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Last Monday’s Manila Hostage Crisis was a possible act/effect of injustice

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Anger may be foolish and absurd, and one may be irritated when in the wrong; but a man never feels outraged unless in some respect he is at bottom right. –Victor Hugo–

In 1872, a secular priest who was about to be executed in the killing fields called Bagumbayan was literally crying out for justice against a mutiny which he did not instigate. One hundred thirty-eight years later, last Monday to be precise, in the very same place which we now call Rizal Park, another man, apparently another victim of injustice, was provoked to do the unthinkable, the inhumane, the insane. Unlike the secular priest, who took no lives with him and peacefully accepted his fate during the final minutes of his life, this man we speak of disrespected the lives of others out of sheer desperation. And in the aftermath, several Hong Kong nationals who visited our country for a vacation met a tragic end…

Mendoza (man on the steps of the bus) speaking to a negotiator. Many times he was seen at the entrance of the bus, in the line of fire, an easy target. But why, why, why wasn't he shot?

Yesterday, President Noynoy Aquino issued Proclamation No. 23 as a consequence of last Monday’s hostage-taking incident in the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, Manila. Eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong were mercilessly executed while others were injured. The hostage taker himself, a deranged cop who lost his job, was killed rather belatedly.

Now that the smoke has been cleared, reports over what had transpired are also getting much clearer, as well as its damning effects: once more, public perception and trust over our police force worsened; our tourism industry is now in jeopardy, and; our country has garnered international embarassment.

The principal cause

The criminal who instigated all this polemic bloodbath was, ironically, a former high-ranking, highly decorated commissioned cop from Náic, Cavite whose name will forever be damned in the history of Philippine international relations.

Former Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza’s resumé is indeed a handsome one. With a degree in BS Criminology from the Philippine College of Criminology, he entered the police force through the defunct Integrated National Police in 1981 as a patrolman. When he was a 31-year-old officer in 1986, during the height of the EDSA Revolution, he and his men caught a van which was carrying 13 crates of filthy lucre which an exiting Ferdinand Marcos was purportedly trying to stash out of the country. This merited Mendoza a Ten Outstanding Policemen of the Philippines award from the Jaycees International later that year.

Aside from the TOPP prize, Mendoza received more than 10 other awards and commendations from the Philippine National Police (PNP) throughout his outstanding career, including multiple citations of the Medalya ng Papuri (PNP Medal of Commendation), the PNP Badge of Honor, the Medalya ng Kasanayan (PNP Efficiency Medal), Medalya ng Kagalingan (PNP Merit Medal), and the Medalya ng Paglilingkod (PNP Service Medal), as well as a Letter of Commendation.

A decade after entering the police force, he was absorbed into the PNP with the rank of Senior Police Officer 3 with “Manila’s finest”, the Western Police District (WPD, now known as the Manila Police District). In 2002, he was promoted to Inspector. And after only three years, he was made Senior Inspector as well as chief of the Mobile Patrol Unit.

But all these admirable accomplishments –very rare nowadays among policemen– vanished into thin air when, early this year, the Office of the Ombudsman expelled him and four of his colleagues from the police force. Worse, they were stripped of their retirement benefits (Mendoza was supposed to retire next year) and were barred from holding any position in government service.

This punishment stemmed from a case filed against him by a certain Christian Kálaw (interestingly, Kálaw is also the name of the street where the Manila Police District is based), a chef of the Mandarin Hotel. According to police records, Mendoza and the other policemen who were dismissed along with him accosted the chef for illegal parking, driving without license, and use of illegal drugs two summers ago in Malate, Manila. They accused Kálaw of being a drug user and tried to extort P3,000 from him. The records also showed that, at the headquarters of the Mobile Patrol Unit of the Manila Police District where the police brought Kálaw, the former manhandled the latter by forcing him to swallow a sachet full of crystal meth (commonly known as shabú in the Philippines). Furthermore, they tried to extort an additional P20,000 from the poor chef.

Several days later, administrative charges were filed against Mendoza and his men. Two months after the incident, there were plans of assigning Mendoza to faraway Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanáo but it never happened because he served a 90-day suspension instead. In August of that year, the Manila Prosecutors Office Eighth Division also dismissed the case after Kálaw failed to appear during the preliminary proceedings of the case. Two months after that, the PNP Internal Affairs Service recommended the dismissal of the case after Kálaw again failed to attend the dismissal proceedings. Regardless of the case’s dismissal and the 90-day suspension, Mendoza and his cohorts were all terminated from the police force.

Up to his very last breath two days ago, Mendoza denied the crime he reportedly committed against the Mandarin chef.

Metaphysics of the crime

This blogpost is not intended to defend Mendoza’s vile actions. It only seeks to understand why this shameful massacre occurred, and how it can be avoided in the future.

As we have observed by perusing Mendoza’s background as a police officer, it is safe to assume that he was a good cop, a clean one. That by turning over the stash of cash which he and his men confiscated from a Marcos van two decades ago, as well as his steady climb to his industry’s higher echelon, speaks of his dedication to his job. Notwithstanding all the accomplishments he garnered during his career, the probability of getting those awards through “police politics” is now immaterial, almost improbable even. The message here is clear: he got those awards because he was a straight cop. But the fruits (i.e., his retirement benefits) of his labors were all taken away from him by this one single incident over illegal parking, manhandling, and extortion. Was he even proven guilty? He cried foul, pointing at the unjust way he was expelled from service. He claimed that there was no due process over his expulsion. He even attempted to appeal his case, but nothing was heard about it.

Could it be true?

Let us examine further: Mendoza was the principal efficient cause of last Monday’s bus carnage in Rizal Park. But what was the final cause (or motivation) behind his seemingly “senseless” act? Speaking through the mass media (which also grossly erred in this hostage drama), he said that all he wanted was to get his job back, as well as his retirement benefits.

Mendoza was an angry old man. But looking through this anger and disorder, one can sense a bit of “logic” cloaked behind it. For if he was indeed guilty of this crime committed against Kálaw, he would not have held hostage innocent tourists enjoying the candy-wrapper-and-cigarrette-butt-strewn streets of Manila the way his co-accused remained silent (besides, Mendoza claimed that it was them who did it, not him — could that be a reason why they “did not lose their senses”?). The usual impulse for those whose arms are caught inside the cookie jar is to wallow in shame and guilt and silence. Mendoza didn’t. Out of desperation, he used “collateral damage” in crying out for justice in a country which seemed to have lack of it. Ask P-Noy himself.

It is easy to blame Mendoza for what had happened, for the happy lives he took, for the international shame he brought to P-Noy’s infant presidency. But what good will it do us? Besides, he’s about to join the earthworms. What should be reviewed now is if his claim of lack of due process on his case was true? Somehow, FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES is inclined to believe that he was a victim of injustice. And in a country lacking the caressing arms of Lady Justice, what would an embattled policeman do? Or more appropriately, what did it do to his sanity?

On national TV, he shamelessly asked for his job back. Looking through Mendoza’s nearly-insane behavior, what did his desperate demand tell us? This is beyond “cacapalán ng muqhâ“. Something is amiss.

He was a victim of injustice.

Although he used twisted means, what he desired was good (getting his old job back). In philosophy, only the good can motivate an agent. Only the good can act as a final cause. But in this bloody hostage-taking, the agent (Mendoza) thought something to be good (taking hostage of the ill-fated Hong Kong nationals) which was really evil. In this case, Mendoza was the efficient cause of the evil indirectly.

Injustice for all

What then should be considered as the per accidens of Mendoza’s murdering of the tourists?

Some people blame the mass media for its lack of sensitivity. It was known that the hostage taker had access to radio and that the tourist bus also had a TV monitor. He was thus able to see and hear what was happening around him. And when he learned that his brother was apprehended by the police for earlier entering the bus without coordinating with them, Mendoza lost what little was left of his sanity. So he started firing at his frightened and defenseless victims. But blaming the media won’t do any good. It will never budge. Ever. For mass media practitioners, bad news is good news. And good news reaps good ratings and more commercial success.

The police? Partly. Besides, it is ancient news among astute observers that our police force is generally a bunch of inutile and useless eaters, sworn to protect primarily (aside from themselves) the rich and their bank accounts. Twelve hours? C’mon.

Arnaldo shared to me of a similar incident which happened in Singapore. A hostage taker was shot point blank by a police officer posing as a negotiator. Clever move. No hostage was killed. Other than that, there was a news blackout. Thus, Singapore did not face international embarassment.

Lessons to be learned: never negotiate fairly with a hostage taker; it is not necessarily a bad idea to block media coverage, especially when lives are at stake; it is high time to strenuously train the police force over hostage-taking situations…

I am going off on a tangent here. So let us go back to the main question: what is the per accidens of all this madness?

Injustice. Injustice is what instigated Mendoza’s criminal act. Indirectly, injustice is what is causing P-Noy too much headache now. Indirectly, injustice is what angered the international community towards the police force’s failure to save the hostages (perhaps not even Venus Raj’s admirable “major, major mistake” could help ease the heat that we are receiving from foreign nations, particularly Hong Kong). Injustice is the last cause of all this because its very opposite was what the efficient cause (Mendoza) tried to accomplish, therefore producing its bloody effect.

Injustice drives weak men, the helpless, the voiceless, to do the the unthinkable, the inhumane, the insane. Injustice is what drove those militant farmers to Mendiola in 1987, only to meet a tragic fate. How much more casualties, indignation, and insanity can we take due to the absence of injustice?

President P-Noy should be exhorted to combat not just corruption, but injustice.

Desecrating the Philippine flag

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The Fourth Estate got too elated over Pacman’s systematic decimation of Miguel Cotto last November 15 that it failed to notice that a law was already being violated.

Many didn’t notice this, but the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a photo last November 17 showing a man unwittingly desecrating the Philippine flag at the expense of his admiration for Manny Pacquiáo(see below):

This action grossly violated the provisions of the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines (Republic Act No. 8491):

Section 34 of the Prohibited Acts;
f. To add any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawings, advertisements or imprints of any nature on the flag;

But what if that guy holding the flag is a Filipino who’s already a US citizen — would he still be exempted from Republic Act 8491? Besides, the crime was done overseas — would it still matter?

Right now, what matters most is that our local leaders, particularly Senators Richard “The Dick” Gordon, “Candid” Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Francis “El Queso” Escudero, have proposed to “legally desecrate” the flag that has been known to us –and to our patriots who first hoisted it– as a symbol of our nationhood for more than a century already. The details of this “legal desecration” can be found in the provisions of Senate Bill 3307 which proposes to amend Republic Act 8491.

The bill seeks to add a ninth ray to our flag’s sun. With tons of national problems continuously disturbing our lives every day, why do our solons want to do such a thing?

In a statement, Gordon, who’s the most vocal on this latest move to make a graffiti out of our country’s beloved symbol, has this to say: “We are a country that has had a conflict with our Muslim brothers for the last so many decades. I think this is a big step toward reuniting our country, recognizing the contributions of our fellow countrymen, the Filipino Muslims. We should recognize their deeds in our country.”

He did not say, however, what those contributions were, if there were any at all. We’re speaking here in the context of Philippine historiography, something that the good senator is trying to imply especially when he mentioned that our country has been in conflict with Mindanáo Muslims for decades.

Well, not exactly decades, but for centuries. Or perhaps since the Fall of the Byzantine Empire. Or perhaps since their “prophet” Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh wrote these hate-filled passages in the Qur’an:

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (S IX 29)

“O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you; and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.” (S IX 123)

“O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (For friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guided not a people unjust.” (S V 54)

(The People of the Book are the Christians; jizya, on the other hand, is the tribute.)

As you can see, lasting peace between Muslims and non-Muslims is nothing but a pie in the sky.

Here in the Philippines, the government has tried everything it can to break the dividing wall between Muslim Filipinos and non-Muslims, particularly Christians. But it is the Muslims who keep on distancing themselves. And with much bravado. We long for peace, but they take pride in war. Why? Just refer to their Qur’an.

And now they have the nerve to claim Mindanáo for themselves. This should not be a surprise anymore because Filipinos today do not know much about Philippine history…

Renowned US historian John Leddy Phelan’s monumental work, The Hispanization of the Philippines (University of Wisconsin Press, Menasha, WI, 1959), recounts the story of one of the processes of how our nation was built:

In various provinces of the Philippines native chieftains and freeman were assembled during the year 1599 in order to “elect” the Castilian king as their natural lord and sovereign. These election ceremonies were organized upon the urging of a royal cedula from Spain. The Filipinos based their voluntary submission on the contractual promise that the king and his new subjects would render each other certain services.

To reiterate, the Filipino identity is the product of the Filipino State that began to exist in Spanish on 24 June 1571. The Filipino State was founded together with Manila on that same date, with the government having Spanish as its official language.

As stated in Phelan’s book, the previously existing native ethnic states went into the Filipino State as co-founding members in 1599. They incorporated themselves with the Filipino State when they elected the Spanish King (Rey Felipe II) as their natural sovereign. This election was verified during a synod-plebiscite held also that year.

From that time on, and after forming part of the 1571 Filipino State, our pre-Hispanic ancestors also accepted Spanish as their official and national language with their respective native languages as auxiliary official languages. Thus, the previously autonomous Ethnic States that existed before 1599 were respectively the ones that belonged to the Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Pampangueños, Bicolanos, Visayans, Mindanáo Lumads, etc. including the Moro Sultanates of Joló and Maguindanáo.

Yes, even Mindanáo’s Muslim leaders had a deal with the Spanish monarchy.

Thus, before we go off topic here, adding a ninth ray to the sun will not be a solution that there will be everlasting peace between Christian Filipinos and Muslim Filipinos. This is not to say that we should continue hating the Muslims. No, of course not. It’s useless. Jesus Christ didn’t teach us to hate. But the tenets of Islam teach Muslims to hate: “O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about…

Sadly, their fundamentalism can never be denied.

Now, let us discuss what the symbols of the flag stand for. The white triangle stands for equality and fraternity. The blue field is for peace, truth, and justice. The red field for patriotism, and valor, and bravery. The stars are for Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo. And the eight rays of the sun represent the first eight provinces which declared themselves in a state of rebellion against Spain: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Écija, Bataán, Laguna, and Batangas (these provinces were then placed under martial law by the Spanish government).

Adding a ninth ray to the sun tarnishes the significance of the meaning of the other eight rays. What province does the ninth ray represent? And what if other groups ask to be represented in the flag as well? Besides, the Moros fought the Spaniards in order not for them to be assimilated to the Philippine government. Is that what you call a fight for freedom? Yes, it is. But they fought only for themselves, not for the whole country.

To put it more bluntly, they fought against the Philippine government during the Spanish times, like what they’re still doing to this very day. And then our politicians want to reward them something that they never did?

In another angle, Emmanuel Libre Osorio postulated in a column of his in Business Mirror (25 June 2009) that “until the ninth ray is added to the Philippine flag, the Philippines cannot be a truly national community. It is that simple and yet its truth has eluded many.” (Business Mirror).

Simple? Unbeknownst to Mr. Osorio, the Philippines has been a national community since 24 June 1571. And that was when Manila was founded and declared as the capital city of the Philippine Islands during the reign of the first Spanish Governor-General, El Adelantado Miguel López de Legazpi.

The Filipino State, therefore, was simultaneously founded with the founding of the City of Manila. Logically speaking, why should there be a capital city, seat of a central government with its laws, without a corresponding state to govern?

We should thus celebrate June 24 each year as the birthdate of our country, and not merely as Araw ng Maynilà.

In the same article, Mr. Osorio also implied that this clamor for a ninth ray has much weight in it because it has been raised numerous times in the past by people of influence and political significance: former Cagayán de Oro City, Misamis Oriental Mayor (and now Senator) Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.; two-time Speaker of the House of Representatives José B. Laurel, Jr., and; Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, ex-chairperson of the National Historical Institute. But that is beside the point. Mr. Osorio is already using appeal to authority here. Even if, say, José Rizal were alive today and he’d also opt for a ninth ray, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their argument would be correct already. Einstein may have been a genius, but that didn’t make him infallible.

Mr. Osorio then asks: is the addition of the ninth ray a constitutional heresy?

What does the Constitution say?

Article XVI, Section 1 of the Constitution states: “The flag of the Philippines shall be red, white and blue, with a sun and three stars, as consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law.”

The Constitution is silent on the number of rays.

But that silence doesn’t mean that we should allow creativity –or should I say POLITICAL WHIMSICALITY– to meddle with what Marcela Marino de Agoncillo, together with her daughter Lorenza and Rizal’s niece Delfina Herbosa de Natividad, toiled for in Hong Kong way back in 1897. The constitution is also silent with the color of the sun and even on the shape of the flag. It can be “silent” about so many other things regarding the attributes of our flag; all one needs is an imaginative mind. I’m sure Mr. Osorio doesn’t want to encourage “creativity” such as what that boxing fan did when he hoisted the Philippine flag last Sunday with a “PACQUIAO FOR PRESIDENT” lettering, does he? But if Mr. Osorio is cool with that, then God save the Philippine flag and all other things which symbolize our national identity.

“The revolution, which is a commitment to freedom, is being recognized, symbolized by the rays. In the search for national unity, a common bond is sought and found. The common bond is the commitment to freedom. A commitment to freedom different from staging a revolution may also be symbolized by a ray or rays. It is all very simple.”

No, it is not all very simple. We are speaking of concepts here, beautiful concepts that exist only in the mind, in a distant future, a fevered dream, utopia. The “ninth ray advocates” may have a good intention: peace and harmony in Mindanáo. But no, adding a ninth ray to finally hault the neverending insurrection in the south is not a simple thing to do. Frankly speaking, it’s a waste of time, money, energy, effort, not to mention a crime against history. It is 100% guaranteed that the Muslim insurectos in Mindanáo and elsewhere will never give a monkey’s @$$ whether we add a ninth ray, or perhaps a tenth ray for Sultan Kudarat, or an eleventh for Shariff Kabunsuan, or a twelfth ray for Christmas, etc. The Muslims never asked for a ninth ray. The hungry and jobless Filipino masses do not need a ninth ray for their flag; what the masses are asking for are for food, stable jobs, and a trustworthy government. That is what the people are clamoring — THAT IS WHAT THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD GIVE. The Mindanáo Muslims (led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other self-styled Islamic patriots) on the other hand, are asking for the whole island of Mindanáo, or at least the areas covered by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanáo. That is what the government should focus, on how to make them understand that it is not possible because it’s tantamount to destroying Filipino patrimony which Spain bequeathed to us.

This futile effort of adding a ninth ray to the sun’s flag in order to achieve peace can be compared with those peace talks the government conducts with local communists under the leadership of José Mª Sison. Malacañang Palace should realize that the communists will not stop until they have set-up a dictatorship of the proletariat, something that is vague and strange under republican and big-business politicians that we have today.

Sad but true.

The government’s efforts to find a solution to end these hostilities are laudable. But please, not at the expense of our flag. It has been an unwavering symbol of our national identity.

To repeat Arnaldo Arnáiz, LEAVE THE FLAG ALONE.

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