Sunday, February 08, 2015

The good, the bad, and the ugly

My February 8, 2015 column.


For the second time within an eight-day period, the Commander in Chief addressed the nation Friday evening, supposedly to set things right, shed more light, and to placate a citizenry enraged by the massacre of 44 policemen, and infuriated by government’s subsequent mishandling of the crisis.  It was the first time that the President appeared publicly after being given the silent treatment by members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Forces whom he gathered for a dialogue.
The good thing was that the President seems to be responding to public clamor for more empathy and for more direct accountability for the tragedy.
This time around he veered away from the usual speech template that many have found tiresome and annoying.   There were no direct references to the past administration, nor were there overt efforts to draw attention to himself, and his and his family’s supposed sacrifices for the sake of the nation.  He also took responsibility for the tragedy that befell the fallen 44 although it wasn’t clear what he actually meant when he said he was “taking responsibility;” for what exactly? 
What clearly resonated with many was the seeming show of resolve to deal squarely with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front even if the group was not named directly in the speech.  The tough stance seemed to respond to the clamor for retributive justice.  It was also obvious that the president was trying his darndest best to convey empathy – even directly addressing the family of the fallen 44.   
The bad thing was that the speech raised more questions than ever before.  
People who expected some clarity on a number of contentious issues were sorely disappointed.  Of course we expect that a full accounting can only be done after the conduct of an objective and comprehensive inquiry (and with at least nine groups intent on conducting their own separate investigations, it will take time and effort to arrive at a consensus), but surely the President of the Republic already has answers to the major questions 12 days after the tragedy happened.   The President announced that he accepted the resignation of General Alan Purisima but it wasn’t clear why.   If Purisima didn’t engineer the whole fiasco, what is he being punished for?  If one were to subject the President’s speech to an objective analysis, one will arrive at the inescapable conclusion that the main message was the effort itself.
To my mind, the ugly part of the speech was the way the President validated certain things that have been whispered about for the longest timenow.   He confirmed that he did – and does – have a close personal relationship with Purisima and that he is the kind of leader that allows personal relationships to cloud his judgment even in the face of overwhelming reasons for letting go.  Second, the concerted efforts to deflect the blame somewhere else was more palpable.  The supposed questions that keeps him awake left no doubt as to the culpability of the ground commanders, in particular, SAF commander Getulio Napenas.
But even more alarming was the apparent effort to ride the bandwagon of resentment towards the MILF and the terrorists.  We now have a common target for all our hatred and a potential salve to our collective hurt.  If we get Abdul Basit Usman dead, then we can all move on from the tragedy.  If only things were that simple.

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