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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.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A horrible month---mensis horribilis

The hitherto unnamed gunman climbs the stairs to the Resorts World
 And he's waiting, waiting, waiting.


It has been a trying month of terrible events for us Filipinos---MENSIS HORRIBILIS.  My prayer is that there won’t be any more similar crises in a while, so that we Filipinos can have some peace and get on with our lives and rebuilding our nation.

Capping the series of terrible disasters in this mensis horribilis was the attack on the posh Resorts World (RW) in the wee hours of last Friday, June 02, that killed 37 people and injured some 54 others inside the casino as fire gutted parts of the resort. The version of RW is that the attack was carried out by a solitary deranged Caucasian-looking man in what police portray as a bizarre robbery attempt. 

The official version of the police is that the lone gunman  brought two bottles of fuel, a backpack and a baby Armalite in the early hours of Friday, entered past the solitary---and extremely frightened---female guard, and started shooting his way in. He shoved chips worth more than a million into his bag, and then burned gaming tables, thus igniting a huge fire that caused death by suffocation to dozens of players. Afterwards this lone gunman broke into a hotel room, covered himself with a blanket soaked in gasoline and burned himself, but not before shooting himself in the head.

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It was a huge and horrendous tragedy that snuffed out 37 lives and hurt 54 others owing largely to suffocation---as well as damaged still un-estimated property. The lone gunman's assault shocked the metropolis and the entire nation, owing largely to the absence of adequate security for such a high-roller joint at this time of instability. As Fr. Rannie Aquino, Dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law put it, I'm not letting the Security Guards off the hook who claim that they were so startled by the events that they could not react appropriately. Security Guards are trained NOT to be startled. If they are stunned by emergency situations, they should be looking for jobs elsewhere.”  

The conspiracy theory, however, is catching fire among our citizens and as I cobble this blog, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and  Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella are publicly debating whether the lone gunman’s attack was an isolated act of desperation and derangement---as is the Palace’s (Abella's) position---or whether it’s part of a grand conspiracy plot, a terror attack (Alvarez’s contention).
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But what was just as tragic is that because of the ridiculous lapse in security, the credibility of the official account has suffered---SO THAT IT'S VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE AT THIS POINT TO CONVINCE THE WORLD THAT IT WAS NOT A TERRORIST ACT, BUT PLAIN AND SIMPLE ROBBERY THAT RW PERSONNEL FAILED TO SUBDUE. .

So many questions are being raised in the aftermath of the RW tragedy, with plausible answers not forthcoming. For instance, a hotel staffer who attended to guests earlier that night would almost swear that more than one outsider was involved in the tragic drama. 

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President Duterte has categorically said that the RW episode was NOT TERRORISM, but US President Donald Trump, without waiting for the official finding by Philippine law-enforcers, quickly ruled it  "a terrorist act” and a number of foreign leaders began mouthing this same line. (Was Trump briefed by US Ambassador Kim here before he made his "terrorists’ attack pronouncement?)  In fact, I daresay that most Filipinos hearing of the RW attack for the first time were also ready to believe the worst: that it was an ISIS attack!  AND AS IF ON CUE, AN ISIS MEDIA SITE was quick to claim responsibility for it.

It’s a no-brainer to conclude that the horrors arising from that allegedly single-handed attack by the deranged casino intruder JUST ACR0SS MANILA'S PREMIER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT would have a huge dampening effect on the economic and business prospects of the country. Foreign investors would worry about PH's stability, and it would take a while to calm investors’ nerves about the seeming instability of our situation. First to be hit would be the tourism industry. 

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Contributing very much to the uncertain atmosphere in this mensis horribilis are certain pronouncements on the martial law imposition by President Duterte in the entire Mindanao right after the Maute gang's attack on Marawi. Indeed, few people at that time would quarrel with his decision to declare martial law there; but what added to the uncertainty later was his assertion that he won’t listen to Congress and the Supreme Court justices on the conduct and period of martial law in Mindanao---but only to what the armed forces and police have to say about it.   

That latter statement gave the impression that Mr. Duterte would DISOBEY the Constitution which calls for very specific and defined actions by the two key institutional players: Congress and the SC---on his martial law declaration in Mindanao. That added a lot to the political uncertainty.

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Mensis horribilis began with the sudden attack and occupation by rebellious elements of the ISIS-influenced Maute gang on idyllic Marawi City, nestled by Lake Lanao. The Maute gang burned the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians and the Protestant-owned Dansalan Colleges, and abducted the cathedral’s parish priest, Fr. Chito Suganob and two dozen other parishioners, including a lady professor of humanities.

Recently Fr. Chito, sporting a heavy white beard, appeared in a film to appeal to government to desist from fighting their captors lest the captives be killed. It was an appeal obviously made under duress, but it was disturbing enough to us observers in the sidelines of the war.

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Heavy fighting has occurred in Marawi City as government forces sought to retake it in street-to-street fighting and aerial bombings---forcing many of the city’s populace to seek refuge in nearby Iligan City, walking many kilometers on end in scenes that seem straight from a war movie. Fatalities among the rebel forces confirmed what was feared in many quarters: that the ISIS-inspired Maute group has brought fighters from various parts of the world, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Also killed were a Pakistani, Saudi Arabian, a Chechen, a Yemeni, an Indian, a Moroccan and a Turkish passport holder. 

Thus, where in eras past MNLF and MILF warriors were fighting for their homeland, and their leaders were well-educated in Muslim universities abroad such as in Cairo and Pakistan, in Marawi it became evident that around 50 of the terrorists were foreign fighters---who doubtless fight from country to country to sow the seeds of a new ideology, A NEW WORLD ORDER more ruthless and brutal than what fighters of past generations had lived and died for.

As former Speaker Joe de Venecia pointed out in a taped interview with Cecile Alvarez and myself over dzRH (tonight, Sunday, 6pm. 666 on the AM band), the Maute band here may contain remnants of long-running conflicts in Syria and Iraq that have lost ground owing to Western campaigns there. JDV agreed that this new international breed of fighters is indeed very different from the rebel forces in Mindanao of two decades ago.

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One of the tragedies of mensis horribilis was the “misguided firing” on friendly forces in Marawi by government fighter planes that killed 11 state troopers and wounded seven others. To be sure, mistaken encounters, misguided firings and other similar episodes do happen in wars, and the crisis in Marawi cannot be different. But investigation of this “misguided firing” in Marawi should be undertaken, if only for the armed forces to learn from what had happened---so that a repeat could be studiously avoided.

Sadly, to date, the investigation of that particular accidental firing, to really determine what happened there, has not yielded definitive results, but eleven military families are weeping.  

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