THE Mamasapano tragedy is turning into a whodunit narrative without the comforts of fiction.
As we hear more stories, as so many versions of it unfold, we realize that we might not get to the bottom of this really. And what we might ultimately be left with is just the corpses of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) officers, nothing more and nothing less.
In a country like ours where government is often complicit in keeping the public in the dark, and media do not ask the difficult questions or tell the untold stories, having this story go the way of every-other-whodunit with no closure by virtue of the capture of culprits, would be the rule and not the exception.
(In)credible news reports?
At some point during that first Senate Committee hearing on the Mamasapano tragedy on Monday, February 9, media’s work on the operation was dismissed as mere news reports, which are unconfirmed, and which do not mean much in relation to the truth that was the goal of this hearing.
Who said it and how it was said doesn’t matter. What matters to me is that at this point, media’s work is being dismissed and put into question.
At this point when, for once, our broadsheets have risen to the occasion of the SAF 44, and have come out with stories across a variety of angles, none of which absolve the President or this administration of fault. At this point when radio and TV, online and mainstream media, actually have their eye on the ball most of the time, engaging in Kris-Aquino-related stories yes, but also refusing to fall into the trap of just discussing that—or stretching it for the sake of readership and audience.
When was the last time we could look across the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Manila Standard Today, The Philippine Star and this paper, even Mindanews, and get a variety of stories that might be put together into one narrative? It’s been said by many-a-radio-announcer: for once everyone’s united in standing against the foibles of this President in relation to the arrival honors of the SAF 44 in Villamor Airbase and the necrological services for the same.
For the first time too, the “noisy minority”—the ones that the President and Malacañang spokespersons like to dismiss—is not alone in demanding for truth and accountability and justice. And for all of the Palace’s insistence that a majority of Filipinos, beyond social media, do not think there has been anything wrong with this President’s actions since the SAF 44 were killed in combat, the common disgust and disdain is palpable.
And yes, the conclusions might be different—our newspaper boy thinks all-out war is the answer, just as the every-other manang would say give peace a chance—but at least we are having this discussion about peace in Mindanao and what it is that’s being done by government. At least, given the diverse news reports and opinions we’ve heard about this Mamasapano incident, the public is finally privy to the complexities of these peace negotiations and the questions of territory and difference that this demands.
I’m the last to think mainstream media faultless, but in relation to Mamasapano and SAF 44, it’s been great to have them all on the side that is correct: truth and justice and accountability.
Truth before justice.
The Senate as credible?
It is a lesson in cognitive dissonance.
One cannot but bring into the spectatorship a sense of how incredible the Senate is at this point, and I mean that to be the opposite of credible.
And it’s not so much because of the time and effort—not to mention public money—that some of them have used in trying to pin down and prosecute the Vice President, a hearing that has traveled from the overpriced Makati buildings to the apparently unbelievably-sized farm in Batangas. Or that they have been rendered inutile in addressing the public’s cries for justice with regard the MRT / LRT fare hike and public transport as a right. Or that three of them are in jail for alleged links to Janet Napoles and questionable pork barrel disbursements.
It’s because, lest it be unclear to them, it is clear to us that this is an opportunity to throw one’s hat into the ring of elections 2016.
They are not kidding anybody. There are senators who speak to General Alan Purisima with voices raised. There are those who don’t grandstand any less by speaking in even tones in the hope of sounding objective and fair. The siblings (yes we have those senators) who take what seems an irreversible stand against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF’s) handling of this crisis. Those that speak not to get to the truth, but just to use their time on the microphone and in front of TV cameras.
If we are to use the Senate Committee hearing as an indication of what the Senate thinks the public wants to see, then they actually are imagining—as is Malacañang —that we would be content with Purisima’s resignation. And so they pick on him, demanding that he just give yes or no answers to certain questions, taking offense at his assertion that giving advice is different from giving an order.
But as they pin the blame on Purisima, it is also clear how the senators have stopped short of asking him about his relationship with the President, and the kind of communication that ensued between them with regard this operation. They stop short of asking anyone at all about the role of the President in this botched operation.
National security, Mamasapano tragedy
There is also the fact that as of the second hearing, most the Senators seem to agree that revealing the Mamasapano operation details would be a national security risk.
And yet it is unclear why it would be so risky to reveal to us what that operation manual contains. Because isn’t it that as an operation, while it did succeed in killing one of two international terrorists, what happened in Mamasapano is considered a botched operation? Isn’t it that with only one of two terrorists killed or captured, this operation really only had a success rate of 50%? And isn’t it that we might argue that given the number of lives lost to it, that its failure weighs far heavier than its success?
Wouldn’t this operation manual be stuff for history, from which we might learn what went wrong with a specific police effort? Would it not be able to answer our questions about this tragedy? About whether or not it was even contextualized in the peace negotiations with the MILF, whether or not it even considered the BBL in its planning? About who exactly was in command, not just on the ground and as high up as SAF Chief Napeñas, but even higher up in the chain? About when and how the President was informed of this, and how he was to be updated in the process?
About whether or not the Americans were actually a part of Operation Exodus?
I mean if there is no other document that will answer these questions, then keeping it from the public just reminds of that envelope that the Senate refused to open during Erap’s impeachment. And we all know what happened after that.