The death of 44 policemen from the Special Action Forces is not the whole story in the Mamasapano fiasco, there are stories of people in the communities that were attacked.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – “What laws did the President and the US violate when they implemented the Mamasapano operation? How can they be made accountable? Who will replace Aquino if he is ousted?”
These were just some of the questions asked at a gathering by progressive groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan on Feb. 20 — literally an open-air, public “People’s hearing” at the Plaza Miranda, in Quiapo.
The “hearing” served as a venue to tell the people’s stories and to ask the people’s questions on who should be made accountable for the Jan. 25 bloody Mamasapano clash.
“The senate has gone into executive session, while Congress has altogether suspended its investigation,” said Mong Palatino, Bayan-National Capitol Region chair. “But here, we have an open session.”
The Mamasapano people’s stories
Makabayan bloc lawmakers Carlos Zarate and Luz Ilagan presented at the hearing the results of the People’s Fact-finding mission (PFFM) Mamasapano, which they led on Feb. 9 to 11 in Maguindanao.
“The mothers asked: ‘How about us? The SAF (Special Action Force) families received government benefits, while we still can’t even return to our farms?” Ilagan quoted the women she interviewed.
Ilagan said residents of Tukanalipao village told the PFFM that the 300 SAF men who waited along the main road in the village proper indiscriminately fired their machineguns, making fist-sized holes on the concrete walls of houses and trees.
The road was some 1.5 kilometers away from the “wooden bridge” and the cornfield where the SAF blocking force fought it out with fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); 35 out of 36 SAF men were killed.
The residents had evacuated their homes by the time the 300 SAF men had positioned themselves, with their machinegun-mounted tanks. When they returned after the fighting, some residents found their homes looted, Ilagan said.
“One woman, Saneah Solaiman, who had a sari-sari store along the road, said her store was emptied, her ducks were gone; another said her pots, cups and kettle were all gone,” said Ilagan.
Many farmers were still afraid to go to their farms. The day before the mission, on Feb. 8, a child found a live grenade, Ilagan said.
Alternative journalist Kenneth Guda of the Pinoy Media Center, who also came with the PFFM, said: “The SAF men also committed (human rights) violations.”
Guda shared the story of Samrah Sampulna whose eight-year-old daughter Sarah Pananggulon was shot dead. The Pananggulon family lives in sitio Inugog, where SAF men found and killed Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.”
The family was awakened by loud shots at dawn, said Guda. But they were fired at even before they got out of the house, Samrah was grazed on the cheek, while her husband Panggulon Mamasalaga was also shot, said Guda. Sarah was hit on her side and died inside her home.
The PFFM report named other victims who were wounded: Saad Teb, 25, of sitio Inugog, a mute student of the Mahad, an Islamic school; and Amina Kamiron, 40, who was taking a bath when she was shocked by the explosions that she fell on the floor.
Guda said children were traumatized, and probably part of that distress was anger. “They were so angry at the SAF, and at the government, because of the attack on the community,” he said. When they asked children what they want to be when they grow up, Guda recounted: “We want to be with the MILF, the BIFF, children answered.”
Guda said the PFFM also interviewed many residents who described a body of a “white (Caucasian), blonde, blue-eyed” man, who was among the slain SAF. Guda told the hearing that he sensed the residents‘ hesitation to talk about what many believed to be an American trooper who was part of the SAF operation.
Aquino and US accountability
“It makes me sad, and mad,” Zarate expressed how he felt about the incident. He said the first time he went to Mamasapano was as a journalist covering the ARMM elections.
“It was a barren place because of the conflict,” he recalled. But he saw a totally different place when he returned for the PFFM. “There were abundant cornfields, there was economic activity; but this was shattered by what happened,” he decried.
“The search for truth and accountability in Mamasapano is part of the search for peace in Mindanao, and for the whole country,” said Zarate.
Dr. Roland Simbulan, a professor at the University of the Philippines, said President Aquino knew about the risks and yet allowed the Mamasapano operations. Simbulan said Aquino and the US may be charged with violations of the Philippine Constitution, which provides for an independent foreign policy, and is pro-peace. They may also be charged with violations of the Visiting Forces Agreement which does not allow US troops to join combat operations, he said.
Who will replace Aquino?
Although the “hearing” was much smaller than the Friday-mass goers gathered inside and outside the Quiapo church, many passers-by stopped and listened.
“We are grateful to know that there are people on our side,” said a man who introduced himself as a Muslim. He said that many Muslims were affected by the calls for “all-out war”.
“The solution is for all of us to unite,” he said. The crowd applauded in response.
Then he asked a question in most people’s mind: “If Aquino resigns, who will replace him?”
Zarate said that twice in Philippine history, a People’s Power had replaced the president: in 1986, which put Corazon Aquino after the ouster of strongman Ferdinand Marcos; and in 2001, when Joseph Estrada was replaced by his Constitutional successor, then Vice President Gloria Arroyo.
“It is in the hands of the people to evolve an extra-constitutional process,” said Zarate. A national transition council is being proposed by groups calling for Aquino’s removal from office.
Bayan will be holding similar “public hearings” in the coming weeks.