Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lessons from the Mamasapano tragedy

(This article originally appeared in Blog Watch of the Philippine Online Chronicles today, February 26, 2015. Check out the article in: Lessons from the Mamasapano tragedy.)

February 25, 2015, marked the 29th year anniversary of the bloodless EDSA Revolution in 1986. It is also the first month after the bloody Mamasapano Clash (Misencounter? Massacre? Incident?) Throughout the history of the past 3 decades, we have learned much from the former. Even if there had been 2 other EDSA revolutions after that, EDSA 1 will always be hailed as the People Power Revolution. The Mamasapano clash, on the other hand, is known as the tragedy of the Fallen 44.

Now, let us ponder on some of the lessons learned from the tragedy that snapped the lives of 44 troopers of the Philippine National Police Special Action Forces (PNP-SAF) as well as 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the unfortunate 3 civilians caught in the crossfire. These snippets of lessons range from politics to language, from human nature to geography.

1. Our country is a nation of ironies. What goes around, comes around. 

The People Power revolution catapulted the erstwhile housewife Cory Aquino into Presidency. Her husband, Ninoy, was assassinated during the regime of the ousted dictator President Ferdinand Marcos. Today the son of Cory and Ninoy, Noynoy or PNoy, is the President of the country. He is bearing the brunt of the foiled Mamasapano tragedy and is being asked by some sectors to step down from the presidency.

In the Senate, the committee on Order and Dangerous Drugs and the committee on peace, unification and peace reconciliation and the committee on finance are tasked to probe into the tragedy. The hearings are headed by Sen. Grace Poe, daughter of the late Fernando Poe, Jr., presidential candidate defeated, er, cheated by the then winner, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) who has been in hospital arrest after she stepped down from office. PNoy often blames GMA for the misfortunes of the country. Sen. Poe, on the other hand, has been rumored as a shoo-in for the presidential race in 2016.

The irony does not end there. The senator handling the main committee hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is Sen. Bongbong Marcos, son of the late dictator. With him in the senate is Sen. Gringo Honasan, one of the main figures of EDSA 1 which ousted his father. Both were in the senate hearings of the Mamasapano tragedy. Had Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, another figure in EDSA, not been jailed, he would have joined the hearings along with another jailed senator, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, son of the former President Joseph Estrada who was ousted during EDSA 2 and gave GMA her first presidential term during the EDSA 2 in January 2001.

The elite PNP-SAF which was then under the Philippine Constabulary (PC) was created under the leadership and guidance which was really a brainchild of another figure in the People Power peaceful uprising, former President Fidel Ramos. That was where the Fallen 44 served before their bloody demise.

Whew! I got dizzy with that rigodon of our Philippine politics. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Only in the Philippines indeed.

2. New vocabulary, new letters. 

Pardon my ignorance or perhaps I was not just paying attention to these matters in the past, just like the bulk of my countrymen. Now that all kinds of media have been lapping up news of the Mamasapano tragedy, new meanings of words and lots of abbreviations have been flying around like 50 caliber bullets hitting people out of their consciousness. Below are some of them. If I were still teaching I would give this as a quiz for my students to compare and/or contrast or perhaps let them use each one in a sentence. I bet everyone will have a different meaning for each depending on their usage, not unlike those players in the different hearings and speeches we’ve seen on television.
  • Advice vs. Command
  • Clash vs. Incident
  • Information vs. Coordination
  • Misencounter vs. Massacre
Then there’s the realization that the Philippine National Police (PNP) is not under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). This is where my ignorance comes in, pardon me. I thought just because they’re wearing a uniform they’re part of the military. The PNP is under the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) while the AFP is under the Department of National Defense whose present secretaries are Mar Roxas and Voltaire Gazmin, respectively. The juicy part of the story is the rumored rift between the two especially in Mindanao. Oh, may the juice be not in the form of blood. But both are under the command leadership of the President of the country.

Now for the abbreviations:

MILF does not stand for that hot Momma but for Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the one with which our GPH or Government of the Philippines has a peace agreement with. It is as hopeful as most people are that the BBL will be passed. It is not a Batanes or Batangas or Butuan Bus Line but it stands for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the future of which is in danger of not being passed. Contrary to speculations, the MILF is not the BFF of the BIFF which is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway from its group. The word “biff” means “to whack or blow” so you can just picture how many would want to biff the BIFF. Throw in OPAPP and CCCH to complete the peaceniks. They stand for the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH). Both the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have their CCCH.

3. Congress vs. Senate hearings

Most of us have been glued to the senate hearings on the Mamasapano tragedy which were aired live around 4 times and most likely learned a lot from them. I did. And yes, I was also able to watch the lone congressional hearing aired and saw a stark contrast between the two. It was not because the former was led by a woman and the latter by a man because there was no battle of the sexes among the two. In fact, in the congressional hearing, I found the women representatives cantankerous especially the last two who voiced out their questions and opinions. The order of the two was like a convent compared to a marketplace and you know which is which. One popular television personally tweeted the congressional hearing was like a “house of monkeys.” That made me think why can’t we just have one legislative assembly to do away with duplication of hearings and laws? Perhaps, we can ponder on federalism as well? But that is a different story.

In fairness to Congress, it was able to draw out the “Aquino involvement” which the Senate was not able to do in its first two hearings.

4. Police and Military operations

I was a bit alarmed that generals were outlining their operations, coordination and information in public although those were related to the botched “Operation Exodus.” I was afraid the enemies were watching and taking note of the weaknesses. I hope both the PNP and AFP will remedy their shortcomings and strengthen their plans otherwise there could be a repeat of the Mamasapano tragedy. One thing that puzzled me was the means of communication. Can there be a better one than the use of mobile phones which were dependent on the communication networks?
Soldiers have feelings and generals also cry

Men have been raised to be brave when they grow up. Society has dictated that brave men don’t cry. But we saw in this tragedy that tears are also for men. We hear of some of the SAF troopers crying before they died. We saw the emotional appeal of Acting PNP Chief, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina for justice for his men who were brutally and helplessly killed and how he silently wept at the end of his unexpected speech. It was touching how the sacked General Getulio NapeƱas went up to him, also crying. It was not a telenovela, it was drama in real life. Ah, tissue please. I could just imagine the stress those two and the other resource persons have been through the past month.

Pope Francis was just here last January 2015. The most extraordinary event of the pope’s Asian tour was his encounter with a weeping 12-year-old Filipina who asked why God lets bad things happen to innocent children. Learn how to weep for the marginalized, he urged the youth. It might as well be a message for all of us. Tears are not the monopoly of Christians or those in government. Muslims cry, too, and we can just wonder how the families of those MILF fighters who died cried along with the families of the SAF 44. Those who were displaced due to wars in Maguindanao also have tears for their plight. Tears show we are human.

5. Where is Mamasapano?

From a quiet town, Mamasapano has been thrown into the limelight by the clash that happened between the PNP-SAF troopers and the combined forces of the MILF, BIFF and private armies. But where is it?

“Mamasapano is a 5th class municipality in the province of MaguindanaoPhilippines. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of 22,354 people in 4,724 households.

This municipality before was only a mere barangay of the town of Shariff Aguak. However, by virtue of Republic Acts No. 6646/7160 and Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 54 dated April 27, 1997 issued on December 2, 1998, COMELEC Resolution No. 3051/3052 and Plebiscite conducted on October 31, 1998, the Municipality of Mamasapano then became the 11th municipality in the 2nd District of Maguindanao. The newly created municipality has eighteen (18) barangays taken from its mother Municipality of Shariff Aguak.” (Wikipedia)

Nash B. Maulana tells us about Mamasapano in an article of the, “Mamasapano: From peaceful community to land of conflict.” He wrote that the name “Mamasapano” came from the name of “its founder, Datu Mamasapano Ampatuan, an advocate for good education, who was the uncle of Ampatuan Sr. But unlike the former governor, Mamasapano was well-taught in old school and conventional politics, under the tutelage of his father-in-law Datu Piang, and his brothers-in-law who served the national legislature during the Commonwealth period.

Though carved out of Shariff Aguak town in 1996, Mamasapano is supposed to be the mother of municipalities now controlled by the family of former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. Mamasapano used to be known as the Old Maganoy and the present-day Shariff Aguak was the “Townsite Maganoy” in pre-martial law years. The Old Maganoy, or Mamasapano, was a peaceful community of majority Maguindanaon Muslims with a minority Christian population.”

Today, this town whose fields of corn have been turned to killing fields is crying for peace as its residents have often been caught in crossfires between government forces, the MILF and the BIFF. Just recently it is reeling from the conflict between the leaders of the latter forces driving its residents away from their own homes and into evacuation centers. Life will never be normal for them the way it is for most Filipinos who have not experienced war in their backyard.

We may glean many lessons in history. We may have valued democracy as it was restored during the People Power Revolution in 1986. But it is only when we take these lessons to heart that we can all achieve our goals as a nation. We can only move forward if we face our own demons squarely, and slay them not with guns and weapons of destruction but with justice and truth. It is only then that we can achieve lasting peace, the very reason why men of courage like the SAF troopers especially the Fallen 44, have gone into the battlefield. Remember, they went to war so that we can have peace. Sweet it may be to die for one’s country but may no more blood be shed for the sake of peace.

Just like the People Power Revolution.

Photos from different internet sources . Some rights reserved

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