THE PEN| State of the nation

IT’S DISCONCERTING how the state of the nation can dramatically change within a span of a few weeks. It was only last month when the country was in a state of euphoria as Pope Francis spent four memorable days in Philippines to preach the Gospel of love, patience, forgiveness and humility. Wherever the pontiff went, it seemed that the Filipino people were miraculously transported to the hallowed grounds of the Vatican and became pilgrims themselves; setting aside their personal health and safety, they braved a brewing storm, massive gridlocks and sardine-like crowds just to get a glimpse of the man who represented the Son of God, and be blessed by his holy presence.

It appeared that the nation was on its way towards achieving a moral renewal, reminiscent of the post-Edsa 1 revolution where millions took the streets to depose a dictator and make the Philippines a bastion of democracy not only in Asia but throughout the world. Other nations would go on to replicate the “Edsa Experience” and demonstrate that light will overcome the darkness, and that goodness shall always trump evil. Witnessing the sea of humanity gathered at the Tacloban Airport and the Quirino Grandstand to hear the pope say mass, one could feel that the spirit of Edsa was coursing through every nerve and fiber of the Filipino people, healing them and uniting them once again in heart, body and soul.

But in one fell swoop, the euphoria from the papal visit has metamorphosed into anguish, fear and anger as reports of the Mamasapano incident filtered through media. The emotional turn-around was almost instantaneous, as the nation appeared to be jolted by the grim reality of the death of the 44 brave men in uniform. And as more details of the encounter were made available and the photos of the slain policemen surfaced – with some of them mutilated beyond recognition – online news portals and social media platforms have been flooded with livid comments from citizens who simply could not contain their emotions and accept the grim fate that had befallen the SAF commandos.

A dark, massive cloud of anguish has indeed engulfed the nation and shows no sign of dissipating soon. Though outrageous, some sectors have called for an all-out war against those who are allegedly responsible for the carnage, reminiscent of the war waged by former President Joseph Estrada against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2001 which resulted to hundreds of civilian casualties and hundreds of thousands of evacuees. Other groups, on the other hand, immediately called for a halt to the congressional hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which even before the Mamasapano encounter, was already encountering rough sailing within the legislative body. Senator Allan Peter Cayatano has already suspended hearings on the BBL, as the Senate awaits the results of the government’s formal investigation into the encounter.

As emotions run high across the country, it is easy to throw caution to the wind and once again summon the guns of war. We understand how the families and comrades of the Fallen 44 feel at this juncture; rage because of the senselessness of the deaths of their loves ones, and betrayal because of the apparent lackluster manner in which the national government has handled the incident, from the time the assault was being conceptualized, up until President Aquino confronted the nation and provided the government’s official statement on the incident. But from all indications, it seems that the President’s televised statement has had minimal impact in as far as shedding light on the encounter is concerned, and more importantly, re-assuring the people that the government was on top of the situation.



Sadly, everything has now become a blame game. Despite the admission of the SAF Commander that he was at fault for the failed operation, many believe that he should not bear the brunt of the public’s outrage. Instead, it should be no less than DILG Mar Roxas and President Aquino himself who should be held accountable, with the latter being the country’s Commander-in-Chief. According to news reports, the President was being given a blow-by-blow account of the SAF offensive, meaning that he was aware of what was transpiring on the ground and was in a position to call the shots. It is therefore perplexing to hear that suspended PNP Chief Allan Purisima was allegedly calling the shots and not the President, or for that matter, Sec. Roxas.

True statesmanship would have prompted President Aquino to say: “The buck stops with me, as your Commander-In-Chief. I am taking full responsibility for the botched operation. I will do everything in my power to bring to justice those who are responsible for the carnage.”

Had the President said this, speculations and “conspiracy” theories could have been minimized, as the national government took the moral high ground. This would have also silenced the critics who are now accusing the administration of a cover up, especially after Purisima mysteriously left the country to attend a conference when news of the encounter broke out. This has further added fuel to the flame, as the government now tries regain its credibility and show that there was no whitewash whatsoever in its efforts to uncover the truth behind the incident.

Labelling the Mamasapano incident as a mere “misencounter” is therefore a grave injustice against the Fallen 44 and all of our men in uniform. A misencounter happens when there is a temporary break down in communications and there is no other option for both parties but to return fire and defend their positions. Providing that there was failure on the part of the PNP-SAF to coordinate with the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities on the assault, who in turn would inform the MILF and AFP, it was still a legitimate police operation and deserved the full backing of Philippine military forces who were within the vicinity when the encounter was taking place. Notwithstanding the current ceasefire between the national government and the MILF, the former could have utilized all other channels available to prevent the carnage.

On the part of the MILF leadership, it must now, more than ever, demonstrate its sincerity to the peace process by conducting a thorough and impartial investigation of the incident, regardless of who will be held accountable in the end. Truly, the encounter has created a dent in the peace process and threatens to bring the whole exercise back to square one. We therefore laud MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim for saying that he did not want the peace process “to be the bigger casualty.” It was also correct for him to have made a clear distinction by describing the BBL as a “political process” and not connect it to the “security challenge” that had to be jointly addressed by the national government and the MILF. We are not sure though if the MILF leadership would be willing to take the risk of surrendering its members who are being held responsible for the bloodbath. But doing so would help establish mutual trust between the national government and the MILF, bring the BBL back on track, and show that the MILF is steadfast in its commitment to genuine and long-lasting peace in Mindanao.

The Mamasapano encounter must not make us forget the reasons which brought the MILF and national government to the negotiation table. We must not allow the spoilers to gain the upperhand and negate the inroads we have achieved as a nation. We must continue to forge ahead and believe that good things will ultimately come to those who choose the path of peace.

Posted in Opinion