Like most females, I never had serious interest in understanding arms, wars and firefights. In fact, when I was growing up, when my parents would watch war movies, my mind automatically tuned out. Yet, the death of the 44 members of the Special Action Force of the PNP in Maguindanao last week, on a mission to do a police work of serving an arrest warrant on a wanted Malaysian terrorist, has disturbed me to my wits’ end. It is not only because I, too, have men I love: my husband, a son and brothers. I can imagine the grief of the fallen men’s loved ones because the lives of those men—belonging to an elite group—were unjustly wasted by poor planning, poor foresight, and clearly, poor leadership.
It was shown on TV how the United States government planned the capture and killing of Bin Laden who was holed up in an unobtrusive building in Pakistan. The documentary showed how long the planning took; how many contingency plans were drawn up. Did our leadership do half as much in carrying out the operation to arrest Malaysian terrorist, Marwan?
The MILF has called the brutal massacre of the SAF men a “mis-encounter.” An encounter, as defined in dictionaries, is a brief, chance, and unexpected meeting. Although not found in dictionaries, a mis-encounter must refer to a brief, unexpected and chance meeting that results in wrongful and dire consequences.
Under universal criminal law doctrines, there exists a concept called exempting circumstances which may attend the commission of a crime. These circumstances, such as mistake, or misapprehension of facts, may exempt the perpetrator of a crime from criminal liability. An example is when a man who is roused from sleep because he hears someone trying to open his door, and then upon seeing a figure in the dark entering his room, he shoots and kills that person, he may be exempted from criminal responsibility even if the victim later turns out to be not a thief but a family member. This concept does not apply to the Maguindanao massacre of 44 SAF men.
In the first place, wasn’t there supposed to be a cessation of hostilities in effect between the government troops and the MILF while the passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is being deliberated in Congress? If a ceasefire was in effect and the SAF men were wearing police, not military uniforms, how could a firefight have erupted? Does not the Philippine government have any right to enter Mindanao to carry out police work anymore? It does not seem believable that the SAF men were not recognized as police, and not military soldiers, because the dead bore close-range bullet marks on the face and on their backs.
In the second place, if it were a mere mis-encounter, why did the firing last some 10 hours? Accounts narrated to the media by a survivor say that the SAF men were in the act of retreating when they were surrounded and shot at close range by BIFF and MILF commandos. Even those who had fallen dead or mortally injured were still riddled with bullets in an obvious overkill. Some pictures that came out on the papers showed dead bodies being kicked on the head or stepped on by people who seemed to be in civilian clothes. Why did not reinforcement from the Armed Forces come?
Mindanao is still very much a part of Philippine territory and bound by the Philippine rule of law. And, even if the Bangsamoro Basic Law is passed, it will not result in the Bangsamoro political entity seceding or separating from the Philippine Republic. While I have always believed that the BBL should be passed provided the Constitutional infirmities of the present draft bill are addressed —for the sake of peace—and to show the way to a model federal/parliamentary system of government, what happened in Maguindanao on January 25 has devastated my personal faith in the workability of the BBL. Wouldn’t respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws by the MILF and other Islamic groups in Mindanao be utterly worse off when the Bangsamoro political entity comes into existence? ***
Initial reports say that the horrific fiasco happened because of leadership issues at the top. PNP chief, Director General Alan Purisima, who is still under suspension by the Ombudsman for graft charges, was said to have been the one calling the shots in the operations. No less than President Benigno Aquino III was reported to have given him the thumbs up to proceed with the operation. The acting PNP chief, General Leonardo Espina and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas were kept out of the loop and no coordination was made with the Armed Forces stationed in Mindanao.
Why did the President allow Purisima to be in control when his suspension stripped him temporarily of his authority to give orders? The buck stops with the President. As the nation’s leader he must know the right and honorable thing to do.
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