Considering the mood then, I didn’t expect that many people would be satisfied with anything less than a “Date Which Will Live In Infamy” type of speech—if not in content exactly, then in delivery at least.
But true to form, the President spoke the way he always does and the content, well, I found it to be a comprehensibly structured and fairly nuanced address that hit all the major points without dawdling or descending into sentimentality. And that may have been part of the problem.
In times of national distress—and this one qualifies—people naturally want to hear certain things, said in certain ways: Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor, for instance, or more recently, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, speaking in the aftermath of the Peshawar killings. With both his allies and his rivals at his side, Nawaz Sharif declared that he would carry on fighting the Taliban until the last terrorist was killed.
So when the President stuck to the facts he had and spoke with an even tone, at a measured clip, it was perhaps inevitable that many felt let down. The disappointment was so strong, in fact, that there was no shortage of people complaining that he didn’t commiserate enough or that he had all but exonerated the “most favored suspect,” so to speak.
Looking at the transcript, however, reveals a very different picture. The President expressed his condolences this way: “I am greatly saddened that our policemen had to lay down their lives for this mission. Without question, these people are heroes; they who willingly put themselves in danger to address threats to our security; they who were wounded; they who gave their lives in the name of peace.”
Later on, he continues, still without obvious breast-beating: “To the families of the SAF members who perished: I fully sympathize with your grief. I know that this grief may be accompanied by worries about your future, especially if your loved ones who sacrificed their lives were also your breadwinners. I guarantee: The state will give the maximum assistance it can, within the limits of the laws and rules. On this occasion, I also take the opportunity to appeal to the public: If possible let us extend our utmost support to the bereaved, and maximize the help we can give to the families of those who fell, in recognition of the valour of these heroes who gave their lives for the realization of the peace we have long desired.”
And nowhere in the entire speech did I find anything that could even be remotely construed as declaring the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) free of any blame. In fact, he said: “I am hopeful that the MILF will show, in the soonest possible time, even more concrete evidence of their solidarity in the pursuit of peace, towards the pursuit of truth, and the accountability of those responsible.”
Read between the lines and this says: prove your innocence, prove your commitment to peace, and make sure you bring the guilty to justice.
I, for one, appreciate that the President’s address was so calm. Bluster might be more emotionally—even psychologically—satisfying, but consider what’s at stake here.
Harsh words will not bring justice to the slain any swifter, but they could have easily torn down the very foundations of the peace this government has laboured long and hard to build. Not the kind of peace you find in the silence of decimated villages or huts reduced to twigs by mortar shells; but that species of peace that is born out of mutual respect and brotherhood.
No. The killers of those soldiers did not show any regard for that kind of peace. They certainly did not show respect, much less brotherhood. But is it right to assume that as well for every single person who wears the same badge on their uniforms? If a Filipino kills a foreigner, would that foreigner’s relatives be justified in condemning all Filipinos?
The retribution—and retribution there must be—needs to be directed at those who are found to be guilty, after due process. If it were any other way, then we would have no moral ascendancy over those we seek to punish because then, we would be indistinguishable from them. More importantly, the retribution must not be at the expense of the greater peace. We have already lost too many and any further conflict would only serve to drive those numbers up.
You may not have been satisfied with the President’s speech, but it seems to me that the man simply wanted to pull us all back from the brink to which we have been pushed by the barbarity of a few.