Laughing in Mindanao
At a forum on the Mamasapano incident held in Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro over the weekend, the irresponsible fulminations of born-again, all-out warrior Alan Peter Cayetano, the senator from Taguig City, were a subject of discussion. He had notoriously justified his aggressive questioning of the conduct of the police raid in one Senate hearing with the words: “I am not an expert but I watch the movies.” At the Cagayan de Oro forum, a respected local journalist raised the question: Are we going back to all-out war because Senator Cayetano has watched a few movies? The response from the audience was precious: derisive laughter.
Precious, but also pity-inducing; laughter, after all, is the weapon of the weak.
Here is the reality: The cornfields of Mamasapano, Maguindanao, are about 1,600 kilometers from the concrete streets of Metro Manila, but it is in the National Capital Region (NCR) where the meaning of the day-long series of armed encounters on Jan. 25, which left 44 Special Action Force troopers, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front regulars and at least five civilians dead, is in large part being defined.
This imbalance is a consequence of the country’s power structure. The government institutions investigating the Mamasapano incident are all based in the NCR; the main news organizations reporting on the developing story and even the foreign news agencies are headquartered in the region; the usual means of access to power, and with it the capacity to influence public opinion, are mostly found within Metro Manila.
Even the common assumption, articulated most fervently by some of the grieving and aggrieved widows of the SAF troopers, that President Aquino could have done something more to save the elite police, is based on the premise that it is “Imperial Manila” (as many in the provinces refer facetiously or seriously to the capital) that really calls the shots. (We realize that the President was in Zamboanga City on that day, but in the popular understanding, the presidency represents the full power of the capital.)
Cayetano has certainly remained unapologetic. He was at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City over the weekend, practicing his “either-or” language of exclusion. “You do not negotiate with terrorists. So the MILF has to choose. Gusto niyo ng BBL, talikuran niyo ang terorismo. Kung hindi mo tatalikuran ang terorismo, pupulbusin lang kayo ng Republika ng Pilipinas (You want the Bangsamoro Basic Law, you turn your back on terrorism. If you don’t turn your back on terrorism, the Republic of the Philippines will just pulverize you).”
The MILF has some real explaining to do, about its role in the Jan. 25 incident; whether its men were involved in the brutal killing of defenseless, wounded troopers; how the Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, could have resided within sight of MILF positions for extended periods without the government, its partner in the peace process, being notified.
But Cayetano has glibly moved from still-to-be-proven charges of terrorist-coddling to a blithe declaration of war. It is that little speech tic, the “lang” that found its way into his posturing, that tells the millions of Filipinos weary of the long-running conflict in parts of Mindanao that Cayetano truly knows nothing about the reality of war. The Republic “will just pulverize you”—as if it were the easiest thing in the world.
Perhaps we need our senators and congressmen to spend more time in the affected parts of Mindanao—not only in generally safe cities like Cagayan de Oro, where a Marwan bomb ripped through a crowded commercial district just two years ago, but also in Maguindanao, or the Zamboanga peninsula, or Basilan, or many other places that still bear the scars of war.
Perhaps we need our influential TV anchors and radio hosts to visit often with the “bakwit,” the evacuees displaced by armed encounters, including the thousand or so who fled Mamasapano on Jan. 25, to see what happens to fellow Filipinos when one group “just” pulverizes another.
Perhaps, above all, we need more voices from Mindanao, especially from the parts long embroiled in conflict, to be heard in the capital region. That way, the pained laughter born of experience can help expose the movies in our mind.
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