Vidal Erfe Querol was Philippine ambassador to Indonesia from 2007 to 2010. Before that, he led the Philippine National Police (PNP) National Capital Region command.
A batch mate of former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in advanced military training in Fort Leavenworth, USA, he was also at one time top cop of the PNP Western Mindanao command. He was a young officer when, under heavy enemy fire he carried one of his wounded men a long way to safety, then wondered where he got the physical strength to do that. A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, he is tough as nails.
But when he saw on TV a clip showing a Moro fighter giving the coup de grace in cold blood to a wounded and helpless police commando in Mamasapano, he wept. The commando was twitching in his death throes when he took a bullet to the face.
Many other battle-hardened veterans of the fight against the Moro separatist rebellions also wept on seeing the videocast, which has gone viral. They say you don’t have to go to the Middle East to experience the kind of brutality being wreaked by the Islamic State. You only have to go to certain parts of Mindanao.
The video is being analyzed by the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation as probable evidence in a future legal action. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) denies that the perpetrator of the atrocity on is one of its fighters. It cites that it lost 18 of its fighters in that encounter.
At any rate, Querol says, when the encounter between the SAF and the MILF-BIFF was at its height on 25 January, the Philippine leadership had to make a choice—between the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the lives of the SAF commandos. The quick entry of a large military force to retrieve the SAF commandos trapped in Mamasapano would have aborted the passage of the BBL. That, in turn, would have killed the peace process between the government the MILF.
Apparently the leadership took the option of preserving the BBL at the cost of SAF lives.
Soldiers are always ready to die, says Querol. But when they’re face-to-face with death, they shouldn’t feel abandoned by their leaders. I add: they shouldn’t be made to feel that their lives are being traded for political objectives that are still debatable as to their worth in terms of the country’s welfare.
For in its present form and as understood by thoughtful observers, the BBL needs a lot of retouching before it can withstand various challenges to its constitutionality. It needs some repair before all stakeholders can feel it meets their needs.
It may not be possible to pass a BBL that satisfies all the aspirations of all stakeholders. But at the very least, no group of stakeholders should feel completely left out. Or else it will be the source of new conflict, new bloodshed. And at the very least, when it becomes law, there should be no way the Supreme Court can strike it down as unconstitutional.
On the other hand, you can tweak the BBL to make it Constitution-friendly only to see the MILF reject it as “watered-down.” Thus in working on the BBL, legislators will have to do a very delicate tightrope act.
That’s one big problem. Another is the trust deficit that has gaped wider as a consequence of the Mamasapano encounter. The war freaks are having a holiday shouting, “You just can’t trust the MILF.” It doesn’t help that at this writing the MILF hasn’t returned the equipment and effects that its fighters took from the dead commandos.
Meanwhile, Vidal Querol, at one time police commander of Western Mindanao, can only shake his head in woe and disbelief.