Thursday, February 19, 2015

Playing with fire

By Jojo Robles
The proverbial fix is most probably in. But by removing the Mamasapano massacre investigations in Congress from the public eye, the Aquino administration could be playing with a fire that it may not be able to control, once it starts.
That was quite a feat pulled off by Congress, both Houses of it, when it excluded the entire public – not just the nosy media, mind you – from the probes being conducted in aid of legislation or whatever else they needed to do their probing for. In quick succession, the Senate went into executive session for the continuation of its investigation, while the House simply shut down its own probe, just like that.
The Malacañang-oriented leaders of both Houses had long wanted to do the deed. Early on, Senate President Franklin Drilon demanded that everyone “shut up” already about the incident, while a more diplomatic – but no less effective – Speaker Feliciano Belmonte pleaded with his colleagues that they should do the same.
Malacañang had long taken the position that people should wait for the results of other ongoing investigations started by the Executive, beginning with the probe launched by the national police’s internal Board of Inquiry and quite possibly until the Johnny-come-lately Department of Justice wraps up its own bid to discover what really happened – when Secretary Leila de Lima finally nails the people who uploaded the massacre video. Meanwhile, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is widely believed to have participated actively in the massacre of 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force in a cornfield in Barangay Tukanalipao, is the originator of the call for a closed-door Senate investigation, insisting that it would not participate if the hearings were kept public.
So it has become perfectly plain to all that Congress is actually following the dictates of both the presidential palace and the MILF by conducting their probes away from the public eye or by shutting them down altogether. And this is the same Congress whose members once bragged that nothing would stop them from getting at the truth in the full view of everyone.
All it took was for the leaders of both Houses, acting on the behest of an Executive that was being hammered no end by the endless disclosures being made in the probes, for them to shut up. Or at least to keep talking in hushed whispers behind closed doors.
And yes, I’m aware that Malacañang has declared that it has nothing to do with the actions of Congress to basically betray their constituents. But as the old Latins used to ask, “Cui bono?”
Who stands to benefit from shutting up Congress, if not President Noynoy Aquino and his men? And what benefits, in turn, did our notoriously malleable lawmakers receive for acting against the national interest by abruptly ending their public investigations?
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I wonder if Malacañang thinks it has really done itself a favor by strong-arming both Houses into silence. And I seriously doubt if the people’s anger at Aquino’s complicity in the Mamasapano massacre will abate simply because they’ve been denied access to information about what really happened to the Fallen 44.
A recent survey conducted by pollster Junie Laylo for another newspaper highlights how difficult the job of keeping people uninformed about the massacre. Laylo’s Metro Manila survey found, among other interesting things, that people are starved for information about the clash – and were discussing the events that happened in that Maguindanao cornfield with everyone who would listen, including family members, colleagues at work and online.
(The survey also found that half of the respondents, who were not prompted with names, adjudged Aquino as having directly caused the bloody incident. And if that’s not motivation enough for the palace to shut down the Congress probes, then Senator Antonio Trillanes doesn’t really believe that people who don’t like Aquino are sociopaths.)
In the end, Malacañang may have only proven that it still can command its supposed co-equal branch to roll over and play dead, if that’s what it wants Congress to do. But if the palace believes that it can squelch dissent and dissatisfaction against it simply by ordering the majorities under its control in both Houses to quit investigating, then it really has misjudged the public sentiment.
When Aquino refused to be present when the caskets of the slain SAF members arrived at Villamor Air Base, opting instead to visit the opening of a car assembly plant, he committed a blunder that still haunts him to this day. Now he may have once again failed to appreciate the repercussions of ordering his sycophants in Congress to stop investigating the events that led to the killings in Mamasapano – and he may not get off as lightly as he did when he chose to skip the arrival ceremonies at Villamor.
I’m beginning to think that Aquino truly intends to be swept out of his post before his term ends 500 or so days from now. The man insists on playing with fire – I say let him get burned, if that’s what he really wants.

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