Call it the Battle of Mamasapano

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2015 - 12:00am

The proper use of language is a virtue that many of our media commentators — and  even  senators and congressmen — use carelessly without regard for consequences. The use of the word “ massacre,” to describe the Mamasapano tragedy, is a dishonor to the gallantry and heroism of those who fought on that day. No one receives a medal of valor for being the victim of a massacre.

Massacre is an English word derived from the German “matsekelen,” meaning “to slaughter,” referring to people or even animals. The basic working definition of  massacre is “the intentional killing by political actors of a significant number of relatively defenceless people...the motives for the massacre need not be rational in order for the killings to be intentional.”

One clear case of a massacre was the ambush of a convoy of cars in Shariff Aguak town, Maguindanao province, which left at least 57 persons dead with mutilated bodies and crushed vehicles found buried in large pits. The convoy was destined for the Comelec office in the ARMM. The purpose was to file local vice-mayor Esmael Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy to run for the governorship of Maguindanao province in the May 2010 elections.

Among the victims were at least 30 journalists, more than 20 women, including the wife and two sisters of Mangudadatu. This was clear case of a massacre.

On the other hand, the use of the term “misencounter” would result in trivializing the tragedy where lives were sacrificed. To find the right term, we need to go back through the annals of military history.

The PNP SAF policemen were not helpless or defenceless. They had firearms with them and they fought back in what has been described as an eight-hour firefight. Even if we assume that they were outgunned and outnumbered, it would be a dishonor to their memory if we call them the victims of a massacre.

History is full of stories of soldiers who were outnumbered and died to the last man. But those incidents were never called a “massacre.”

There was a famous movie called the “300” which was about the Battle of Thermopylae. In 480 BC King Leonidas of Sparta confronted the advancing Persian army with a force of 300 Spartans, 700 thespians and 400 Thebans. The Persians were unable To Break the  Greek resistance until a local inhabitant showed them a path through the mountain which enabled them to attack the Greeks from behind.

The Spartans fought to the last man. This fighting had little effect on the Greek-Persian War, but it became a symbol of heroic resistance. History will always remember it as the Battle of Thermopylae. Surely, if it had been called the Massacre of Thermopylae, those Spartans who gave up their lives would feel dishonored.

A  battle is defined as combat between opposing forces committed to a military campaign, used to achieve military objectives. A victory in the battle is achieved when one of the opposing sides forces the other to abandon its mission, or to surrender its forces, or forces the other side to retreat or rendered ineffective for further combat operations.

A battle may last for a day or longer. When it lasts for more than a week, it is normally called an “Operation.”  Sometimes a battle is made up of a multitude of individual combats, skirmishes and small engagements within the context of which the combatants will usually experience only a small part of the events of the battle’s entirety.

The Battle of Manila, during the Second World War, was composed of many different engagements. The ongoing battle between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the BIFF is also composed of many combat engagements. But the event at Mamasapamo was not part of a bigger combat engagement.

Why then did certain media commentators and politicians call it the Mamasapano massacre? Media understandably does not really care about accuracy in the use of language. It prefers words that evoke anger or emotions and, therefore, increases readership and listenership. Many politicians have the same instinctive reaction of catering to mob appeal and public sentiment of the moment. Then there are those who want war and will use any means to drive a wedge between people.

The PNP SAF forces in Mamasapano were not defenceless or helpless. They fought against forces with superior firearms and numbers. But they fought almost to the last man. We dishonor them by calling it a massacre. But neither do I feel that we should just call it a misencounter or even a firefight.

I prefer to remember them as heroes who gave up their lives in the Battle of Mamasapano.

Militarizing the police

In my last column, I pointed out that there is a danger that the Philippine National Police is being perceived as a fourth branch of the Armed Forces. There is, however, a big difference between the functions of the police and the military

The primary goal of the police is to control crime and maintain public order by preventing crime. That is why patrolling and community relations are vital functions of the police. Enforcing through apprehension is a last resort only if the police is unable to prevent crime. Even in traffic, the primary responsibility of the police is to prevent accidents and traffic violations. If they do not do this job efficiently, then their last resort is to apprehend traffic violators.

The armed forces is tasked to secure the state against external and internal threats through the use of military action or lethal force. There seems to be a blurring of the divide between the police and the armed forces. Even the Board of Inquiry recommended “ cross-training between the AFP and the PNP pertaining to the management and execution of military-type tactical operations...”

I received a very enlightening letter from AIM Professor Mario Lopez in response to my column on “Police Not Armed Forces” :

“Hi Elfren: There is a deeper problem in the PNP. The PNP has an identity crisis. Many of its leaders have never gotten rid of their military mindset. That is most obvious in their uniforms which are mirror images of their military uniforms. They also have not ensured more extensive use of their civilian titles which would find traction if they make it a point to correct people’s use of military ranks. In fact, even, even the training of police office officers via the PNPA is almost a copy of the PMA system. Mayo.”

The primary task of the police is to protect the community. Unlike the soldier, the policeman is considered part of the community where he or she lives. It is time to stop militarizing the police.

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Summer Creative Writing

Classes for Kids and Teens

The Wonder of Words: Stories, Graphic Lit, Poetry and more.

May 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15 (6 sessions), 1pm-3 pm (for 7-10 years old) and 3:30 pm-5:30 pm (for 11-17 years old) at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. Facilitators are Neni Sta. Romana Cruz and Roel Cruz with guest authors Mabi David and Dean Francis Alfar.

Young Writers’ Hangout

with published authors

April 18, 25, May 23 and 30, 1pm-2:30pm (for 7-17 years old) at Canadian American School Alphaland Makati. 

For registration and fee details contact 0917-6240196 or writethingsph@gmail.com

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com


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