – to show compassion, not revenge – issuing the call to all of my countrymen who desire peace, from lawmakers, to the members of the uniformed forces, to the leaders of the MILF, to our countrymen in the Bangsamoro, and to every decent Filipino [22]. He bade all, “Thank you, and good evening [23].

The President, by his proposition and narrative, was a reporter or an informant. Of his narrative from Paragraph 1 to 14, only the briefings he got from the PNP regarding the continuing operations against Marwan and Usman were a revelation. The rest had been reported by the media.

His proposition in keeping the peace with emphasis on the passage of the BBL and the establishment of the Bangsamoro has to be appreciated and heeded; but, he has failed to address squarely the anti-Moro prejudice among the lawmakers, their blaming the MILF for the Mamasapano incident and their using of the BBL as a cudgel to force the MILF down to their knees. His avowed trust of the MILF [Paragraph 15] and his exhortations and appeal [Paragraph 16 to 20] do not squarely address the false issues.

Outside of the Congress, anti-Moro prejudice has also fueled outrage against the Moros, the false notions that negotiating with the MILF was a mistake and the proposal to scuttle the BBL because of the Mamasapano incident. These, too, should have been addressed squarely.

The failure of the PNP-SAF mission to coordinate with the MILF forces according to the Government-MILF ceasefire agreement and its mechanisms was an immediate cause of the Mamasapano “misencounter” – a recurrence of the same problem at the root of two bloody “misencounters’ in Albarka, Basilan. This should have been squarely addressed.

The President has said a lot in his apology of twenty-three paragraphs in 2,328 words. That has to be appreciated and heeded. But failing to address squarely concerns and issues that matter most, the apology was not as conclusive as it should necessarily be.

(Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at [email protected].)