The quest for truth in the Panganiban “encounter”
posted 1-Oct-2019  ·  
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The Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police just handed the New People’s Army a propaganda gift.

For two years now, the handful of communist guerillas have been relatively inactive, except for the occasional sightings, harassment of Army camps, and burning of equipment of contractors who do not pay revolutionary tax.

Indeed, the last violent attack the island has seen was on August 10, 2017 when a band of NPAs reportedly sent from the mainland ambushed a police convoy carrying drug surrenderees along the national highway in Viga. Killed were two police officers, whose families just received livelihood kits from the government two weeks ago.

Last Sunday’s incident, in which two innocent residents of barangay San Miguel in Panganiban town were gunned down in an alleged encounter with government troops, has shattered the relative peace of the island as far as the insurgency problem is concerned.

In fact, as early as 2014, the Army itself declared Catanduanes as “Conflict-Manageable and Ready for Further Development” and scaled down its presence on the island, withdrawing two companies and leaving behind armed militia manned by Army officers.

It is far too speculative to describe the Sept. 22, 2019 “encounter” as an operation intended to even up the score for the government troops vis-à-vis the 2017 ambush.

It is probable that the soldiers and policemen involved in the combat operation mistook the five men as communist guerillas and, with itchy fingers, fired as the two victims tried to flee in the dark. Why a gun was recovered from the site, when all the five residents of barangay San Miguel had were flashlights, an electro-fishing rod and a sack of eels and fish, is a matter for the troopers to answer.

As Provincial Board Member Robert Fernandez, the three-term mayor of Panganiban, remarked in his privilege speech, it is difficult for him to understand the incident and the fact that whenever and wherever criminality and terrorism threatens peace, army troopers and the police force are always there standing by to help.

He scored the failure of the Army and the police to coordinate the operation with local officials and the aftermath of the incident when the Panganiban police itself notably failed to record the statements of the three survivors in the police blotter.

With the damage wrought by the unnecessary deaths of the two civilians on the trust government troops enjoyed among the population, PBM Fernandez believes only an inquiry on the alleged encounter could help bring justice to the bereaved families and restore confidence among the stakeholders in the campaign to attain just and lasting peace.

Until presstime, both the Army unit here and the Catanduanes police under the leadership of Alpha company commander Lt. Pol Mirafuentes and provincial director Col. Paul Abay, respectively, have yet to issue their statements on the controversy.

The provincial board headed by Acting Vice Governor Lorenzo Templonuevo Jr. has set an executive session last Monday to hear the testimony of the three survivors of the incident and possibly the side of the government troops.

Unfortunately, an executive session does not allow outsiders, keeps separate minutes, and all matters taken up are regarded as confidential. It would have been better if the legislators decided to open the hearing to all so that the issue would be bathed in the cleansing effect of public opinion.

It makes you wonder if whatever statements the survivors, who have nothing to hide, and the state agents, who will naturally want to keep operational details secret, deliver in the session would bring the entire peace process crashing down.

Far from it, the campaign to achieve peace needs to foster truth so that the people may be able to understand the causes behind the conflict.

In this case, the men and women we have elected to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan would have to be better than smart.

If they believe only half of what they would hear, they should be brilliant enough to know which half is the truth.

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