Privilege Speech: Lifting the pain that cannot forget

26 January 2016

Mr. President,

My esteemed colleagues:

I asked for the privilege of addressing the chamber today, in order to share with you and with our people a few thoughts about the national tragedy whose anniversary the nation marked yesterday, and which will again be the subject of inquiry in the Senate tomorrow.

It seems hard to fathom that a full year has already passed since that Sunday morning in January last year, when each of us, in our respective ways, was wakened to learn of a violent incident that was unfolding in the town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

That day remains vivid in my mind because I still remember what I instinctively tried to do upon hearing the news. My first instinct at the time was, as I am sure it was for most of us, to get updated news, and then to look for mamasapano in a map of Mindanao. Then I rang up friends in government and the police and the military, who might be able to tell me something about what was happening.

Later, we got the second shock that for a fight that started at dawn, by mid-morning, fighting in the area was still going on.

And then came the really distressing   news, that even by noon and way past noon, the exchange of fire was still continuing. In the end, the last of our surviving policemen rejoined his comrades, having fought his way back, on the evening of the following Monday.

It was in those circumstances that we learned, hour-by-hour what a great and terrible tragedy our people and our nation had sustained in Mamasapano.

Although a year has passed since that awful day, we Filipinos today are still grieve, still weep together over Mamasapano in a spirit of mourning and remembrance. The nation still mourns – not just the widows and the orphans, but all our people, because the slain commandos and civilians did not come from just one section of our country, but from all sections, without regard to geography, color or creed.

In words that describe how many of us feel, the Greek  dramatist Aeschylus wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

In these difficult times in our country, may we achieve that wisdom and receive that grace.

Tomorrow, it falls on us here at the Senate to review and examine the circumstances and the reasons why Mamasapano happened the way it did, and why so many of our best and brightest men in uniform were brought down the way they did.

The purpose of the inquiry is not principally to find fault, but to gain understanding of the tragedy so that justice can be served and it will not be reenacted in our public life.

I am troubled that in the days leading to the reopened inquiry, the public conversation has been been wracked by so many wild stories and even claims of alternative truths and supposed conspiracies, secret testimony and the like that confuse rather than enlighten.

When I joined the SAF widows and families at Villamor Air Base in February last year as we brought home the earthly remains of the martyred and fallen, it struck me that the families’ one constant prayer was that their loved ones would receive the justice that they deserve. They did not ask for money or benefits, or for medals or decorations or ceremony or even recognition – talk that is now uppermost in the minds of some today.

They to a person spoke only of justice for the martyred and the fallen. And that appeal has not changed up to now.

As a member of government and Congress, it fills me with shame that in all these months that have passed, despite the grand pronouncements of immediate action and investigation, our government has not moved forward in meeting this appeal for justice. President Aquino himself has been forced by this great delay to acknowledge on the day of the anniversary , he himself is dismayed by how slow his government has been to bring justice to the families of the murdered victims in Mamasapano.

What the nation feels is beyond dismay, beyond impatience, beyond just sadness but a loss of part of our humanity as Filipinos. We feel this when we see that we have failed our very own sons, husbands and fathers, our very own declared heroes. If this is how we treat those that have given their lives in defense of the country, what fate the ordinary citizen? What fate for those we love and care for in life?

For the heroes’ families, we reach for the words that will soothe their pain and sorrow, and for the gestures that might express the gratitude of the nation for the noble sacrifice of our SAF commandos. But there are no gestures that will bring succor to the families, no grand words that will ease the pain of the families of our policemen. Only justice will bring that. Only justice will do.

The tragedy of Mamasapano is not a sectional issue – not a problem of Mindanao alone, or just one part of Mindanao. It is a problem and tragedy of the entire nation and all our people.

Mamasapano is not a partisan issue, as some have callously suggested. On this issue, men and women of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of politics in order to find common ground in forging a way forward, and in creating a future that all can share.

Regardless of our specific role or duty – be we high officials or just ordinary citizens -- our shared task and obligation now is to reach across the divisions in our country and to create a sense of community and unity with one another.

We are one country and one people.

So let us in this Senate ask our people to unite around this terrible tragedy.

Beyond this chamber are the people we serve. They have unspoken hopes in their hearts for a future in which all Filipinos, of every creed, every color and every walk of life, can find a future of opportunity, in which all of us can live in peace with one another, and share in the blessings of prosperity.

Success in this endeavor depends on our building new relationships, initiating new dialogue. And opening up new opportunities for citizens to take a stand or get together.

We cannot move forward to this bright future if we are unable as a nation to give the comfort and closure to the families of the murdered Forty-four. We cannot bring our nation to that grand tomorrow if we fail our people in their protection, their well being, and their confidence that whatever ills are visited upon them, society and the government will do all to right those ills; that government will give them justice. So it is with our SAF Forty-four families. The proper time for that has long passed. The past year of inaction and neglect has seen to that. We must move now and move quickly to bring them justice. It is nothing less than a defining moment for us as a nation.

From our Spanish heritage, there is a great saying. “La esperanza muere al ultimo.” Hope dies last. Hope for whatever you want to do. There is always hope.

With that thought and in this spirit then, let us in this Senate strive to bring our people together, after all the pain and sorrow and memories o f Mamasapano!

Justice, Justice, Justice is what the SAF families cry out for. Justice is what the nation needs if we should continue be the compassionate and loving race that all Filipinos aspire to be.

Thank you, Mr. President.