TODAY is Valentine’s Day. The only thing a business column ought to be discussing today is this year’s demand for chocolates, cut flowers, and intimate wear of questionable utility and taste.
However, the news this week has been dominated again—for the third complete week in a row—by the fallout from the Mamasapano Massacre, with both houses of Congress conducting committee hearings on the matter.
Nothing that has emerged from those hearing so far changes the forecast I made in Tuesday’s column: The solution to this crisis that will be offered and accepted in relatively short order by the Filipino public will be to do essentially nothing.
That is obviously the wrong solution, because the lurid and sometimes sickening details being revealed about the botched operation have exposed some alarming situations. The headquarters of both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are apparently hopelessly politicized and completely dysfunctional. The MILF, far from being the responsible and capable counterparty to peace that it would like everyone to think it is, either is actively or tacitly supporting Islamic terrorist groups, or has very little unified control over its territory and its own forces.
Even more disturbing are the unanswered questions. The role of President B.S. Aquino 3rd in creating this nightmare has clearly grown as information has been teased out of the legislative hearings’ witnesses, but he is still stubbornly refusing to explain what his role really was; what’s more, he still obviously channels enough influence to make sure no one else explains what his part in it was. Likewise, that there was US involvement in the Mamasapano operation is now obvious, but whether or not that will ever be adequately explained—it ought to be, since Filipino servicemen died as a result of it—is another matter.
Despite all this, the only real results will be that a couple of ranking police officers will lose their jobs, and that the Bangsamoro Basic Law will find its way to the dustbin. What we will be left with, at least for the near future, will be a gridlocked government and a worsening security situation. That is certainly not a desirable situation, but the people of the Philippines have an extraordinary tolerance for the ludicrous, which means from a business-on-the-ground perspective it is probably not an unfamiliar or unmanageable state of affairs.
From a national perspective, the situation is an utter disaster. One question B.S. Aquino really ought to be compelled to answer is, “Why now?” The timing of the Mamasapano operation could not have been worse; the upcoming launch of the Asean Economic Community—which for scheduling reasons will probably happen the third week of November instead of the end of December as advertised—will demand much of the government’s attention this year, as will the series of APEC meetings the Philippines is hosting. The country risks being sidelined in both these events if it cannot quickly calm its political and security crisis; and the prospects of that happening seem so unlikely as to hardly be worth mentioning.
Since the probability is very low that the present ‘investigations’ will result in full disclosure of the facts surrounding the Mamasapano Massacre, the appropriate sanction of all those directly and morally responsible for it, and the resumption of peace efforts in Mindanao along more inclusive and equitable lines, there is no point in putting things on hold to wait for that to happen. As I wrote earlier this week, we don’t have to be happy about reality differing from what is right or ideal, we just need to recognize that it does, and make the best of it. We can hope that “making the best of it” means “making some spectacular changes for the better” to enough people that things will eventually improve, and we can certainly hope that happens sooner rather than later. But it would be foolhardy to expect it to at this point.