MANILA, Philipines – President Benigno Aquino III’s message on Wednesday, January 28, was expected to clarify what happened in the chain of command that led to the Maguindanao clash. But after his speech, many felt disappointed, saying the President failed to categorically answer the crucial question: Who gave the orders?
In a Twitter conversation facilitated by MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm, veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona asked):
After Aquino’s speech, journalists asked the President several times to give a categorical answer if he gave the go-signal for the operation on January 25, called a “misencounter” by government, that claimed the lives of at least 44 elite cops. (READ: Aquino: I talked to SAF chief before Maguindanao ops)
“‘Sir, can we proceed with the mission?’ I don’t think I was ever asked that question,” the President said. “Isn’t that a rhetorical question?” Aquino told media.
Many netizens felt Aquino evaded the questions and washed his hands of accountability:
Is it just me or did the president just mouth off a whole lot of words but didn’t really SAY anything? #MaguindanaoClash— PJ Caña (@pauljohncana) January 28, 2015
Aquino, however, admitted he spoke with sacked Special Action Forces (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas and suspended police chief Director General Alan Purisima before the operation in Maguindanao.
SAF commandos entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), targeting a top terrorist. (READ: Dead or alive? Top terrorist was cops’ target). The MILF fought back – despite a ceasefire with the government – in self-defense, claiming the SAF team did not coordinate the operation with them.
Can MILF be trusted?
Aquino defended the peace talks with the MILF, stressing government will honor the deaths of the SAF officers.
But there were netizens who drew the line between the negotiating parties – the government and the MILF – questioning Aquino’s judgment as commander in chief.
#MaguindanaoClash Yun speech ni Pnoy? The President who loves the enemy more than his own soldiers.Is he the commander in chief of the MILF?— weng del rosario (@wengdelrosario) January 28, 2015
But Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia executive director Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan cautioned the public, stressing that the negotiating parties must collaborate in bringing the perpetrators to justice for the death of government forces.
#Maguindanaoclash we need to know that MNLF, MILF, and BIFF are not one and the same.— musslidasan (@mussol22) January 28, 2015
@rapplerdotcom thus, we need to understand the socio pol landscape in Maguindanao. We should not homogenize the Muslims.— musslidasan (@mussol22) January 28, 2015
In the Twitter discussion, Mindanao-based journalist Karlos Manlupig explained the differences among rebel factions, but he noted, “They may have organizational differences but at the end of the day they go home to the same villages.”
Manlupig also shared how the MILF Central Committee seems “very calm in handling the issue” and how peace advocates in Mindanao remain hopeful the peace process will succeed despite the bloody clash.
Other netizens also agreed the peace process must continue:
#MaguindanaoClash A lot of people are screaming for an all out war without realizing the repercussions of what they’re asking for.— 茶衣 (@ChayTunacao) January 28, 2015
#MaguindanaoClash Peace process should continue. Quest for justice in this tragedy must also be pushed. Both sides need to move— inday espina varona (@indayevarona) January 28, 2015
— sonny candazo (@certifiedsonny) January 28, 2015
@MovePH They have to put into consideration the bigger picture on how it will affect the country’s wellbeing. It goes beyond peace talks.— Louisse Barcelona (@marialouissita) January 28, 2015
There are nearly 4 million Muslims in Mindanao, their homeland dating back to the pre-colonial Islamic sultanates.
Since the 1970s, Muslim rebel groups, including the MILF, have waged war in Mindanao to establish a separate Muslim state, claiming at least 150,000 lives and leaving a huge part of Mindanao in abject poverty. The MILF signed a peace pact with the government in March 2014.
Journalist Angela Casauay, who is closely following the peace process, stressed during the intense online exchange the importance of seeing the bigger picture which has been clouded by attitudes that divide the nation (READ: What now after the Maguindanao clash?):
— Angela Casauay (@angelacasauay) January 28, 2015
Bigger picture perhaps is never forgetting that this war has gone for decades. It’s more than just MILF vs PNP, AFP #Maguindanaoclash
Sincere question. What do you guys think? Big part of the Moro Question or the Mindanao problem is our “them-us” attitude. #Maguindanaoclash— Angela Casauay (@angelacasauay) January 28, 2015
The conversation continues via the Twitter thread #MaguindanaoClash.
Tell us what you feel about Aquino’s speech. (FULL TEXT: Aquino defends SAF operation in Maguindanao) Did he answer the questions sufficiently? What do you think did he fail to address? How do you want the government to proceed on this matter? – Rappler.com