THERE is urgency and compelling necessity for Congress to create by law a national commission to investigate and report on the circumstances and facts surrounding the January 25 incident that led to the massacre of 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
It is urgent because the situation in the South is volatile and our troops and police are angry and edgy.
It is compelling because families are hurting, and everywhere citizens are demanding to know the truth behind this tragic affair. Too many good men have been killed.
An independent and bipartisan inquiry is the most efficacious way to answer all these concerns, and to pave the way for retribution against all those who are responsible.
Mamasapano not the first
This matter is vested with great public import because the Mamasapano tragedy is not the first time that our government has lost so many of our men in uniform in dealing with the rebellion and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)in Mindanao.
In October 2011 in Al-Barka, Basilan, in an incident that is eerily similar to Mamasapano, a unit of the Special Forces Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) lost 19 troops in an encounter with a combined force of the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Some reports claimed they were victims of a massacre.
The two events have these ominous parallels:
1. Each involved the fielding by our police-military forces of ostensibly elite members of the corps, who are trained for major combat. Alas, they were not elite enough to prevail.
2. Each involved young officers and members, who were relatively new in their field of operations and for their missions.
3. The mission of each unit concerned the serving of an arrest warrant on a high-value target.
4. After the missions failed, higher-ups in the chain-of command ascribed failure to lack of coordination and incompetence.
5. Both incidents involved the MILF. And both occurred while there was supposedly a ceasefire in place. And the killings involved a degree of savagery and brutality.
6. Both incidents have occurred under the watch of President Benigno Aquino 3rd as Commander-in-Chief. In each one, he has shown great concern about the peace process and about the government’s peace deal with the MILF.
With Mamasapano, the President has pledged to get the terrorist bomber who escaped. With Al-Barka, he turned down the demands for an “all-out war” against Muslim rebels, with these words:
“It is so easy, out of frustration, to close the door on negotiations at this time. We will not pursue all-out war. We will instead pursue all-out justice.”
We call attention to these words now because justice was not served in Basilan. Sound bites this second time around will not be good enough.
US 9/11 commission a good model
Although the PNP and the Senate have scheduled their respective inquiries into Mamasapano, we submit that the formal inquiry to be conducted should be of wider scope and should delve deeper into conditions and precedents in the South, such as the Basilan incident. We are anxious that the inquiry is not infected by politics and grandstanding or by professional and bureaucratic self-protection.
We cite as a model for the proposed commission and its mandate the approach taken by the US Congress after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon
The US Congress established the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission, on November 27, 2002. It was tasked “to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11 attacks,” including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks.
The commission was also mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks. The commission consisted of five Democrats and five Republicans. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
The commission’s final report was lengthy and based on extensive interviews and testimony. President Bush testified before the commission. Its primary conclusion was that the failures of the US Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation permitted the terrorist attacks to occur and that, had these agencies acted more wisely and more aggressively, the attacks could potentially have been prevented.
After the publication of its final report, the commission closed on August 21, 2004.
We need peace, not process
We are disgusted, but not surprised, by news on Sunday that Malacañang opposes the proposed Senate Truth Commission. This suggests that the more comprehensive commission we propose here is even more anathema to the President.
We believe a full-fledged commission inquiry into Mamasapano is imperative, because in this country, we have plenty of laws, but not enough inquiry. If no one asks, no one tells.
The public will not know.
Today, there is little coherence in policy and purpose in the government’s actions in Mindanao and Sulu.
The inquiry will help our government move forward. In the situation we face in the South, we want peace, not process.
We need the substance of peace, not the illusion of peace.
Instead of peace processors, we need hard-nosed peacemakers to speak for us.