Lessons from Mamasapano and Flor Contemplacion

By Buddy Gomez

Posted at Mar 19 2015 01:02 AM | Updated as of Mar 19 2015 09:02 AM

“The whole truth and nothing but the truth” may never be known.

About Mamasapano, the truth that we already know unequivocally, however, is what PNoy has said on TV on February 6: “I am the President…..I take responsibility not only for the victories but for the defeats and sufferings we endeavor for lasting peace and security.” “The entire operation was my responsibility.” He was speaking from the level of policy, having approved the action plan. This explains the Senate Committee Report conclusion that the President “is ultimately responsible.”

We also know that during his appearance before the Senate, resigned PNP Director General Alan Purisima stated “I was accountable, so I resigned,”...“the responsibility, the accountability…rests with me.” Soon after the incident, sacked SAF Director Getulio Napenas is on record as having “taken full responsibility for the operation.” Obviously, both were speaking from the operations level of policy execution.

Another truth--an expected consequence. We now have confirmation that the President’s approval rating has indeed taken a dive. A bad one.

Mamasapano has spawned eight separate investigations. These investigations will inevitably have brought about, as it will continue to bring about when other reports are submitted, a surfeit of accents, innuendos, opinions, perspectives, speculations and conclusions. The outcome will be a veritable mess qualifying the whole caboodle as a 21st century version of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. (Nope, neither Jesus Christ nor the Bible had anything to do with it! It is of East Indian/Buddhist/Hindu/Islam provenance.)

The parable and its multiple versions provide an illustration that displays a range of truths and fallacies implying that one’s subjective experience can indeed be true according to his own perception and therein, therefore, rests its limitations. A subjective experience can be true but may not be the totality of truth. Each report cannot be divorced from the subjectivity of its reporters/researchers/authors. Therefore, each will have built-in limitations.


The first result of such investigations is the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry (PNP-BOI) report. While it is indeed courageous, credible and comes across with an air of authority, the snide and somewhat stealthy attempt to involve the President as a direct participant (and therefore, with direct responsibility) in the operations is a bone I would like to pick.

It appears to me that such reference is tinged with a degree of political accommodation towards the existence of adverse public opinion that continues to be whipped up against the President. Furthermore, I am unable to wean myself from the thought that the PNP report is likewise imbued with a conscious avoidance of being accused of absolving the President, a whitewash as it were, as the usual malicious quarters have been boisterously bellowing even before any investigation had commenced . It is not my wish to fault its authors. It is their right to anticipate the need to protect the credibility of their magnum opus. Be that as it may, the PNP/BOI report cannot be the basis, much less a justification, for anyone being called a liar.

The PNP/BOI report has a hidden flaw. It is not written into the report itself but the fact that it was prepared by individuals with an exclusively military education, orientation and upbringing and not by anyone with a civilian police academy background. Let me call that a “DMST constipation” (in old ROTC days, we had the Department of Military Science and Tactics. Its ultimate epitome being a military academy like Baguio’s Philippine Military Academy).

The report leans on, and cites as “authority,” the Manual for PNP Fundamental Doctrine which was written by military minds, all from the PMA. And yet the manual has created a dogma that may be unfit for civilian police application. Of course, it is a critical nuance that a largely ignorant electorate is not expected to appreciate, for now. Civic maturation by way of education is infinitely called for. For the Philippines, a task that is herculean.

Military science is not police work! There is a difference between military training/doctrine and civilian police/doctrine. The former mainly breeds the “warrior spirit” and trains for aggressive offensive tactics. The police, on the other hand, is devoted to community law enforcement, preservation of civic order and the protection of property.

Here lies a challenge that behooves Congress’ collective intellectual capacities to address, to correct and to remedy. When will our police leadership regime cease to be dominated by graduates of the PMA?


It would be a challenging academic undertaking to put all these investigative reports together and bring about a credible omnibus synthesis. Unfortunately, the fruition of such endeavor will consume much time and will be very long in coming. The issue will have faded into inutility for purposes of the Aquino administration’s deniers, haters, naysayers and ill-wishers. And of course, Mamasapano going into the backburner and ultimately disappearing from the front pages will send these maladjusted souls into apoplexy.

In the meantime, let us not miss the reality that tragically painful as it has been, Mamasapano is not the end all and be all of the country’s future, well-being and progress. In this wise, truth clamored to be revealed is not an express train. It will be ambling in, instead. But the country has to move on and not be derailed by lingering and stalling at the Mamasapano station unnecessarily overly long.

Every crisis contains an object lesson, otherwise the experience will be for naught. It is devoutly wished that the memory of Mamasapano does not miss the opportunity for its rightful claim to be a teachable moment, most especially to the extent that the level of national edification and civic maturity for the greatest possible number of the citizenry is lifted a few notches up. Ought we, therefore, by simple default, allow such teachable moment to be waylaid? The unrelenting attempts at whipping up hate and hysteria against the President and his administration via opinions reported as news abetted by rumor mongering partake of an impediment towards a better informed society.


During a press briefing on March 2, amidst reporters’ queries on revelations that the President’s specific instructions for Purisima and Napenas to coordinate were disobeyed and that wrong information was reported to the President by those tasked to implement the mission, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda patiently clarified and explained that “the President deals with the policy level.”

An understanding of this precept is critical in assessing levels of responsibility. The inability to distinguish “policy” from “operations” contributes to the hazy appreciation of the event in question. It can be frustrating for a communicator if preconceived conclusions in the mind of a reporter predominates a more lucid exposition of a story being reported. Such is often the case most especially when what otherwise could be straightforward news is alloyed with opinion and presumptions.

Something Shakespearean may just be relevant under the present clime. ”The fault...lies not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” “Underlings to what?” you might ask. Underlings to the barrage of slur, name calling, vilification and opinionated news that misinforms instead of educate and miseducates instead of promote civic maturity.
The President refuses to be an “underling” and he has been called stubborn. I say “Good, that means he is determined and resolute.” They say he is weak, I say he is strong; strong enough to stand firm for what he sincerely believes in to be right. Of course, he has faults. He is human. Errors do occur but these are never of intent but always of honest judgment. PNoy must not allow himself to be bullied by a continuing concert of contrived mass agitation. He is the only son of Cory and Ninoy!


In the mid-1990s, we had a similar outbreak. Many would still remember the Flor Contemplacion story and all the raucous furor the event caused. A domestic worker in Singapore who was convicted and hanged for the murder of a fellow Filipina domestic worker, a capital crime to which she confessed.

There is no doubt that Philippine Consular Officials in Singapore were remiss even with the least of attention and assistance that could have been rendered to the self-confessed Filipina murderess. Even if it was truly an open and shut case, the Consular sin of omission was sheer absence of compassion. Therein lay the potent seed.

Contrived hysteria followed back home. It was successfully inflated and manipulated by astute opposition politicians out to pin the blame on government and ultimately on then President Fidel Ramos. This political malevolence, ballooned to stratospheric heights of a national cause celebre, mightily abetted by a prominently complicit media, caused the government to succumb and to wilt.

A rejected official request by the Philippines for a stay of execution caused a diplomatic rift with Singapore. The secretaries of Foreign Affairs and Labor were forced to resign. Thus was arrested the attempt to further debase the President.

Was that a reasonable reaction to an overblown public opinion artifice? Of course it was, if you were an expert on psychological warfare and voted into office by a winning popularity that did not break a quarter of the voting population.

The strong is able to know and tell when a threatening monstrosity masquerades as voice of the people. The weak bow to media-generated attempts at mob tyranny.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.