Monday, October 22, 2007

Why there’s no tidal support as in 9/11

Neither National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales nor Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon or anyone in their employ need to have planted Royal Demolition eXplosive (RDX) or Composition C-4 at the Glorietta 2 shopping mall last Friday for them to assume responsibility for the incident that has so far claimed at least 11 lives and wounded over 120 innocent civilians.

In more civilized and decent jurisdictions, the thing to do, even before the culprits are identified and hunted down, is for those in command to apologize to the nation that the incident, regardless of were behind it, had occurred, and for them to formally step down. It helps to assuage the sorrow and anger of the nation.

The incident need not even have cost lives. If memory serves, one defense minister resigned after the wingtip of a military plane brushed against a civilian aircraft on the ground, causing no injury to anyone or damage to either plane. The minister was nowhere near the scene, but he felt it should never have happened, and he felt personally responsible. He held the honor of his office higher than his personal claim to it, and the honor of the nation higher than his own.

Both Gonzales and Esperon have been tagged as the alleged brains behind the bombing. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV has offered no proof of his accusation, and Esperon has vowed to investigate the former navy lieutenant senior grade who is under military custody for his alleged role in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny. Esperon gave a clear indication of where he wants to go when he said that all the C-4 in the inventory of the Armed Forces had been properly accounted for, except for what had been recorded as “stolen” prior to the Oakwood affair.

Given the gravity of his charge, Trillanes has the duty to substantiate it, even though many people seem ready to believe, even without proof, the worst things said against the administration. But this should not happen in a close-door investigation conducted by his jailers. One way to do this is for the Senate to create an ad hoc committee for this specific purpose. This is not without precedent. In 1960 the House of Representatives named a 15-man committee to investigate charges of bribery made by then Congressman Sergio Osmena, Jr. against President Carlos P. Garcia. When Osmena failed to validate his charges, the House suspended him for 15 months.

At the same time, an independent investigation of the bombing, an idea supported by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., should now be carried out, with the help of well-known outside institutions like the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Britain’s Scotland Yard. This should insulate the search for truth from those who may want to dictate or influence the conduct of the investigation or its results. The ideal setting would be a new government with completely new officials to support such an investigation.

All sorts of cockamamie theories have been advanced to explain the blast. After Gonzales and Esperon had called it a terrorist act, sources at the Philippine National Police Bomb Data Center and crime laboratory reported traces of RDX and C-4 from the scene of the blast. RDX is an explosive that works by itself or in combination with other ingredients in explosives, while C-4 is a composition that uses RDX as its base.

But where real terrorists usually claim credit for their deed at the first breaking news, it took the so-called Rajah Solaiman Group (RSG) more than 24 hours to send a text message lamely owning the crime, and demanding even more lamely the release of some imprisoned brethren, if the government did not want to see more bodies.

In the worst written film script, the terrorists would demand the release of their imprisoned brethren, as a necessary condition for them not to poison the water system, release the rockets, or blast the football stadium in the middle of a championship game. Not only is the RSG script unique, RSG itself is more mythical than real; it does not appear in any credible website monitoring terrorism. Obviously, whoever wrote the script was not much concerned with sounding credible.

After the RSG yarn failed to wash, the police dismissed earlier findings of RDX and C4, and advanced the theory that the explosion could have been triggered by fumes leaking from a diesel fuel container or methane gas from a septic tank and igniting inside the concrete basement. This is quite a jump.

If this theory is sustained, Ayala Land, Inc, which owns the mall, could end up answering charges upon charges of criminal neglect, and having to pay millions, if not billions, in indemnity claims. It could rearrange the listing of billionaires in the next issue of Forbes magazine.

No sixth sense is needed to see that the Glorietta bombing has indeed displaced the Malacanang bribery scandal from the news headlines. This need not mystify anyone; this is how the media have long behaved, here and elsewhere. But it would be wrong to believe that the bombing has taken the heat off Mrs. Arroyo for her role in the latest Malacanang bribery scandal, and that the people are ready to see her conduct the business of the presidency as usual.

A close Arroyo confidante has been heard to wonder why while all of America and most of mankind rallied behind George W. Bush after 9/11, so much distrust and outright accusation greeted Mrs. Arroyo after the Glorietta explosion. I take that as a perfectly innocent remark, not an expression of disappointment of someone who might have thought that if the Glorietta was bombed, it would unleash a tsunami of sympathy and support for Mrs. Arroyo’s continued rule.

Perhaps the explanation is really simple. Our people had already decided they have had enough of Mrs. Arroyo, and that the Glorietta bombing has merely postponed the inevitable.

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