Sunday, February 8, 2015

Reading Guide: Ten Questions Filipinos Should Ask after the Mamasapano Clash

The botched police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that led to the brutal deaths of SAF troopers has left a potent cocktail mix of emotions in me. Forty-four brave sons for the head of international terrorist Marwan. I knew none of the troopers personally, and yet I grieve in this awful state of anger, devastation and frustration. If you love this country, you will understand why this has left a bitter sting on my consciousness.

Of course I am saddened for the bereaved families, but there is an overarching awareness of another loss. The Fallen 44 were among the best and bravest who would have constructively contributed through their work and character to the task of reviving an ailing nation. We need people like them. We’ve already lost too many of our brightest minds, artists, athletes and workers to foreign shores because our government has neglected to nurture their dreams.

As if this loss wasn’t enough, the incident has had a ripple effect, touching and exposing a multitude of sensitive points, ranging from doubts about the soundness of government leadership to fears about the outcome of peace talks with the MILF. This is what some of us fail to see even as thousands have already freely expressed their sentiments.

The problem is not that we all have an opinion. It’s that many have opinions formed on the basis of digestive gas, and social media gives us the license to throw out incomplete or misguided thoughts like bits of fecal matter on an already gangrenous situation.

If you must have an opinion, you should at least read a little, analyze and ask questions. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a reading guide:

1. Who was Marwan and why were they after him?

Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, was an engineer trained in the United States. He was believed to have headed a Malaysian terrorist organization and was a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah. He is suspected of having had a hand in the 2002 Bali bombings, killing 202 people. Local media suggests he had ties with the ISIS.

Wanted by the FBI: Zulkifli Abdhir
'High likelihood' suspected Bali bomber among dead in Philippines clashes, official says

2. Who was directing the operation against Marwan?

Suspended PNP chief General Alan Purisima has denied having directed the operations, declaring that his role was limited to providing the intelligence packet. If you listen between the lines of Aquino and Purisima’s statements, the blame seems to be pointed at a smaller goat, relieved SAF chief Getulio NapeƱas, Jr. 

Is it acceptable that none of the top brass seem eager to take responsibility for what happened?

Incidentally, Aquino was in Zamboanga when the slaughter happened. Can you honestly believe he was just there by chance?

‘Purisima planned it all’
Purisima denies hand in Mamasapano operation
Aquino’s February 26 speech after Purisima’s resignation

3. Why was the military unable to provide reinforcements?

PNP OIC General Leandro Espina and AFP chief-of-staff General Gregorio Catapang knew months ago that there were plans to arrest Marwan, but they had not known of the exact details of the actual January 25 operation. Espina’s request for military reinforcement was made only during the actual fight.

Bitter ampalaya balls have been thrown between the PNP and the AFP but again, it’s important to read statements carefully. It seems clear that the operation was kept so tightly under wraps that coordination became difficult during the actual encounter. It has been suggested however, that secrecy was crucial for the success of the operation.

The Mamasapano operation: He said, he said, he said
SAF chief: I am responsible
AFP chief sheds tears for fallen PNP-SAF cops

4. What could have happened if the military got involved?

The situation was complicated by an existing ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the government. If the military got involved, could they have endangered peace talks with the MILF?

Where were the military troops?
Why the military did not reinforce SAF

5. If there is a ceasefire agreement, why was the MILF involved?

The forces that clashed with SAF troopers included members of the BIFF, MILF and private armies. The BIFF is a splinter faction that separated from the MILF in 2010 over disagreements in the peace process. Only the MILF has a standing agreement with the government.

Notwithstanding the agreement, MILF Chariman Murad Ebrahim said that in reality, once there is a common enemy, everyone joins in. Moreover, the MILF and BIFF have members who are either relatives or friends, making it difficult for one group to completely sever ties.

BIFF on MILF unit: ‘We’re all family’
MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim – watch 2:18

6. If the BIFF and the MILF have close ties, what kind of peace will there be in Central Mindanao?

This remains to be seen if the Bangsamoro Basic Law is passed and takes effect, but you can just imagine…

7. If the MILF are eager to shake hands with the government, why did they allow a known terrorist to roam freely in their area of influence?

Marwan lived in Central Mindanao for twelve years, taking three Filipino wives and forming ties with a number of terrorist groups. The key word here is “ties”. If the MILF tried to aggressively ferret him out, would they have stepped on certain relationships that were not in their best interests to run over?

Marwan’s ties that bind: Aljebir Adzhar aka Embel
Marwan’s ties that bind: Ren-Ren Dongon

8. Why are the authorities being faulted for not coordinating the MILF if they felt they had good reason not to?

The implementing guidelines of the ceasefire agreement stipulate the need for government forces to coordinate with the MILF for planned operations in their area. Former GPH Peace Panel Chairman Jesus Dureza however, said that this excludes operations against high priority targets. The current government peace panel has labeled Dureza’s statement as misleading.

Wait. What?! The term “required” is a little disturbing. Areas occupied by the MILF are still under Philippine territory. We are a sovereign nation. Can’t the government enforce the law in its own territory without the requirement to coordinate?

SAF did not have to inform MILF
Govt panel: Coordination with MILF required even in pursuit of high-value targets
Lacson’s supposed opinion on sovereignty – paragraph 6 (source unverified)

9. Is everything okay now that Marwan has supposedly been neutralized?

Marwan’s cohort and fellow bomb maker, Abdul Basit Usman is still at large. Marwan also reportedly trained 300 bomb makers in Central Mindanao. Moreover, the government now has the BIFF, who have threatened to launch attacks, to contend with.

Marwan leaves behind 300 bomb makers in Mindanao
BIFF vows more attacks

10. Will passing the Bangsamoro law finally bring peace and put an end to the troubles plaguing Central Mindanao?

Much depends on whether the MILF can police their ranks and contain those who are relatives with or sympathetic to the BIFF who are in turn sympathetic to suspected terrorists.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, because the Bangsamoro Agreement is still up for debate. Constitutional expert, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago says that creating a substate, which the Agreement suggests, is unconstitutional. Moreover, the existing ARMM is mandated by the constitution and cannot simply be abolished to give way to the Bangsamoro law.

My Opinion: The constitution is the supreme law. If we cannot respect it, no law is sacred.

Already, we are seeing vestiges of this substate. In the video shared in #5, Ebrahim said that if any of the MILF fighters involved in the Mamasapano clash are found in the wrong, they will not be turned over to government authorities, but will be tried in their own courts.

It’s worth noting though, that all out war doesn’t seem to be an easy alternative to a questionable peace agreement. According to GMA News research, armed conflict in Mindanao has lead to the deaths of 120,000 people from 1970 to 1996 and to physical and cultural displacement.

The effects of armed conflict go beyond Mindanao. There will be economic consequences that will affect the rest of the country.

Miriam: Bangsamoro Agreement Unconstitutional
Bangsamoro law cannot abolish ARMM, says ex-solon
Armed conflict, malaki ang epekto sa kalidad ng buhay ng mga komunidad

The SAF 44 did more than fulfill their mission. Their deaths pushed more Filipinos into seeing the bigger picture--- the enormity of the difficulties and issues facing Mindanao and the rest of the country.

Knowing our government’s track record, I do not expect that the brave Fallen 44 will ever be given conventional justice. The best justice we ordinary citizens can give them is to pay better attention to the events that threaten to push our country into a deeper pit and to become more involved. Our nation’s future depends on our decisions. Let’s start by picking leaders in 2016 who have our country’s best interests in mind and the skill to steer us out of this quagmire we’re in.

Rest in peace Fallen 44. May we do justice to your sacrifice.

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