FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

A year after the Mamasapano massacre, the wound clearly remains unhealed.

Yesterday, in a ceremony notable for its emotionless air, the PNP finally handed out medals to the widows and orphans of the 44 troopers killed in that clash. For months, there seemed to be a certain reluctance to decorate the fallen. It was as if someone or some group high in the establishment wanted the memory of that incident to quickly wash away.

Relatives of the dead troopers have been quite outspoken the past year. Their loss has not been assuaged by prompt government response on the matter of death benefits as well as justice. Their utterances seem to hint the story of this incident has not been fully disclosed.

None of the relatives, upon receiving the medals, appeared happy to meet their President: the one who, in a couple of instances before, tried his clumsy best to be friends with the widows to little avail. Some of the higher profile widows were notably absent from yesterday’s ceremony.

In his brief remarks after the awarding, Aquino gave the fallen the required nod. The point of the remarks, however, was to warn those he thinks are intending to exploit this tragedy for political gain.

That repeats the Palace line regarding the reopening of the Senate inquiry into the massacre. Since Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was granted his request for a public hearing, on the grounds of new evidence, the Palace response has been guarded rather than confident.

At the onset, Palace spokesmen questioned the need for reopening public hearings on Mamasapano. Lately, they began casting doubt on the independence of the senators, warning about politicizing the matter. It always seemed the Palace was ready to pull the plug on this hearing if it was politically feasible to do so.

But it is not politically feasible to do so. That would only magnify charges of a cover-up.

Sen. Grace Poe, who chaired the initial inquiry, sounded reluctant to conduct another hearing. That is understandable. Any explosive revelation in the forthcoming hearing would make her tame report seem part of the general effort at covering up high-level culpability.

It is curious that Poe’s original report on Mamasapano was never formally discussed on the floor. To date, it is remains a draft committee report without the imprimatur of the whole chamber.

Tomorrow’s public hearing, we are told, will not be part of the original Poe report. But it could overshadow or render irrelevant the original Poe report, depending on what new evidence surfaces. There are political complications here.

The shrewd political player that he is, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile released teasers on tomorrow’s hearing. He indicates the hearing will center on the President’s actions, or omissions, relating to the debacle at the cornfield.

One retired officer claims he has audio evidence supporting claims a cover-up ensued after the debacle. That makes us perk up and want to listen.

We will see tomorrow how this hearing might keep a festering wound open.


Those following the progress of elections in the US might be amazed at the frequency of debates between aspirants for the nomination of the major parties. The debates are highly publicized events and voters shift from one candidate to the other after each debate.

By contrast, notwithstanding Comelec fiat, there seems to be reluctance among those seeking the presidency to debate their rivals. There seems to be a conviction, in these parts, that debates do not contribute to the campaign effort.

I recall that in 1998, presidential candidate Joseph Estrada was so far ahead of his rivals in the surveys his campaign strategists decided participating in a debate was an avoidable risk. In the 2004 elections, candidate Fernando Poe Jr. thought participating in a debate would only work against his candidacy. In 2010, as in 1998, candidate Noynoy Aquino was so far ahead in the surveys he could afford to snub his rivals.

This year, the Comelec is more determined to see presidential debates happen. The schedules for the debates in Davao, Cebu and Manila have been finalized, with the participation of media organizations. In addition, non-government organizations have been busy scheduling debates between the candidates. The initial outcomes of such independent debates have not been encouraging.

Wednesday last week, for instance, De la Salle University students scheduled what would have been the first face-off among the presidential aspirants. All the major aspirants were invited to the debate, titled “The Leader I Want.”

Although thousands packed the Yuchengco Auditorium the afternoon of January 20, only one presidential aspirant materialized. The others either cancelled their appearances at the last moment or did not even bother to respond to the invite.

Only Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, accompanied by his running mate Alan Cayetano, honored the event. They did not disappoint, however.

The gruff, tough-talking presidential aspirant kept the crowd entertained – mainly at the expense of his rivals. On taking the rostrum, he took notice of everyone else’s absence by feigning dismay. He was all ready for a slapping session, he said.

Duterte’s dry wit is irrepressible. The humorless or the intellectually challenged often miss the humor and take the mayor to task for his wisecracks.

Once, confronted with the baseless accusation that he had killed 700 persons, Duterte asserted the real figure to be 1,700. A less than gifted rival, sadly, missed the joke and demanded the mayor document his claim.

Some are simply wittier than others. This is a reason, I suspect, that the scheduled debates might have no takers. The candidates, speaking in different wavelengths, might fail to communicate.


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