Tag Archives: Mamasapano incident

Column: Why return to Mamasapano?

Published on January 26, 2016.

I share the view that the resumption of the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano tragedy is politically motivated, but not the view that this turn of events was unexpected.

Mamasapano, not “Yolanda,” is the Achilles heel of a still-popular President. A dispassionate reading of President Aquino’s political fortunes will show that the great controversy over the fate of Tacloban City in November 2013 did not in fact seriously affect his approval or satisfaction ratings.

His handling of the Mamasapano crisis, however, had an almost immediate impact on his popularity.

This is how I understand the Social Weather Stations survey data. In December 2013, Mr. Aquino had an overall satisfaction rating of plus-49 percent, with plus-50 percent or more in Luzon outside Metro Manila, in Mindanao, and in the Visayas which was still reeling from the supertyphoon. (Metro Manila, traditionally unforgiving of incumbents, came in at 22 percent.)

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Column: Aquino a lame duck?

Published on July 28, 2015.

IN JULY 2005, at the lowest point in Gloria Arroyo’s presidency, she went to the Batasan for the State of the Nation Address rite not so much to defend herself, as to test her political allies’ defenses. She received an enthusiastic welcome.

To witness the outpouring of support, to hear the lusty cheers and to see the outstretched hands, for a leader who only a couple of weeks before had considered resigning because of an election fraud controversy, was to learn a crucial lesson in political resilience.

The political class respects power, recognizes it, rallies to it—and nothing adds sheen to power like surviving a crisis.

I am reminded of this fundamental fact of Philippine politics because of the spreading notion that President Aquino is “losing clout,” is becoming a “lame duck,” as he begins his last year in office.

This notion runs counter to Philippine political experience. Continue reading

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Column: Is the Philippine flag ‘unconstitutional’?

Published on May 26, 2015.

THE RESISTANCE to the Bangsamoro Basic Law has shifted to the battleground of constitutionality. We still hear the occasional demand for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to show its sincerity as a partner in the peace process by making amends for the Mamasapano incident—but now that congressional committees have started voting on the controversial measure, the question of MILF sincerity is no longer a determining or even perhaps an influential factor.

Even supporters of the bill recognize the shift in the debate; Rep. Rufus Rodriguez’s strategy to win the bill’s passage at his committee level, for instance, was premised and pushed (and publicized) on the perceived need to align key provisions in the BBL with the Constitution.

We can all agree on one principal reason for the change: It is an attempt to base the debate on firmer ground, on the solid logic of constitutional law rather than the volatile emotionalism of post-Mamasapano blame-mongering. Continue reading

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Column: Time for SAF to ‘man up’

Published on April 14, 2015.

One highlight of last week’s resumption of the congressional hearings into the Mamasapano incident was the direct challenge posed by an officer of the Philippine National Police’s elite Special Action Force to the commander of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade.

Police Supt. Michael John Mangahis disputed Col. Gener del Rosario’s account of the circumstances behind the Army’s now-controversial refusal to direct artillery fire into the cornfields where the SAF’s 55th Special Action Company was battling Moro Islamic Liberation Front regulars from two base commands. Mangahis said Del Rosario had enough information not only from the SAF but from the Army’s assets in that part of Maguindanao province to know exactly where the artillery should be aimed. Continue reading

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Column: The other face of Mamasapano

Published on April 7, 2015.

IN THE first two months after the Mamasapano incident, the “face” of the encounter was a collective: The SAF 44. The tragic fate of the 44 Special Action Force troopers who perished in the cornfields of Mamasapano became the main narrative; suave opportunists like Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and born-again politicians like Rafael Alunan rode the public outrage over the “massacre” of the elite policemen, to take direct aim at the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. A TV network even used a hashtag that sought #truthforthefallen44—as though truth were like justice, and took sides. Continue reading

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Column: Grace Poe’s unfortunately political report

Published on March 24, 2015.

I think highly of Sen. Grace Poe, and have suggested in an earlier column that she should not be dissuaded from running for president next year, in the same way that Jaime Cardinal Sin dissuaded Sen. Gloria Arroyo from contesting the presidency in 1998. But the Senate report on the Mamasapano incident Poe shepherded is disappointingly political.

Instead of politics understood as the art of the possible, the politics both implied and asserted in the Poe report is the entitlement of the privileged: the view of the center, in this case truly deserving of the insult “Imperial Manila”; the view of the toniest, most select branch of the political class (where politicians acquire their knowledge of combat through the painstaking process of movie-watching); and, not least, the view of the surviving kin of the 44 police Special Action Force troopers who died in Mamasapano (not those of the civilians who died in the crossfire, nor those of the 120,000 who perished in the “Mindanao conflict” since the 1970s).

This is a report that makes room for the viewpoints of most senators, but sadly allows very little room for the fate of innocents. I respect the discipline and courage and ultimate sacrifice of the Philippine National Police’s elite troopers, but I cannot subscribe to the unexamined assumption of Poe and her fellow senators that they were lambs led to the slaughter. Continue reading


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Column: What on earth is eating Alan Cayetano?

Published on March 3, 2015.

Last week marked a new low point for the opportunistic demagoguery of Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. I was with other journalists covering the inspection tour of various sites in Central Mindanao by the police Board of Inquiry, so I was not able to see an otherwise intelligent young man transform yet again into a hypocritical bully on live television.

But I do have proof that he is a bully and a hypocrite. Continue reading

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Column: Media’s ‘right to be believed’

Published on February 24, 2015.

A student at a “peace camp,” held on the grounds of the Southeast Asia Rural Social Leadership Institute in Manresa, Cagayan de Oro City, raised a troubling, provocative question during a session I took part in last Saturday. Given all the speculation and inaccuracy and rank irresponsibility in media coverage of the Mamasapano incident (these were his premises, shared it seemed to me by many other students in the peace camp, a good number of whom were Muslim): “Does the media even have the right to be believed?” Continue reading

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Column: Ignorant, or arrogant, in the Senate

Published on February 17, 2015.

How many Filipinos died in the day-long clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao? Listening to Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago interrogate Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal last week, one would think the answer was 44. If I’m not mistaken, she mentioned the “44 Filipinos” who perished in the cornfields at least twice. In the interview she granted after her dramatic first appearance at the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano incident, she used the phrase at least one more time.

The 44 Special Action Force troopers who died in the costly operation to capture or kill Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, were of course Filipinos. But so were the five civilians who died (presumably) in the crossfire or as part of the operation, including the hapless farmer who (according to his surviving family) had the misfortune of stumbling into an SAF company while on his way to the village center. And so were the 18 MILF rebels who died in the firefight. All told, and assuming that the tally is final (there is a possibility that seven civilians died, not five), the raid on Marwan’s hideout and the subsequent gun battle claimed 69 lives—68 of them Filipino. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Patterns of sin’ in Aquino admin

Published on February 10, 2015.

Last Friday, in a news analysis for Inquirer.net, I raised “three points to consider” for a public about to view President Aquino’s nationwide address. Official sources had given assurances that he would use the occasion to announce Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima’s resignation. But, given the circumstances, the mere announcement of acceptance was not, could not have been, enough.

There were at least three threshold questions the President had to answer. That he ended up answering only one suggests to me that the theological concept of “patterns of sin” (and therefore of redemption) might apply, if only analogically, to understand Mr. Aquino’s latest televised address—and that he was sticking to the pattern again. Continue reading

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Column: What is Aquino accountable for?

Published on February 3, 2015.

The powerful statement issued by the Ateneo de Davao University has rightly been seen as an impassioned, compelling plea to “return to the work of peace.” That work has never been easy; the lessons learned from the secretive negotiations over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which doomed that peace initiative, have added to the difficulty. (Those who claim that the negotiations that led to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its four Annexes were not sufficiently consultative have an unreasonable definition of sufficiency, or consultation, or both.)

I must say, however, that I am uncertain whether I can agree with an important premise of the statement’s. The following question it raises is a loaded one: “Does the suspected presence of a terrorist wanted by the United States warrant that we break our agreements with the MILF?” This was unfortunately phrased, because in fact the Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir better known as Marwan was also a threat to the Philippines, and was therefore wanted by the Philippine government too, with at least two arrest warrants against him. Yes, the $5-million bounty on his head (I cannot find the source of the information that this had been raised to $6 million) was part of the US State Department’s controversial Rewards for Justice program. But as the officer in charge of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police attests, stopping Marwan was worth the sacrifice of 44 SAF troopers, because the number of lives saved from future terrorist attacks would have been greater. He was talking about Filipino lives.

The problematic premise is the concept of unnecessary violence. “Why did we again take the path of guns and violence and covert secret action to solve any problem, when we had already chosen, we had already agreed, that we would take the path of negotiation, consultation and trust to solve problems?” The answer, it seems to me, is that Marwan and the Jemaah Islamiyah are not parties to the peace process. Continue reading

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