The truth, no matter what | Inquirer Opinion

The truth, no matter what

/ 04:08 AM September 02, 2020

That was quite a dramatic scene in Jolo on Sunday when President Duterte, nearly unrecognizable with dark glasses, a cap, and a face mask, honored the soldiers who perished in the recent terror attack by kissing the ground where one of the twin bombings happened on Aug. 24.

“The reason why I knelt and kissed the ground, they were not able to call on Allah or make a sign of the cross before dying,” Mr. Duterte said in his speech to the troops aired the next day.

It was the second time the President had broken his “perpetual isolation” from the COVID-19 pandemic in Davao City; his visit to Jolo underscored the volatile situation in the area, with the latest bombings attributed to Abu Sayyaf suicide bombers.


In July, the President met with troops of the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City to appeal to them not to seek vengeance after the police in Jolo killed four Army intelligence officers who, the military said, were pursuing suspected bombers and terrorists on June 29.


On Aug. 24, two bombs went off in Jolo, killing 15, including seven soldiers, and wounding 75 others. The perpetrators of the twin bombings, according to military commanders, were the very same suicide bombers the four Army men were actively pursuing when they were intercepted by the Jolo police and shot dead.

These two successive bloody incidents are worsening mistrust and tension between the police and the military, stoked by suspicions that some members of the local police may be in cahoots with the Abu Sayyaf, some of whom are said to be their own relatives.


The military has categorically denounced the shooting of the four Army men as a case of “murder” and “rubout,” and the fact that their deaths apparently allowed the alleged terrorists in their sight to escape and proceed with the twin bombings in Jolo makes it even more imperative for the government to get to the bottom of things and bring to light the truth, no matter how ugly or inconvenient, about these two incidents.

This process begins with an impartial, thorough, and transparent investigation of the twin bombings. But it does not augur well for that prospect when the first impulse of people like Sen. Bato dela Rosa, former police chief, is to shield the Jolo police from scrutiny, the way he quickly defended them in the killing of the four Army officers.

Not only did Dela Rosa try to shift the blame for the terror attack to opponents of the new Anti-Terrorism Act, essentially saying that their opposition to the law was emboldening terrorism; he also objected to the call by Sen. Risa Hontiveros to relieve the entire Jolo police to pave the way for an impartial investigation.

“If we insist on the theory that they were accomplices of the Abu Sayyaf, there on the ground, it will demoralize the local police,” Dela Rosa maintained.

But what injury is Dela Rosa talking about? The National Bureau of Investigation has formally filed murder charges against nine Jolo cops. What has not been established by the investigation so far, as Hontiveros pointed out, is the motive for killing the Army men, which is why a probe on the possible collusion of the local police with the Abu Sayyaf is needed. Not addressing that possibility by instinctively protecting the Jolo cops is what will demoralize the upright men and women of the uniformed services, by dishonoring their colleagues who have died and shortchanging the cause of justice.

Had the terrorist suspects been apprehended earlier and the planned attack thwarted, 15 people need not have died. One of them, Private John Agustin of the Army’s 35th Infantry Batallion, is now regarded as a hero for accosting one of the female suicide bombers before she could enter a cordoned-off area and perishing in the blast along with the suicide bomber.

If the Jolo bombing site is hallowed ground, as the President wanted to convey by kissing the pavement, then the only genuine way to honor Agustin and the others who lost their lives, and to prevent similar tragedies, is to ferret out the plain, instructive truth.

Is the administration willing to go there? Curiously, even as Mr. Duterte flamboyantly prostrated himself in Jolo, he made no order in his speech for the military and police to leave no stone unturned in probing these incidents. Neither did he mention the related news that had grabbed the headlines just days before — that his administration was seemingly swanning around with terrorists, or at least one particular terrorist: Abduljihad “Indang” Susukan, a most-wanted Abu Sayyaf leader whom MNLF founder Nur Misuari (Mr. Duterte’s appointee as economic envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation despite the pending criminal charges against him for the bloody 2013 Zamboanga siege) had been squiring around in Davao City, the President’s hometown.

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What is going on? Only clear answers will suffice, not words and theatrics.

TAGS: Bato dela Rosa, Editorial, Jolo twin blasts, Rodrigo Duterte, Ronald dela Rosa

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