WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: What about the truth?

The military called Grecil a 12-year-old NPA child soldier. To date, BGen. Carlos Holganza, Commanding general of the 1001IB, has not corrected this error for the record. This, despite having handled her original birth certificate in my presence and retaining an exact photocopy of it for their file. This, despite the authoritative statement of Kahayag Barangay Captain Eulogio Almasa that she was a resident of the place.

Almasa should know. He is, after all, her godfather. In fact, Almasa is very sure. He was the one who identified her body and carried it from where it had fallen. He had the unenviable task of breaking the news to Grecil's parents.

For two days, nobody questioned the military's statement alleging the poor girl's category even though it made the front page of newspapers. Nobody thought to take a closer look at the picture that the military sent out to 40 media outlets, despite the glaring inconsistencies when the facts of the case are known. Grecil's death could have very well been another item in the propaganda wars, her reputation sacrificed by the very people who ought to have been protecting her, just so the AFP could stack the cards against the enemy.

It's indeed true that if the NPA had never come to that village, Grecil would still be alive.

It's also true that the circumstances surrounding Grecil's death deserve an honest investigation, not this foot dragging that the military is treating us to, perhaps in the hope that we'll all forget about it. Please, God, let her be 12 years old? Then the 1001 st won't have to backtrack its files down to that crucial spot report to correct this error. Then, too, the commanding general won't have to publicly own up to have made a mistake in his pronouncement. Then, perhaps, the CMO can go on the media
offensive again and accuse those who won't let this story rest to be mouthpieces for the Left. Tuloy ang ligaya.

I have been asked what my motivation is in writing about Grecil. I thought I made it plain enough. You can read my pieces again. I'd be happy to provide you the link.

My intention was never to demonize the military, the 1001st IB, the 10ID, or the East Min Com that put out that colorful line about the soldiers thinking the girl to be a male combatant because "she was good at using the M16."

I am an educator. When I get an answer that won't hold water, I am moved to politely take it apart so that the next time you will reason like you got brains between your ears. Please don't lie to me.

The silence thus far shows how willing are the AFP, the 1001stIB, the 10ID, the East Min Com, and all other military entities who propagated that lie about a dead 9-year old, to relax their standard for truth and honor and duty.

I talked to BGen. Holganza at his Tactical Command Post in New Bataan on 3 April 2007. He struck me as an honorable man. He promised the results of the investigation into Grecil's death within two days. It's been four times two days since the promise.

Coming down from the encounter site that day, Holganza asked me what I found out up there. In all sincerity, I meant it when I told Holganza that I do not envy him the weight of responsibility that rests on his willing shoulders. He agreed that those, indeed, were the people he was sworn to protect.

I have never deceived the military about the nature of my interest in the story. LTC Rolly Bautista, CMO of the 10ID, knew on the night of 1 April that it was the girl that interested me. He knew in the morning of 2 April that I was seeking answers about the AFP's protocol for categorizing a child casualty as a child soldier. In fact, I still have his text message that invited me over to his office to talk about it anytime at my convenience. His cooperation was something I appreciated although, yes, as a civilian I expected nothing less from the CMO. He and I do have friends in common. He knows about my need to know and the fact that I think out loud on this column.

I could not therefore understand why their silence on this matter has turned deafening. Because my articles criticized their conduct? Because I did not romanticize Pfc Ruben Bracera missing his altar date on account of that encounter?

You don't know how sorry I am that Bracera died in that encounter, but the truth is that he was a soldier who pledged to die in service, if need be. Grecil, on the other hand, never pledged to die in a crossfire a few meters from her kitchen door.

Is this cold shoulder because I am not buying the stupid story they put out? Is it because I should have tolerated them to fudge on the truth? How many times have they put out irresponsible statements about a dead person and have gotten away with it?

It is to my regret that Grecil's death had indeed turned into fodder for the propaganda wars. I am dismayed at the audacity of Ka Roger Rosal in issuing that statement making accusations against the military in the child's death. Those allegations could not be proven by the facts as they are and he already has a conclusion? Heck, what does he know? He wasn't there, was he?

Ka Roger's highly embellished statement made it to the pages of the national news. See the media serving the interest of propaganda.

Oh, you want to lump me with the rest who serve the interest of propaganda? Well, by golly gee, if I took myself out of the equation, the fact remains that in the rush to the front page, the military let loose an irresponsible statement, perhaps to bait Ka Roger. But is baiting Ka Roger an overriding excuse for the military institution to label the child for posterity as an enemy of the state?

I am dismayed, too, by the fact that despite the formidable financial and technological resources of the major national news networks, none among them had done ground truthing on Grecil's tragic death. How dependent they were on the statements fed by the military, by Ka Roger, and by child rights groups in filling the pages of the day's paper. Those statements contained a lot of unsubstantiated allegations, and yet nobody bothered to poke these public statements full of holes
to set the record straight in the interest of the dead child. Print it lock, stock, and barrel, and on to the next tsismis.

Where now do we situate the truth? Does truth still have a place in the way that we live and engage each other? Would we really rather take the lies?

I ask because when the military institution deceives the public, who is to make it accountable? When the AFP joins the Left at its game of purveying unsubstantiated statements at the expense of a civilian's tragedy, who is to make the AFP accountable? We allow the AFP to disregard civilian interest and we're back to the days when we could not trust the institution to do right by the people.

I ask because I want my AFP to be above reproach. I know it should and could be done. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)