Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sifting through the debris

This is my column today.

An explosion rocked Glorietta 2 five days ago, killing at least 11 people and injuring more than a hundred. The explosion was so powerful it tore off a whole section of the complex, creating a gaping hole from the basement up to the roof of the multi-story structure. The explosion blasted to smithereens practically everything along its path.

As a result, the Philippine stock market took a nosedive, the Philippine peso faltered, and in general, business activity slowed down.

Obviously, a tragic incident such as the Glorietta explosion deserves answers and a resolution. Not only because lives and property were lost, but more because such tragedies cannot be allowed to happen again.

It is important that we find out what caused the explosion. Was it a bomb or an accidental leak? If it was a bomb, we need to pinpoint the perpetrators of the dastardly act and make them pay. If it was an accidental leak, and we know there is nothing in this world that is accidental, then we need to find out what happened exactly so that we can all learn from the experience and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Of course, we also need to make the people behind the accident accountable.

And hopefully we do all these in the most sober and professional manner without the screaming, the swaggering, the grandstanding, and the mudslinging.

It’s been five days and so far, there have been no concrete leads although a billion theories have already been floated. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t expect the incident to be solved within five days. Heck, I don’t think it is going to be solved anytime soon.

My reservations have nothing to do with the competence of our investigators. I am sure we have very competent people in the National Bureau of Investigation or in the other agencies that are responsible for ferreting out the truth in cases like this. My reservations are borne out of the fact that there are just too many people interfering in the investigation and getting in the way of efforts to solve the case. Practically everybody has weighed in with his or her own take on who did it and, strangely, even why it was supposedly done. There are now turf issues involved, allegations of attempts to plant evidence, even vigils for justice for the victims.

It begs the question: Why do we bother with these investigations if people are already certain about what it was, who did it, and why? Barely have the debris and the dust from the explosion settled and already a number of our leaders were already scrambling all over themselves to be the first to have something—anything—to say about the matter that would land them in the public consciousness.

There is now a Tower of Babel where Glorietta 2 used to be. Everyone else has gotten into the act offering his own analyses and counter analyses. Accusations and counter accusations are flying left and right. As usual, we have turned a tragedy into a large-scale debate, an occasion for mudslinging.

As a result, many people have already started to tune off from the discussion. And it is difficult to blame them. Of course, they get castigated for their supposed apathy and their failure to get roused up by all these attempts to link everything that happens in this country as part of one grand evil design. It is really very interesting; but there’s a limit to how much nagging one can take.

There’s a limit to how much discourse one is willing to participate in especially when the discourse begins to take on the form of a homily.

So in case you’ve shut off early on, here are some of the things about the incident that you may have missed.

Within a few hours, Senator Antonio Trillanes was quick on the draw. He directly accused the government of being behind the explosion, which he categorically said was a bomb. I am aware that Trillanes has the expertise in so far as putting bombs in Glorietta is concerned. He tried it before so he should know what he is talking about. But for crying out loud, he is now a senator, not a renegade military officer. Making accusations without offering proof is not only irresponsible, as others have already pointed out, but it smacks of immaturity and short-sightedness.

The other senators would not dream of being upstaged, of course. More senators joined the fray basically parroting the clich├ęs and platitudes about how their hearts bled for the victims, blah blah blah. Senator Panfilo Lacson asked for the resignation of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and later on offered his own “theory.”

Thereupon, another senator, this time Senator Gringo Honasan, joined the fray and chided Lacson and Trillanes for jumping the gun.

Honasan urged his two other mistahs not to mix “speculation with politics.” He asked that government authorities “be allowed the time to do their jobs before anyone makes hasty judgments and conclusions.” Honasan asked people to respect our authorities. He is right of course, except that, well, who in this country doesn’t know of Senator Honasan’s previous capers that indicate wanton disrespect for authorities?

There is this ongoing turf issue between Ayala Land, which owns Glorietta 2, the military authorities, and the City of Makati. To complicate things, “observers” from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Australian Federal Police are also on site. Because Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay is in Japan attending a scouting event, Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado and Councilor Erwin Binay are jostling for media attention. Of course, everyone wants to project that they are all working as a team, but sources say otherwise.

Not to be outdone, barangay officials from San Lorenzo Village threw a wrench into the discussion by coming up with their own interpretation of things focusing on how barangay tanods reacted faster than the military and then segued into how barangay tanods should be given better equipment to deal with similar crises.

The confusion over whether or not RDX, a component used in high explosives including C4, was found on the blast site continued to be a source of wonder and heated discussion. It turns out the US experts did not find any traces of RDX in the samples they found from the site after all. Why was this information going around and given prominence in media?

As the investigation began to veer away from the “bomb theory,” professors from the chemical engineering department of the University of the Philippines got into the act by debunking the methane-and-diesel-caused-the-explosion theory. The professors were never at ground zero, nor did they have access to the evidence, but they were absolutely convinced of their conclusion, based on academic theory of course.

The Muslim community is up in arms over fears of a witch-hunt directed at their communities once again. It turns out the Rajah Solaiman group, which earlier claimed responsibility for the explosion is already inactive and does not have the means to carry out any bombing.

In the meantime, certain political groups are milking every bit of this tragedy. One group has been conducting vigils near the explosion site supposedly to demand justice for the victims. Their banners and placards, however, expressed the usual political slogans.

With what our investigators have to put up with, it is a wonder they haven’t given up on the task yet.

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