As the ABS-CBN reporter said, unlike the House of Representatives’ hearing on the Mamasapano Incident last February 11, the Lower House’s two-day hearing this week did not have a “talipapa” atmosphere. The honorable members of the House were more honorable in that they were not rowdy and rude. They behaved like the attendees of the first session of a first year high school public speaking class, some intimately familiar with others as to call them by their nicknames, a few having to ask for the names of others and the reason for their presence. It was like a class in public speaking as most of the attendees had great difficulty in expressing themselves, whether in English or in Pilipino.
First session of a Public Speaking class
I say it was like the first session of a class in Public Speaking for regardless of how proficient they were in the English language, most of those who spoke started every clause of their statements with “ah” and repeated the first word or first few words of each clause. Hearing “ah” so frequently in an 8-hour long discussion was severe punishment for the listener.
Jim Hattaman-Salliman, chair of the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity, must have uttered “ah” the most number of times. First of all, as co-presiding officer of the session, he had to moderate the discussion. Second, he had extreme difficulty finding the right English word to say that he had to fill the gaps with ”ah.”
Co-presiding officer Jeffrey Ferrer, chair of the Committee of Public Order and Safety, must have uttered the non-word as many times even if he hardly spoke during the two-day session. That was because he hardly knew English, substituting “ah” for the unknown – to him – English word.
Those who lavishly sprinkled their statements with “ah” were Congressmen Marcelino Teodoro, Victor Yu, Antonio Tinio, and Celso Lobregat; resource persons Mar Roxas, Leila de Lima, Ging Deles, Alan Purisima, and Carlito Galvez.
It was also grating to the ears to hear speakers repeat the first word or first few words of each clause of their statements. Take Committee chair Ferrer’s “Before we continue, before we continue…” Justice Sec. de Lima’s “In the matter, in the matter…” and Cong. Teodoro’s “for the whole, for the whole…”
Also among the bad repeaters were Sec. Roxas, Sec. Deles, Cong. Tinio, and Gen. Galvez.
An Iskul Bukol class?
There were times when the session also seemed like a class in Iskul Bukol. The two presiding officers, Ferrer and Salliman struggled with the English language. They did not know how to conduct sessions or meetings. They probably never heard of Robert’s Rules of Order.
At one time, Salliman told a resource person, “Recognize yourself.” Silence followed as everybody wondered what the resource person, a staff sergeant in the Army, was supposed to do. The poor soldier must have told himself, “I know who I am.” Eventually, Salliman said, “Identify yourself.”
Salliman referred to Peace Negotiator Miriam Ferrer as Miriam Santiago and addressed Roxas as Senator Roxas, and Cong. Silvestre Bello as Governor Bello.
Ferrer, not proficient in English, kept his mouth shut. That kept his foot off his mouth. It seemed like he spoke only when Salliman shook his legs or when he went to the rest room.
Cong. Kimi Cojuangco, contrary to her nickname, was not reticent during the hearing. But she waded into the discourse totally clueless about the issues at hand. She asked why PNP OIC Leonardo Espina did not do anything to rescue the SAF troopers. For two months from January 27 to the days before Holy Week, print and broadcast media have been reporting that Espina and DILG Sec. Roxas were kept out of the Mamasapano loop, on the order of suspended PNP Chief Purisima. That fact was highlighted in the Senate hearing on the incident. That meant Cojuangco did not keep abreast of the developments following the Mamasapano debacle, not even glancing at the front page of daily newspaper or tuning in to the Evening News on TV.
While the other Congressmen quoted lengthy passages of the reports of the Senate and the PNP Board of Inquiry, reflecting a thorough study of the issues involved, Cojuangco did not even know who the resource persons were, when their names, their position or rank, and their involvement in the Mamasapano encounter were all over media in the last two months.
She did not know the protocol and rules of Congressional hearings. She addressed DILG Sec. Roxas Mar. She did not know that the time consumed by the resource persons in answering her questions did not include the time allotted her. That means she never participated in committee hearings before. Yet, she is on her second term or has been in Congress five years. Cong. Lobregat, who was seated beside her, leaned back to hide his smile from her, the veteran legislator visibly immensely amused by her fumbling.
Another member of the Iskul Bukol class is Cong. Baby Arenas, also representing Pangasinan like Cojuangco. Arenas asked the generals why no artillery support was given the beleaguered SAF troopers. Presiding officer Salliman reminded her that it was agreed the day before that questions previously asked and answered should not be asked again. Arenas retorted that her question has not been answered and rambled on for ten minutes until, Salliman said, “It has been answered.”
The people of the third and fifth districts of Pangasinan can only blame themselves for electing to Congress high society ladies who have no grounding in legislative work.
The fifth member of the class is Cong. Fernando Hicap, who represents the party list ANAKPAWIS, a group of fishermen. He expressed alarm over the Philippines being “sunod sunurin lang” to US. His observation must have stemmed from his mistaken impression that the Philippine government went after Marwan because he was wanted by the US authorities. For that I put him in the Iskul Bukol class because he should have known that his fear had no basis.
PNP OIC Espina, in answer to a question posed by Cong. Leah Paquiz before Hicap spoke, had said that the Philippines was also after Marwan because his terrorist activities had caused the death of 49 Filipinos. Earlier Justice Sec. de Lima had explained in a lengthy discourse that the Philippines had entered into an agreement with the US where they would collaborate in counteracting terrorism and that it is entirely legal to get the assistance of US agencies in the capture of an international terrorist hiding in the Philippines for as long as Philippine law enforcement agents are in charge of the operation. DFA Usec. Evan Garcia added that it is a United Nations mandate for all UN countries to counteract terrorism.
Maybe de Lima’s discourse and Garcia’s clarification went over the head of Fisherman Hicap as both de Lima’s and Garcia’s English was too elegant and sophisticated for Hicap to understand. Both officials’ dictions were exemplary, Garcia even sounding like an American.
The last member of the Iskul Bukol class is Party List ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio. If Hicap can be excused for his inability to follow the discussions, Tinio cannot be forgiven for his twisted logic because he is not only a teacher, he has a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature magna cum laude from UP-Diliman. He asked the resource persons from the DFA if they knew of the Mamasapano mission before it was carried out. When they said they had no knowledge of it before, Tinio concluded that the participation of US agents was illegal. A glaring example of non sequitor. DFA Usec. Garcia had just explained that not only has the Philippines entered into an agreement with the US to collaborate in counteracting terrorism but that the Philippines, as a UN member nation, is bound by the UN mandate to counter terrorism.
Marwan had been engaged in terrorist activities. 49 Filipinos have been killed by his activities. SAF troopers’ pursuit of Marwan with US technical assistance is therefore entirely legal.
Makabayan ba talaga sila?
The House of Representatives hearing this week was conducted jointly by the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity and by the Committee on Public Order and Safety. But like their Makabayan colleagues Hicap and Tinio, Neri Colminares and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, Luz Ilagan and Emmie de Jesus of Gabriela, and Terry Ridon of Kabataan were focused on the involvement of US agents in the Mamasapano operation, trying hard to establish that the Constitution has been violated by the active participation of US elements in actual combat in Mamasapano.
They showed no interest in the peace and order situation in Mindanao, reconciliation of the Moro people with the rest of the Filipino nation, and unity among the various sectors of the Philippine population. I wonder if they are really makabayan, meaning they have the interest of the country at heart or if they are working for the interest of a foreign power to whose advantage will redound the breaking of ties between the Philippines and the US. Philippine territory has been usurped by foreign military elements, yet nary a voice was raised in protest by any of these self-proclaimed patriots.
Outside the Batasan, their ally Renato Reyes was leading a demonstration denouncing the involvement of US agents in the Mamasapano operation. I have yet to see him lead a march against the Chinese Embassy to denounce China’s appropriation of Philippine territory.
AFP vs PNP
Contrary to the denials of the top officers of the two security forces of he the country, there is distrust between the men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and of the Philippine National Police. It came out in the planning of the Mamasapano operation, it came out again during the encounter in Mamasapano, and it came out in the investigation by the Senate and by the House of Representatives.
Before closing this commentary, let me give special mention to Magdalo Representatives Gary Alejano and Ashley Acedillo and of South Cotabato Representative Ferdinand Hernandez. They were very knowledgeable of the issues, they were articulate, they addressed the issues directly, they presented their points in logical sequence, and they stayed focused on the issues at hand. They were the saving grace of the House of Ill Reputation.