President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s statements on the hostage crisis display his government’s militarist and violent frame of mind. It appears that the Aquino government merely went through the motions of negotiating with the hostage taker while waiting for the opportunity to use an overkill of violence. The government’s handling of the hostage crisis therefore recalls the massacre in Hacienda Luisita on Nov. 16, 2004.
After saying that he takes “full responsibility” for the bloody conclusion of the August 23 hostage crisis, and after conceding that he should have taken “a more active role” on the matter, he now reveals what he thinks should have been done: deploying the elite Special Action Force (SAF) for the assault on the hostage taker.
The president seems happy with the way the negotiations with the hostage taker were carried out. It is clear that for him, the issue is not exhausting negotiations versus launching an assault on the hostage taker. The issue for him is an efficient assault versus a sloppy one, the SAF versus Manila’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit. For him, the lower-level officials handling the crisis were doing fine until they deployed the SWAT for an assault on the hostage taker.
This is still within the militarist and violent frame of mind which the government displayed in its actual handling of the crisis.
We believe, on the contrary, that options for the peaceful resolution of the crisis were not exhausted by the government. There were no systematic moves to calm down the hostage taker; what we saw were moves that further angered and agitated him.
For one, the government failed to deploy a more experienced negotiator who can make commitments that are at the same level as his demands. The hostage taker’s demands were directed at the national government, at the Ombudsman and the leadership of the Philippine National Police, yet the government decided to make Manila’s vice-mayor Isko Moreno the negotiator.
More importantly, the government failed to do everything it can to show the hostage taker that it is meeting his demands. While the hostage crisis endangered many lives, the hostage taker’s demands did not put any person’s life on the line. The government should have, after taking up so much time, came up with a more powerful statement than a promise from the Ombudsman that the hostage taker’s case will be reviewed. The main objective at that time is to pacify the hostage taker; it would be easy to put him in jail after he has released the hostages.
While the hostage crisis brought to the fore President Aquino’s love for guns and his appointment of fellow gun enthusiast Rico E. Puno to a sensitive post at the Department of Interior and Local Government, it also recalls an even more damning proof of his militarist and violent frame of mind: the Hacienda Luisita massacre of November 16, 2004. The massacre was carried out by the military under the command of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connivance with the Cojuangco and Aquino landowning families who were then allied with the regime.
In a recorded exchange in the House of Representatives immediately after the massacre, then-Congressman Noynoy Aquino said that while he condemns the killing of striking farm workers and farmers in Hacienda Luisita, the military met “friendly fire” when they were leaving the massacre scene. He has thereby set the government and the Cojuangco-Aquino’s line on the massacre: that it was carried out by an armed group, not the military. By insisting, against all evidence, that another armed group was involved in the massacre, he is condoning the violence done by the military, to say the least.