A comedy of errors
Will the “epals” (opportunists — though the English translation barely captures the odious stench of the word in the slang vernacular) step aside and let the professionals take over the investigation of the bombing of the Catholic cathedral in Jolo, Sulu?
More than a week after two bombs ripped through the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel during Sunday Mass on Jan. 27, killing 22 and wounding a hundred, the investigation so far has been nothing less than a comedy of errors, characterized mostly by egregiously contradictory statements from President Duterte and his top military and defense officials.
Those same officials first denied the claim by the Islamic State (IS) that the blasts were the work of IS suicide bombers. That couldn’t be, said Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde, because all indications pointed to the bombs being set off electronically.
Col. Noel Detoyato, public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, echoed Albayalde, saying that, per witnesses, the woman who was supposed to have brought the bomb inside the cathedral “hurriedly left” before the blast. Even Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana agreed with Detoyato.
Then President Duterte opened his mouth, and officials forthwith changed their tune. Mr. Duterte simply preempted the ongoing investigation by mentioning offhand that the blasts were the handiwork of a suicide bomber couple, possibly Indonesian.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año added the detail that the Indonesian couple could have been assisted by the local terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in conducting surveillance on the place and bringing them inside the cathedral.
What forensic evidence has been presented to back up these claims?
None so far. No messages or communications of any sort. No body parts or paraphernalia of the alleged bombers.
Kherkar Tan, the mayor of Jolo, is, for one, not buying the jumble of theories being flung around. Tan is instead calling for an independent investigation into the bombings, fearing a whitewash; his apprehensions are anchored on some fundamental questions: The cathedral was heavily guarded and fortified, and every visitor was supposed to be searched coming in.
How did the alleged suicide bombers manage to slip through that cordon?
As in Marawi, how could such a monumental lapse in intelligence and security happen — and this time while Mindanao is under martial law?
“Our bags, even our small items were thoroughly inspected, so (we cannot accept) these recent reports about a man and woman (who) were able to get inside with a backpack. How?” asked Arthur de los Reyes, a survivor. “There were security lapses. We want them to be accountable for that. I lost my wife. My daughter and I are still nursing our wounds.”
Albayalde conceded the security breach, pointing out that police guarded the area outside the cathedral, while the military secured the inner perimeter and the gates.
“It’s very unlikely you can just enter with a bag without being noticed,” he said.
Lorenzana, however, has been quoted as saying, “We will never know how the bombers got in or near the church, as the soldiers guarding the main door all died.”
“We will never know”?
That is a completely unacceptable thing to say. It is precisely for the reason that foot soldiers paid the supreme sacrifice, along with other innocent souls, that Lorenzana must at least be outraged and demand accountability for the inexplicable intelligence and security failures that happened.
He could, for instance, demand greater discipline and thoroughness in the investigation, instead of the sloppy, incredibly loose-lipped proceedings being passed off as one that are simultaneously unnerving and regaling the country.
The National Bureau of Investigation has said its own probe has been hampered by the contaminated crime scene. There’s also the biggest black eye so far to the credibility of the investigation — the erroneous tagging by authorities of four young men supposedly caught on CCTV cameras “acting suspiciously” at the time of the blasts. The men turned themselves in, and turned out to be students and a teacher from a nearby school.
Last year, the AFP had an astounding P2.9 billion in intelligence funds, the PNP P1.06 billion. They are asking for more this year — P1.2 billion for the AFP and P1 billion for the PNP.
If these institutions’ track record so far in both effective intelligence and postincident investigations is any gauge, why shouldn’t the public think that much of that money (not subject to normal auditing, by the way) is only headed for the drain?
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