Why does it take a tragedy or a massacre to awaken outrage, conscience and awareness in this country?
Under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, our principal wake-up nightmares were the Maguindanao massacre (which took place in the same province where the Mamasapano massacre would later take place) and the Hacienda Luisita massacre, which took place in the family hacienda of the Aquino family clan, which can boast of contributing two Filipino presidents in the span of a mere 30 years (1986-2016).
Under President Benigno BS Aquino 3rd, in only six years, the Luneta hostage-taking tragedy, the Yolanda disaster, the Mamasapano massacre, the Zambonga city siege, and now the Kidapawan massacre have cascaded one after the other to tell a tale of unremitting grief and tragedy, that is without parallel in any previous administration (not even the 20-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos).
The bitter truth of Aquino’s governance
All this time, during the past almost six years, most Filipinos were largely unaware of how mistaken they were in installing a candidate with zero achievements and no executive skills in the presidency.
Many appeared willing to live with the lie underneath President Aquino’s Tuwid na Daan (straight path) program, and his patently false and hypocritical slogans: (1) Kung walang korap, walang mahirap (if there’s no corruption, there will be no poor people), and (2) Kayo ang Boss Ko (you the people are my boss).
But crisis, disaster and tragedy have rubbed our noses and our faces on the cold hard truth: President Aquino does not have the capability, the empathy, and the moral imagination to lead this country of 100 million people.
Now, with the ugly and heartbreaking events in Kidapawan, we come face to face with the bitter truth: President Aquino and his government do not care one whit about our poor countrymen.
They are perfectly capable of using the state’s monopoly of force in killing poor and helpless citizens when they protest too loudly and aggressively. The authorities would rather settle an issue by force than listen seriously to the petition and demands of citizens with a grievance against the government.
A tragedy set off by stupidity and agitation
The Kidapawan tragedy arouses indignation and frustration because the cause of the farmers’ protest – the allocation of 5,000 sacks of rice and other budget items for relief for the farmers — was already approved, and was ready for distribution.
What should have been routinary was spoiled by sheer officiousness on the part of the provincial governor and by the infiltration of the ranks of the protesters by some agitators and the carrying of some weapons.
How could a relatively simple transfer of relief transmogrify into violence and tragedy?
No one should dismiss offhand the role played by leftist agitators in the spiral into violence, as some police officials claimed that the New People’s Army and left wing organizations fanned the protest and the barricading of the highway. Some wanted the clash to happen.
No one should also discount the likely possibility that there were very nervous fingers on the trigger on the side of the police forces. And that police procedures in such protests, which on paper are quite sensible and effective, did not work this time.
Nobody has gained from this incident. The nation is the biggest loser in this tragedy. We have another serious tragedy to mourn and learn from.
The administration issued its typical statement in such tragedies, saying that the matter will be investigated. The commission on Human Rights is poised for the inquiry. But this has been predictably met with skepticism. Nobody holds out much hope that the investigation will produce any significant findings.
As is his wont whenever a major crisis strikes, President Aquino has gone into hiding. He has not uttered a single word on Kidapawan. His disasppearnce is the only indicator that he knows something bad has happened.
Despite some frenzied statements from Malacañang spokesmen and communicators, there’s no indication that the President will surface soon and acknowledge that something awful and tragic has happened in this country and among his constituents.
Not insensitivity, but blindness
Aquino’s obliviousness mirrors the obliviousness of the ongoing election campaign to the all-important issue of poverty and income inequality in the country.
With only one month to go before the balloting, none of the candidates, and none of the debates have dealt in a substantive way with the challenge of poverty and poverty reduction, and the causal role of income inequality in deepening poverty.
The candidates are dimly aware of the fact that mass poverty is umbilically linked to agricultural productivity and growth. Rural poverty is the real challenge.
It’s doubly saddening and ironic that South Cotabato is one of the biggest agricutural producers in the country. And many of the victims are net producers for the nation’s economy.
To put the best face on this tragedy, Kidapawan will hopefully and forcefully put agriculture and the plight and poverty of the nation’s farmers on the center stage of the national debate.
The candidates will finally start to see the bigger picture of agriculture’s role in the economy, and why it is so critical for the creation of jobs and the reduction of mass poverty, especially in the rural areas.
Kidapawan is merely the offshoot of a long period of neglect of agriculture by the Aquino administration.
Many often ascribe to lack of empathy and insensitivity Aquino’s failure to respond effectively to the distress of people and communities.
I have reached a different conclusion: he is blind to their distress.
When threaded together, the massacres in Mendiola, Hacienda Luisita and Kidapawan collectively testify to the Aquino family’s total blindness to the plight of farmers and their total absorption in their interests as landowners.
When President Aquino finally comes out of his foxhole, the Kidapawan farmers will doubtless be more visible than ever. But BS still won’t be able to see them.