Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Nakuryente si President Digong at lahat tayo: the chief of police of Malabang who was later transferred to Marawi is alive and well, not decapitated, as enterprising Washington Post found out. Its query: was it a simple mix-up in war or 'a careful bit of messaging?'

Familiar scene in every war: civilians evacuating to safety.
Sign that bloomed in rallies in Metro Manila

One of the most dreadful news items that came out a few days ago---as the President cut short his official trip to Russia to rush to Manila as soon as the Marawi crisis went into full swing---was that the chief of police of that beleaguered city was beheaded by the IS-influenced Maute gang. News about this development circulated around the world, and I was among perhaps millions horrified by this news. This supposed development was within hours of the torching of the Mary Help of Christians Cathedral in Marawi and the abduction of Fr. Luisito "Chito" Subangob and several parishioners, including a professor of humanities at the Mindanao State University in the city. 

Other news soon crowded one another for prominence, such as the burning of Dansalan College run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the assault on the hospital there by the same Maute elements.

News about the decapitation of the Marawi chief of police came ahead of the abduction of Fr. Chito and the parishioners and other news, and to us civilians, nothing quite produced the same impact as this horrible tragedy of the police chief. I must confess that I had found it strange that there had been no name to the police chief in all the news over two days, but I surmised that perhaps it was to protect his family. But the horrified feeling stayed with us all. 

This Friday morning, however, the Washington Post story written by Emily Rauhala reached our part of the world, which bannered thus: "In declaring Martial Law, Duterte cited the beheading of a police chief---who is still alive." IT TURNS OUT THAT THE NEWS ABOUT THE DECAPITATION OF THE POLICE CHIEF WAS NOT ACCURATE, AND THAT THE PRESIDENT HIMSELF, LIKE MOST OF US, WAS nakuryente.


News of the decapitation of the police chief of Marawi hogged headlines around the world, and why not? President Duterte himself announced at a news conference that the said official was stopped in Malabang at a checkpoint on his way home from work, and as the Washington Post put it,  he was slaughtered by terrorists on the spot. "They decapitated him then and there," the Post quoted Mr. Duterte as asserting.

This news of the brutal slaying of the police chief helped us civilians---and libertarians everywhere who dread martial law like the plague---to soften up and grudgingly accept---in view of all the dreadful happenings in Marawi---its imposition by the President throughout the island of Mindanao. In fact if news of the beheading were true, it would also influence greatly those who dread Mr. Duterte's thinly-veiled threat to foist martial law throughout the country to combat lawlessness, into grudging acquiescence. Things have gotten that bad.


But now, with the Post report about the lack of truth in the decapitation story, queries are being raised, to quote the Post, on whether the police chief's story was "a mix-up or a careful bit of messaging?" As it dryly observed: "The police chief story served as a rhetorical link between unrest in the southern city of Marawi and the global threat of radical Islamist terrorism---spurring a social media frenzy."

De La Salle University assistant professor on international affairs and political science Richard Javad Heydarian weighed in too: "One of the most troubling aspects of the aftermath of the Marawi siege is the rapid proliferation of fake reviews and deliberate disinformation." Continued Prof. Heydarian: "It is a classic case of a crisis being blown out of proportion by self-interested parties with ulterior agenda." 


But what is the truth about the police chief story? Apparently it was the police chief of nearby Malabang town, Senior Supt. Freddie Manuel Solar, who was slain---not by decapitation but by bullet---together with his deputy chief TWO MONTHS AGO by Muslim dissidents. Senior Supt. Romeo Enriquez is the Chief of Police of Marawi City, but either Mr. Duterte was tired from his long trip to Russia and got confused about the two personalities, or he played along with his advisers' spin story of the decapitation of the Marawi Chief---in order to turn the tide of sympathy for the government. I surmise that the story was concocted by his spinmeisters to win public and international acceptance of the declared martial law in Mindanao.  

But that's not the first time that accuracy in telling the truth has been deliberately challenged or sacrificed. Truth is nearly always a casualty in any war to serve the purposes of its protagonists. In this case of the inaccurate decapitation story of the Marawi police chief, probably in the reckoning of the Palace and AFP strategists it would serve to make the declaration of ML in all of Mindanao EASIER FOR THE FILIPINO CITIZENS TO ACCEPT. And indeed it did soften resistance to ML.   

The cooperative tenor of the Mindanao Bishops's support for ML, issued earlier today, seems to be a case in point: As Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, the most ranking bishop on the island of Mindanao, put it, speaking for all the Catholic bishops, and I quote in part: :"Martial law is a means of last resort. Are moral principles fulfilled? Were other means to resolve the deep and wide serious problems of Mindanao impractical and ineffective? Will the positive effects of martial law outweigh the negative effects? Will there be probability of success? Will it bring about a culture of accountability and end a culture of impunity? Will martial law increase human rights violations? Will martial law be abused for evil purposes?"  Good questions. 

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