Sunday, October 21, 2007

Glorietta bombing gives Gloria no special grace

At least nine people died and 129 were wounded from the explosion that tore through the Glorietta II shopping mall in Makati on Friday afternoon. It was the first bloody incident since the renewed call for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s resignation began to gather steam, in the wake of the bribe-giving frenzy that had sought to protect her from the fallout of the $329-million ZTE National Broadband Network bribery scandal.

The victims were all innocent shopkeepers, sales clerks, shoppers, window-shoppers and plain passers-by, typical random victims of terrorism. National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales was quick to call it that ---an “act of terrorism,” but failed to identify the suspected terrorists. And no terrorist group has since owned the crime.

Senator Antonio Trillanes, the former naval lieutenant senior grade who remains under detention for his supposed role in the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, was as quick to denounce the bombing as the handiwork of Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, and Gonzales himself, who both denied the allegation.

“Terrorist” attacks are, by definition, staged by terrorists. They normally leave their fingerprints, and announce their purpose or motive. Some incidents, however, may be manufactured and made to look like the work of terrorists, to justify an extreme response that begins with the arbitrary suppression of human rights and civil liberties. Nobody usually claims credit for these.

Criminal regimes, confronted with rising opposition and dwindling public support, are likely to resort to this tactic. The Arroyo regime will resent being so classified, but that is how many observers regard it, after having been associated with so many incidents, the latest being the bribery scandal in the highly overpriced NBN deal and the second bribery scandal in the initiation of the nuisance complaint for impeachment against Mrs. Arroyo in the House of Representatives.

The new anti-Arroyo wave began after former NEDA director-general Romulo Neri told a Senate inquiry that Benjamin Abalos, then chairman of the Commission on Elections, had offered him a P200-million bribe to approve the NBN project; that he had reported it to Mrs. Arroyo; but that she did nothing about it.

Thereafter lawyer Roberto Rafael Pulido reportedly took a fee to file a preemptive non-complaint to immunize Mrs. Arroyo from being impeached for a period of one year, under the highly questionable Supreme Court ruling on impeachment. At least 190 congressmen were later said to have received P200,000 to P500,000 each to support the transmittal of the nuisance complaint to the Committee on Justice, which is now expected to kill it.

Unfortunately, the largesse spread to the governors who had come to Malacanang that same day, and Murphy’s law intervened. (“If anything can go wrong, it will.”) The visibly incredulous priest-governor of Pampanga, a first timer in politics, picked up the P500,000 he had received inside a brown bag in awe, and showed it on television. This was a first in the history of the Palace. It instantly exposed what the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines called the “moral bankruptcy” of the regime, and quickly revived calls for Arroyo’s resignation. The same calls had dominated the headlines after the famous “Hello, Garci” tape revealed the cheating in the 2004 presidential elections and subsided only before the campaign for the 2007 elections.

It was at this point then, when Mrs. Arroyo seemed to be ripe for the coup de grace, that the Glorietta II explosion came. It quickly threatened to divert public attention from the smoldering bribery scandal that had brought the regime so close to the edge. Panicked by scandal, Mrs. Arroyo suddenly found the opportunity to appear on tv, looking glum and angry, and condoling with the victims and their families.

She then warned “destabilizers” not to exploit the tragedy for their own ends. She sounded dead serious, but her words did not quite blunt the accusation already making the rounds that it was a “bomb me” operation, as probably indicated by the traces of C4 at the point of impact. C4 is found in the military inventory alone.

Mrs. Arroyo was right to ask the nation to unite in trying to discover and punish the perpetrators. One way to do this is to bring in independent, reputable foreign experts, who will tell us the truth, rather that somebody’s propaganda line. But it would be totally wishful if she also expected the people to unite in supporting continued immorality in government.

Not even tragedy wipes out our sins. Mrs. Arroyo cannot possibly believe, or even suggest, that the Glorietta incident had earned her a reprieve from the rising call for her resignation and that of her entire government. For if the incident was, indeed, the work of terrorists, then the first conclusion that could be drawn from it is the appalling incompetence of her government.

There was a marked failure of intelligence. The C4 obviously went past the K-9 special agent and his dog deployed at every mall entrance to smell gunpowder, C4, dangerous drugs and other substances. Are we now to grant the point of the security critics when they say that because of inept and incompetent security policies and practices these dogs are not even able to smell these dangerous substances anymore?

How then can we depend upon the regime to ensure the physical security and safety of our people? Should the regime be given special grace for its demonstrated ineptitude and incompetence? Indeed, the bombing should unite us not only in grief but also in condemning the savagery of the unknown perpetrators. But what happens if it is ultimately shown that the “act of terrorism”, which we all condemn, was, in fact, as Trillanes and others suggest, an illegal military or police operation?

We should mourn the dead, show our compassion for the wounded, and do everything to make sure that the Glorietta incident does not ever happen again. But we should allow no one and no incident to deter us from insisting on having a government grounded on the truth, justice, and good rather than on falsehood, injustice and evil, and that will never exploit any human tragedy to prolong an immoral rule.

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