The Kidapawan clash: A crisis of leadership

I can’t help comparing the clash of farmer-activists and PNP and government authorities in Kidapawan, North Cotabato with the oft-told anecdote about the three priests, a Dominican, a Franciscan and a Jesuit (actually, the roles and the priestly orders vary, depending on who is telling the story).
At any rate, the three were meeting in a room when the light suddenly went out.  The Dominican immediately began a philosophical discourse on why the room was suddenly enshrouded in darkness. The Franciscan knelt down and prayed for the light to come back on. And the Jesuit went out to change the light bulb.
While many in mainstream and social media have called the incident a “massacre,” I have prudently avoided using the term because police authorities have characterized it differently. Suffice it to say that there were injuries inflicted on both sides, with the farmers suffering at least three confirmed fatalities (and several disappearances).
As of the last media reports, the parties on both sides of the conflict are still doing what the Dominican did in the anecdote – railing about how and why it happened while hurling blame at each other.
Officials of the PNP insist that they did not start the clash and that they were the victims rather than the oppressors because several peace officers were hurt, some seriously. They have also blamed the New People’s Army for inciting the confrontation. The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas has not spared the invectives against the “heartlessness” of the government, in the process endearing the Left among the rural folk. And, the other day, the chief executive of North Cotabato, Gov. Lala Talino-Mendoza, was busy on media blaming everyone for it, except herself. Inexplicably, she also took offense at those who offered food supplies to the farmers, calling the humanitarian attempt “Nakakainsulto” (insulting).
From what I gather, Talino-Mendoza resented what she perceived as an attempt by “interested parties” to exploit the incident for political brownie points at her expense and that of the Liberal Party and its  presidential candidate, Mar Roxas.
There are also those who, like the Franciscan, have been praying for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and for the proverbial rule of law to prevail – which, frankly, is neither here nor there. To some extent, Mar Roxas appears to fall in this category.
Roxas was quoted in media declaring that the “first task is to restore order to the area and make sure that no clash happens again.”  He also “called on the PNP and other concerned agencies to investigate as to the true cause of the clash and, if warranted, to punish those accountable.”
And what about the President of the Republic of the Philippines? We are told that His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III is still waiting to get a full picture of the incident before he makes any statement on it.
Here’s how it is explained by Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Underscretary Manuel Quezon III (I run of out of breath every time I say the titles of these Malacanang executives):
“I do believe the President will refrain from making any statements until he has fully studied the matter and is given and is satisfied with all the answers that he has received as a result of demanding an impartial and thorough investigation.”
Ergo, don’t expect any presidential comments on the incident until after, perhaps, the 40th day after the burial of the fatalities (babang luksa), which would be after the presidential elections, which would make any comments of Aquino meaningless and irrelevant anyway.
And to think Aquino was schooled under the Jesuits and not the Dominicans.
But Aquino is not the only one who finds it more convenient to discuss the hows, whys and wherefores of the problem rather than to confront, address and alleviate the problem.
The question is, at the end of the day (to paraphrase a favorite cliché of Aquino), are these loud noises filling the hungry stomachs of the protesting farmers and their families to address the core of the conflict?
In other words, is anybody changing the light bulb?
There are several reasons why the clash – the conflict – the massacre – call it what you may – came about and, depending on whose version is being told, it’s always the other side’s fault. But at the very heart of this crisis is an even bigger one: A crisis of leadership.
Anyone familiar with the dynamics of conflict and intrigue will tell you that the Kidapawan situation, like many similar situations in the rural areas across the Philippines, was – and still is – a recipe for a grassroots uprising.
The rural poor, punished by the scourge of El Nino, are fair game for being incited and inflamed. Like those who joined Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan at Biak na Bato, they are ripe for ripping their virtual cedulas. It just takes someone to light the fuse. And the Left is expert at it.
But for the fuse to be lighted and the flames to ignite, it takes a “manhid” and “palpak” (numb and incompetent) set of national and provincial officials to provide the fuel, as well as armed and trigger happy police or military officers to set the whole situation ablaze.
So how did this become a crisis of leadership?
It takes a leader – seasoned, compassionate, decisive, wise – to understand the dynamics involved. It takes street wise insights to note that any false move – any unthinking decision – could ignite the incendiary situation – mainly because those who brought it about really intend the situation to explode.
What did the Kidapawan farmers want? Rice. Were there stocks available? According to government sources, there were stocks “pre-positioned” for calamities. Why did the provincial government not want to give it to them? Because the palpak and manhid leaders felt that the poor folk were being exploited by some sinister quarters – either political enemies or the Left – and goaded to resort to anarchy.
The provincial government, as well as the national government, could have defused the situation by immediately providing relief to the hungry farmers, thus buying them time to take control of the crisis and deprive the intriguers of their weapon of mass incitement. Instead, they allowed their amor propio, their political agenda and their incompetence to get the better of them – thus falling prey to the other side’s game plan.
Indeed, it takes a seasoned leader to be able to handle a sensitive situation like this. Unfortunately, our current president has proven himself incapable of dealing with a crisis.
And what about the crop of “presidentiables”?
How about someone with an itchy trigger finger, whose idea of bringing about peace and order is by making the “troublemakers” rest in peace? Or how about an ivy leaguer who doesn’t know enough to bring a weather expert along to manage a crisis posed by the strongest typhoon on record?
Or an ailing shrew whose idea of solving a problem is by challenging everyone involved to a debate? And how about a former grade school teacher who would wake up the military command in case of a crisis with a foreign enemy? Does Grace Poe realize that an impending conflict with a foreign enemy is not supposed to catch the military leadership and the national leadership sleeping? Good grief!!!
As far as I can tell, the only presidential candidate who would have known how to defuse the Kidapawan crisis is someone who has fought alongside the Left and knows the dynamics of intrigue and conflict, who has fought on the side of the government, armalite in hand, in the face of near-successful coups and, most of all, who understands that the way to fight poverty is not by killing the poor.
Like it or not – it takes a Jojo Binay. ([email protected])

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