We cannot bring our commandos back to life. But we can honor them by bringing out the truth. The whole truth of how they died, why they died, and who are responsible.
Every sorry and sordid little fact, every misstep, step by painful step, should be brought to light. Nothing should be kept in the dark.
Calling the tragedy a “mis-encounter” is a cover up. It will only lead to a more explosive and dangerous situation.
As the Manila Times went to press last night, President Aquino was scheduled to address the nation and report on the tragedy, finally breaking his inexcusable silence on the issue for nearly four days.
I hope that with this speech, unlike his speeches in the past, the President did not hide from the facts and the issues.
I hope he fully confronted the situation, disclosed his ugly role in this affair, revealed the names of those he placed in charge, and denounced the brutality and ceasefire violations by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its support groups.
I hope he did not misuse the address to plead for his delusional project – the Bangsamoro Basic law (BBL) – in order to muddle the situation and salvage his presidency.
A Palace operation all the way
The truth, as it has started to emerge from inside information and disclosures to media, is very sad, tragic and unpleasant. The following points remain to be firmly established by testimony and documentation in a formal inquiry:
First, the Special Action Force (SAF) was on a special covert operation in Maguindanao when tragedy befell them.
Its mission was to capture or arrest two high-value international terrorists, carrying million-dollar bounties on their heads: Malaysian Zulkipli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino Basit Usman. The US government offered a $5-million bounty for Marwan’s capture, and $1 million for Usman.
Second, the operation was fully authorized and supported by President Aquino. He assigned Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa to provide the unit with all the equipment and provisions necessary for them to succeed.
Third, Aquino named suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima as commander of the SAF unit, so he could supervise the planning and execution of the operation, and report directly to the President.
DILG secretary Mar Roxas was not informed of the operation. PNP top brass and headquarters in Camp Crame were also kept out of the loop. Purisima ran the operation from the controversial White House in Camp Crame, despite his suspension.
Fourth, lending proof of his central role in this affair, Aquino went to Zamboanga City on Sunday, January 25, the day of the operation, where he positioned himself to await reports of its success. In the event of success, he meant to reap full credit for stopping international terrorists on Philippine soil. He wanted to be there to receive the captured terrorists. He waited in vain.
Fifth, to execute its mission of arresting the terrorists, the SAF had to enter territory nominaly under the control of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), territory which is part of the Philippine Republic and therefore under the purview of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Instead of a standoff between parties bound by a ceasefire agreement, there was a firefight between the SAF unit and MILF forces.
The firefight killed 44 members of the Special Action Force and wounded 12 others. One was reported missing, and has since surfaced to report on what had happened, and how many of those killed were executed and mutilated by the MILF forces.
A moment of clarity in Mindanao
If earlier many of us were confused and puzzled by the peace process in Mindanao and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the cobwebs in our minds have now been swept away by the massacre.
This is a moment of clarity in Mindanao. We must not flinch in looking at the facts.
What happened cannot be called peace in any language. It is war, or if you prefer, the resumption of hostilities.
To use the term “mis-encounter” preferred by DILG secretary Mar Roxas will dishonor the dead.
The term does not calm nerves, assuage anger, or console the victims and their families.
If President Aquino used the same terminology last night, he is even more clueless than we have supposed.
If he quakes and refuses to confront the MILF for its rank betrayal of its covenants with the government, he does not deserve the presidency.
The actions of the MILF demand proportionate response from the government, and from our military and police forces.
Aquino is emotionally invested in a narrative of success in the peace talks and in the Bangsamoro formula for peace in Mindanao. That window has dramatically narrowed with the massacre.
If, as he has done in other controversies, Aquino took to blaming the dead commandos for their deaths, instead of their killers, he dishonors their memory, their families, the PNP, and all our men in uniform.
On the BBL, the risks now exceed the possible gains from the law. Its passage, already chancy in light of the Constitution, has probably become impossible.
The government must take serious actions and decisions to restore public confidence in the President’s ability to lead on the situation in Mindanao.
To begin with, President Aquino must explicitly recognize that the MILF is now a threat to peace and order in Mindanao.
Government security forces must now subject MILF weapons and facilities to the most intrusive and far-reaching inspection. If they refuse to cooperate, government would have the basis for resuming hostilities and for punitive action.
Many will urge President Aquino to delay action. But there is no advantage in delaying response.
The situation could be more costly tomorrow than it is today.
What is hard to understand and to respect is the government’ peace panel – and their unbelievably foolish statements in the aftermath of the massacre. Entrusting our hopes for peace and stability in the hands of Mesdames Deles and Ferrer is one more proof of Aquino’s amateurism.
There is, let’s face it, incoherence in the administration’s program for achieving a stable and secure Mindanao
Saying that the secesssionist conflict must end will not make it so. As commander in chief, Aquino has a duty to defend the nation and protect our troops.
There are no ifs or buts about this .