It’s President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd and his administration who fear the truth and its ramifications in the Mamasapano massacre.
Of the many comments on and responses to my column last Thursday on our slain commandos (“Let us honor our commandos with the truth”, The Manila Times, Jan 29), nearly 100 percent of them concurred with my thesis that we could best honor the commandos by bringing out the whole truth “of how they died, why they died and who are responsible.”
Only one reader dissented. And he dissented significantly by quoting a line spoken by Jack Nicholson in the movie
A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth!”
If he meant to suggest that we, Filipinos, cannot handle the truth, he couldn’t be more mistaken. Everywhere I go, anywhere I turn, our countrymen are screaming for the truth. My phones keep bringing fresh information about the tragedy. Many are voicing their feelings through tears, anger and curses. If we go by the lessons of history, our people have handled and surmounted worse adversities throughout our history. Resilience is in our DNA.
Our people want to mourn and pay their respects to their dead. It’s not right that the government is rushing to move the dead to the provinces. Awarding them medals of valor seems designed more to protect the government than to pay due homage to them. It’s understandable that the victims’ families have refused the medals.
If there’s anyone who cannot handle the truth of Mamasapano and dreads its coming out, it’s our president and commander-in-chief. When he addressed the nation on live TV last Wednesday, we heard and saw a leader running away from the arena.
Rip Van Winkle better than Aquino
In that much-awaited speech, we, Filipinos, along with the rest of the world, expected to hear a leader who would give us (1) a tough-minded report on what really happened in Mamasapano and (2) a reasoned assessment of its impact and challenges for our people and the nation, not only in Mindanao, but in the entire archipelago. We expected to see a leader who would fully come out of his foxhole after four days in hiding.
Instead, we heard a leader who rambled on and on, hiding behind a forest of polysyllabic Filipino phrases. He was a speaker not seeking to communicate, but trying his hardest to conceal what was troubling his mind and heart.
Rip Van Winkle was better. In Washington Irving’s famous story, Van Winkle, a lazy man and henpecked husband, wanders away from his village and falls into a deep sleep after an evening of drinking with friends. When he wakes up, 20 years has passed. America has passed through the American Revolution. A lot of changes have taken place in his family, in the village and in the entire country. He then adjusts to the reality before him.
In contrast, after coming out of his foxhole, Aquino has retreated into denial in the face of the massacre of 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the PNP. He cannot bring himself to denounce the atrocity, or even to call it what it is. The cover-up of the tragedy has intensified. In the face of questioning about his role in the SAF’s ill-fated operation, he hides behind evasions, like saying that the questions are rhetorical. When pressed to say what actions are to be taken by the government, he declares, let’s wait for the board of inquiry to finish its probe. It’s a circuitous process in his head.
President Aquino’s priorities appear to be:
First, to protect himself from accountability for the tragedy; and second, to protect his Bangsamore Basic Law (BBL) project from being scuttled by the massacre. He wants Congress to pass the proposed law, as if nothing has happened.
But the stark realities that are rapidly emerging are forcing him into actions that are not in his nature. After being roundly criticized for snubbing the arrival of the slain commandos at Villamor Air Base, he hastily made a visit to the wake.
The clamor for an independent and full-fledged inquiry into the massacre is the next thing that will force his hand.
Needed: independent inquiry into Mamasapano
Both the Senate and the DILG-PNP have slated inquiries into the Mamasapano tragedy.
The Senate, with Sen. Grace Poe in the lead, has scheduled the start of hearings on Feb 4.
The PNP still has to constitute its board.
Neither inquiry satisfies the urgent need and clamor for an independent and comprehensive investigation. Both are prone to manipulation and direction by the Administration. The Senate, with its dubious inquiry record, cannot be trusted.
I believe the proposal of some concerned citizens that, in line with the magnitude of the tragedy and its surpassing implications for peace and stability in Mindanao, Congress, with the support of the Executive, should constitute a special Commission to inquire into the Mamasapano massacre.
A commission-type inquiry would be similar to the constitutional approach of the US in inquiring into the 9/11 terrorist attack and the John F. Kennedy assassination.
A commission may be given full powers to pursue a line of inquiry as it sees fit, and to make recommendations for government to adopt, legislate, and implement.
An independent inquiry is needed because sometimes the priority of our elected officials and bureaucrats, as well as military, is self-protection rather than the protection of the public and public interest. We only get their version of the truth.
Failure to tell the truth about many things in our public life has contributed to public distrust of government in this country. Combined with the looting of the public treasury, it explains why government is today the least trusted institution in our society, according to the Trust Index.
Truth-telling is the way to go
To rebuild trust in government, truth-telling is the way to go.
We must not fear what an independent inquiry will uncover about the truth of the Mamasapano tragedy. We should not fear its impact on the peace process and the proposed Bangsamoro law.
Above all, we must not be cowed by the thought of a cocked gun directed at our heads.
Peace and its platitudes can sometimes be a hindrance to achieving real peace and stability. They can stand in the way of serious programs that can more effectively
stabilize the situation and lift up communities.
A serious commission, manned by persons of proven probity and integrity, can address these concerns of our people.
President Aquino, Congress and the Supreme Court must not misjudge the keen desire of our people to know the whole truth of the Mamasapano massacre. They are not afraid of the challenge.
We can live with the consequences of having to renegotiate a new peace agreement, if we must. Or to draft a new law, if we must.
We can also live with the consequences of moving on without our foxhole president, if we must.
So, yes, we Filipinos can handle the truth. Bring it on.
And watch us turn it into an armor for national stability.