OPINION | Aquino's cover-up continues a year after Mamasapano
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[Editor's Note] Internationally acclaimed development expert and academic, and former partylist representative Walden Bello is seeking a senate seat as an independent in the upcoming May 9 elections.
In March 2015, I terminated my support for President Aquino and resigned from the House of Representatives in protest at his refusal to accept command responsibility for the Mamasapano raid and to fire corrupt and inept officials in his cabinet.
As the first anniversary of the Mamasapano operation nears, I regret to say that we are no closer to exacting accountability for the raid than we were a year ago. I join Filipinos from all walks of life in renewing our cry for justice for all the victims of the unfortunate and completely avoidable tragedy.
We pause to remember not just the 44 members of the Special Action Forces but also the 23 Bangsamoro fighters and the uncounted number of Moro civilians who were killed in the operation.
We mourn not just for Sr. Insp. Ryan Ballesteros Pabalinas and his 43 other colleagues in the SAF but also for 5-year old Sarah Pananggulon who also died, in the arms of her mother, during the clash.
But we also express our solidarity with all the other Moros, the lumad, and the Christian settlers who have suffered for so long from the long-running war in Mindanao and who have been working for a just resolution to the conflict for years but who -- thanks to the Mamasapano raid -- saw the prospects of peace dissolve again before their eyes.
They too -- and, indeed, we too who may be farther away from Mindanao and yet also suffer from continuing to live in a militarized, war-torn country -- were also victims of the Mamasapano tragedy.
Today, many minor questions remain unanswered but the most important details are no longer disputed:
- We now know that the operation was part of a mission to capture or assassinate a suspected ‘terrorist’ leader as part of the US-led “war on terror” and that, at the very least, the US played a central and direct role in the said operation.
- We now know that President Noynoy Aquino gave the mission the green light despite a standing agreement with Moro rebels that Philippine military operations in the area had to be conducted in coordination with them so as to minimize the risk of ‘misencounters’ and civilian deaths.
- We also know that President Aquino illegally placed in command of the operation a person who had been suspended from active duty by the Ombudsman: then National Police Chief Allan Purisima.
In short, we now know that President Aquino and other Filipino officials were ultimately responsible for the Mamasapano tragedy in particular and for the collapse of the peace process in general. They are responsible for wrecking the chances of the BangsaMoro Basic Law passing Congress.
And yet, one year after, none of them have so far been held accountable for the tragedy.
Instead of owning up to his role, President Aquino has refused to take command responsibility for the operation, he has even engaged in what I called then and what I continue to call now as a “brazen cover-up” to shield himself -- and his pals -- from accountability. It is clear that the president’s unpresidential behavior is dictated by his desperate desire to protect himself and his cronies from going to jail once he leaves office.
In so doing, the President -- the very person whom we are counting on and who in fact swore to uphold the rule of law and ensure justice for all Filipinos -- has been the very person who is perpetrating impunity and who is depriving Mamasapano victims of the justice they deserve.
It is also important to stress, however, especially as we approach the elections, that it is not just the President who stands in the way of delivering justice to the Mamasapano victims and building peace in Mindanao.
All of his likely successors have so far given us little reason to hope that justice and peace will be achieved after Aquino steps down from office.
The President’s anointed, Mar Roxas, has strongly defended the President’s role in the operation and is unlikely to pin down his patron in the unlikely event he wins.
Despite his supposed falling-out with the administration, even Jejomar Binay has given no indication that he will unmask what Aquino covered up and run after the incumbent.
Grace Poe, who has made no secret her intention to ‘continue’ Aquino’s supposed ‘daang matuwid,’ was scathing in her Senate committee’s criticism of the government’s handling of the operation.
But sometimes criticisms can be a more effective form of absolution: by castigating him only for committing ‘procedural’ errors, she cleared the President of committing more fundamental violations of sovereignty and human rights.
Finally, for all his bold pronouncements, Rodrigo Duterte has said nothing about bringing Aquino to justice, raising the question: is he actually only tough before the weak, but meek before the powerful?
No one among the presidential frontrunners is willing to incur the wrath of the US (and give up its much sought-after political support) by taking President Aquino to task for allowing the US forces to engage in targeted assassinations on Philippine soil. No one has raised questions about the morality of cooperating with the US in its illegal, immoral, and counterproductive ‘war on terror.’ And no one has castigated the government for in effect killing the peace process and condemning Moros and Filipinos to continue living in a society wracked by war.
No one, in short, is ready to fight for justice and peace for Sr. Insp. Ryan Ballesteros Pabalinas, for Sarah Pananggulon, and for the nameless thousands who suffer -- and will continue to suffer -- from war.
This is why even the replacement of President Aquino this June will not augur the end of the long reign of impunity in the country.
For us to have a fighting chance of achieving justice and peace, we need to reject and fight against the traditional politics that President Aquino has perpetuated during his term and that all of the presidentiables vow, with a few marginal changes here and there, to continue.
We need to wage an electoral insurgency and build a real alternative to trapo rule.
This means not just voting against all trapos and convincing our neighbors, family members, classmates and many others to do the same -- though this in itself is an important part of the task. It means creating a broader and longer-lasting movement for social change that will continue to fight for new, more progressive politics even -- or especially -- after the elections.
We owe it to Sr. Insp. Ryan Ballesteros Pabalinas, to Sarah, to the tens of thousands of others who have died in the war in Mindanao, and we owe it to ourselves.