2/12/2015
Let us define it for you

I was driving to work today, and because I did not want to change radio stations every five minutes - which I was likely to do because I wasn't in the mood for wall-to-wall classics on Retro, I didn't want to wait through tired songs just to hear Shai Tisai on Love, and nobody can make me listen to Roanna's inanity on Jam - I decided to listen to AM radio.

The big news story is still, of course, the bungled police operation in Mamasapano. You all know what happened. Since I last wrote about it, we also found out that there have been a bunch of lapses in the chain of command, so people who were supposed to have been told, at least, don't really know what's going on. The result was the death of a "high-value terrorist", to put it in military-sounding terms. And 44 police commandoes. And three civilians, one of which, if I remember correctly, is a young girl.

Inevitably, though, the focus is on the fallen members of the police, especially as more details emerged: of how the men were surrounded, of how reinforcements came in too late, of how some of the victims were killed execution-style. Or at least that's what I gleaned from PNP deputy chief Leonardo Espina, who was surprisingly kept out of the loop as the operation went down, who attended one of many legislative investigations into the encounter (as if these probes solve anything other than a politician's public perception problems) and who, with one speech, seemingly managed to capture the frustration the public feels over what is seen to be a series of senseless deaths.

The news reports squared in, of course, on the fact that Espina broke down as he recollected the coroner's reports into how the 44 men - his 44 men - died. Not all of them had lethal wounds, he said. Not all of them died because of the gunfight that ensued between the SAF members, who were to serve an arrest warrant against high-up terrorist Marwan, and... I don't know anymore. Marwan's men? The BIFF? The MILF? I don't know anymore. But not all of them died because of the gunfight. Severely wounded, but not enough to kill them, until they were shot in the head at close range, so the coroner suggests. So the video making the rounds suggest.

As Espina reeled from, perhaps unintentionally, showing another side of himself to a public watching through television, listening in through radio, and following through social media, the legislators debated whether to show a video that was uploaded early that morning, supposedly of one of the SAF members being shot, point blank, by whoever shot him, in Mamasapano. Yes, to show the horror. No, to keep us rational. Yes. No. Yes.

I did not follow any of this yesterday. I was at work, and also, I wasn't feeling like tuning in and taking part in the conversation. Again, these hearings, they do nothing to solve anything other than a politician's public perception problems. It's a convenient venue for sound bites. We all know that. Sure, we now know that Alan Purisima, the suspended (and now resigned) PNP chief, definitely had a hand in the operation, but it has to fight with the statements made by posturing politicians. It's obvious Alan Peter Cayetano is angling for something whenever he vehemently insists the MILF is a terrorist group. There is a receptive audience. There is a very receptive audience. We are feeling things.

I lived in Manila all my life. I haven't been to many places around my country. When I first met someone who lived in Cagayan de Oro, the first question I asked was whether there were many bombs where she lived - a naïve question, in hindsight, because Mindanao is such a large place, and the fighting is concentrated in particular regions. I've been to one of those places myself. I apparently have relatives in Cotabato, and they told me, when I visited a few years ago, after passing through what seemed like an infinite series of military checkpoints, that they also want peace as much as we do. But they know things that I don't. They understand things that I don't. They've lived through the conflict, the fighting looming above their heads, an eternal presence. All I've done was read about it, watch it, hear it.

These things we as a nation are feeling - this, for most of us, is new. This, for most of us, is unusual. It's a patriotism that goes beyond Jessica Sanchez almost winning American Idol, a patriotism that goes beyond how awesome we supposedly are in the world stage. It's a patriotism that transcends the individual; it's a patriotism that revolves around an idea. Maybe it's peace. I don't know. That's the thing. I don't know what it is, and I don't know where it will lead. We - especially people like me, who have lived in the relatively safe comforts of Manila - only know so much, and it can vary from slightly nuanced to completely polarized.

I only heard Espina's statements from the congressional hearing this morning, the one where he broke down in tears, the one that supposedly got other legislators shedding a few, too. It was played, in full, on DZMM, and oddly, it was played with somber music under it. The music was clearly there to emphasize the emotion, but oddly, it distracted me from what Espina was saying. He wasn't emotional - or, at least, he wasn't an emotional wreck. He is frustrated. He wants to know why his men had to be killed the way they were killed. "Hindi n'yo man lang sila pinauwi," he said. But he kept his course. His statements were coherent, measured, not a ramble. His words stood on their own. But there was the music below it. Somber, orchestral music. In case we don't get it, there's something sad here. He's fighting back tears. There's drama.

At the end of the clip, Noli de Castro comes on to talk about that video. I haven't seen the video - I haven't seen a link, but it's not like I would watch it given the chance - but I know enough from it. It shows, well, I said it earlier - it shows the killing of one of the 44 members of the SAF. Both his legs were shot at, and he's shaking, but he's alive. He's lying on the grass. One of the killers point a gun at him, and he is shot in the head, point blank. Twice.

Well, I got that description from Noli de Castro. I understand that. The video may be morbid, but it is newsworthy, nonetheless. But then he follows it up with what seemed to me like a call to action, to... to some action. He tells of how he met the parents of the man in the video, I assume through his duties as TV Patrol anchorman. Of how that man is the youngest of the 44 victims, at 26. (He's 26. He's as old as me.) Of how his father is a farmer. Of how he couldn't follow his father's footsteps, because the constant storms in Samar have prevented the coconut trees from bearing fruit. Of how he decided to work as a fisherman, but couldn't because he does not have a boat. So he joined the police, led his batch. I swear Noli was trying to tell me to do something, by piling on all these personal details, by making this guy human - not a bad thing, but to tug at our hearts, so we'd do... something?

The Manila Times' front page today led with three stills from the video of that man's death. Three. In sequence. Of him screaming in pain, of a gun being pointed at him. Again, say what you want about the video being insensitive to the families of the dead, but it is still newsworthy, so a screen grab on the front page would be fine. But three screen grabs. Three. In sequence. To sell copies, likely - the Times is in the small league, face it - but also to... I don't know. To keep Filipinos angry? To stoke the fire, to keep the feelings going, to do... something?

Should we show the video? was a question in Congress yesterday. Yes, to show the horror, went one side. No, to keep us rational, went the other. The no side won that fight, but here, a public not aware of the history and is thus not capable of discerning properly is subtly, slowly, but surely, being pushed away from rationality, and towards, perhaps, an "all-out" war, for the sake of peace. What are these feelings? Why are we so deeply affected? Because we have not seen war, more so the worst of it. All we know is what we read, what we see, what we hear. Now it's sort of close to us, suddenly close to us - like those decades of fighting in the Moro regions are nothing - and we feel... this thing. What is this? Oh, let us define it for you...

And your responses...

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