The Senate and media make war on Mindanao
If the ongoing peace process is derailed and we have more years of war in Mindanao, there will be several villains. I shall discuss only 2, the politicians in the Senate and media.
The Senate report on Mamasapano promised to be comprehensive in that it would assess accountabilities. It failed. It reported very little verifiable truth that would underpin its assignment of accountability. Instead it resorted to assigning blame, a matter of prejudice, rather than impartiality.
I would prefer to do a thorough analysis of how bad this report is, including how the footnotes hide rather than clarify the sources of testimonial information, how many known facts were not taken into consideration including a simple failure to integrate testimonies made before the investigating committee. But I shall make only 2 points.
What, for example, would be the basis for the idea that Mamasapano was a “massacre”? The Merriam Webster definition as cited on page 57 of the Senate report is, “the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.” By this rubric we have 2 massacres and a third “maybe massacre.”
If we stretch the meaning of “many people” to “several people” we can accept that the videos showing the execution of several SAF members may be considered proof of a “massacre.” In a similar vein, the reports of 4 Muslim men and 1 civilian being shot while they were unarmed by the lone SAF survivor PO3 Christopher Robert Lalan would be a massacre.
On the other hand, the Senate report did not tell us what really happened to the majority of the SAF fallen. The SAF men were certainly not “unresisting” nor were they “helpless” at the start. They did not lay down their weapons in abject surrender but instead fought bravely. The report seems to imply without actually saying it that the majority of SAF men were killed after they had run out of ammunition or surrendered.
The report does cite its reasons for labelling the killing of the majority a massacre, but this leaves more questions than answers. It says 30 SAF bore gunshot wounds to the head – implying that anyone who gets hit in the head must have died by execution. One wonders though whether the remaining 14 died as a result of a legitimate battle. My work as a human rights doctor also makes me ask a series of other questions like, “which part of the head? Where were the entry and exit wounds?” At the very least I would have liked to see clearer forensic explanations to the rather bald statement that 30 SAF shot in the head means they were defenseless when killed.
More surprisingly, the report cites the MILF's use of superior firepower as a reason for calling it a massacre. I have not come across rules of engagement that say that an enemy force needs to use only swords (and put away their rifles) if the other side uses only swords.
Little wonder the Commision on Human Rights took exception to the term “massacre." Furthermore, the senators did not take into consideration the testimony of Governor Mujiv Hataman who has also consistently held that this was not a massacre.
It is important to know the facts if one were to establish accountability. PO3 Lalan has denied eyewitness reports of his misdeeds and it would have served the nation better if he was either condemned or exonerated.
Similarly, it would help everyone if the Senate report could tell us who was in that video, whether they were MILF or BIFF or armed civilians. Additionally, it is remarkably silent on MILF and civilian deaths, reiterating a rather bigoted view that only the 44 SAF deaths are worthy of investigation and justice.
Another sentence found in one of the report reads more like a statement from a teenager's overzealous attempt at fiction than a Senate report on a serious national matter.
The report states that Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles and Peace Panel Chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer were “suffering from a wanton excess of optimism.” Merriam Webster defines, “wanton” as “(of a cruel or violent action) deliberate and unprovoked.” I cannot imagine how the two women's measured responses to the bullying they received from certain male senators nor anything they actually did in the the peace process might be thought of as deliberate and unprovoked cruel action. The other definition of Merriam Webster makes me suspect that the term comes from the sexist minds, “(especially of a woman) sexually immodest or promiscuous.” In a previous article, I have examined how, because these two happen to be women, they are subject to quite a bit of sexism.
Bias masquerading as news
Yet another entity that must take a lot of blame for war in Mindanao is the media.
Readers’ comments on my previous columns make me aware that many consider me part of “media” and so I must make some disclaimers. First, not all media practitioners are at fault and, if I would be allowed a biased opinion, I would not accuse Rappler of the biased and incendiary reporting that has marked the Mamasapano incident.
I am also apologetic about criticizing another media outlet, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which will be my case in point about media bias. As a form of apology I will say that I read the Inquirer as well as Rappler because I find these two news sources as most fair and unbiased.
But even the venerable Inquirer has failed. And if it fails, then we can hardly expect better of other media outlets.
I will take for example, the headline news report entitled, “I swear I am telling the truth” last March 27, 2015. It is a report of President Aquino's statement on Mamasapano at the graduation rites of the PNPA.
Let us look at some statistics on this headline story. Doing a paragraph analysis and count, 26 paragraphs were reportage of the President's words, 28 paragraphs reported adverse reactions (“He should resign. He is hopeless, nothing can be done about him.”), 4 paragraphs were positive reactions (“I am satisfied with his explanation. He has accepted responsibility. Time to move on.” ), 4 paragraphs were factual (“Six of the fallen SAF commandos were graduates of the PNPA.”)
From these numbers I wondered as I was reading the report whether the report was about what the President said or about how dissatisfied people were with his words. I would argue that what the President said is worthy of being classified as news while what people said about it might be classified as an analytical article or an editorial. To pass off almost half the article as “news” when it is in fact “analysis” is, to say the least, disingenuous.
I will add to this that I found 5 additional negative statements that came from the writers of the news report itself. Here is an example, “That’s how President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday sought to convince the nation that what he had been saying he knew about a bungled counterterrorism operation that left 44 elite police commandos was true (sic)."
Let me rewrite the statement with a less negative slant this way, “That's how President Aquino expressed his conviction that he had been telling the truth about the tragic counterrerorism operation that led to the death of 44 elite police commandos.”
My point is not to defend President Aquino by preferring this statement but merely to show the less-than-objective tack taken by the news report. I must add that all these 4 biased and editorialized paragraphs, reported as if they were merely news facts, came after the lead paragraph which was as single sentence of the President's, “With God as my witness, I tell you the truth.”
By the time the reader would get to substantial information on what the President actually said, he or she would have been conditioned to be cynical of the President's words.
Reactions from only one political faction
The balance of 4 paragraphs of positive reactions to 28 paragraphs of negative reactions seems to imply that the reception of the President's speech was overwhelmingly negative.
That may be true, except that I note that the majority of negative reactions were from one single and extremely critical political formation. Perhaps all the reactions were from one political formation because the one group I could not classify were identified as, “ Activists who gathered in Barangay 413 on Bustillos Street, Manila” one of whom (again unidentified) was quoted as saying, “Just step down.” Honestly, by the time I reached this part of the article my jaw had fallen and I was wondering whether the newsboy had brought me some other newspaper.
Instead of some nameless woman from some unknown group of “over 50 activists” maybe they should have asked my extended family of 30 people. We also have our criticisms of the President's speech(es) and actions which are far more nuanced and multifaceted. And here is a newsflash to the Inquirer writers: some of us, despite being critical of the President, don't want him to resign.
Those of us who hope for the continuation of the peace process in Mindanao are a bit shell shocked about how a tragedy like the death of 66 Filipinos in Mamapasano could possibly undo years of peace efforts not just by the MILF and government panels but by various other sectors in Mindanao. There are several factors but media cannot escape its responsibility. Which is a pity because it keeps making the argument that it is a force for achieving national developmental objectives. In this case, I accuse if of being the lackey of partisan political interests, its own ignorance and bigotry.
If peace does not come to Mindanao, many in the media and the Senate must be as accountable for this as those who planned and executed the bungled raid in Mamapasano. – Rappler.com