An Alternative Truth?
NEARLY EIGHT months after, the Mamasapano incident once again found its way into the headlines after President Benigno Aquino III announced during a “Meet the Inquirer Multimedia forum” on Tuesday, September 8, that there could be an “alternative truth” to the bloody encounter that took the lives of at least 67 people.
The Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility monitored reports from the Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star in print, and news programs 24 Oras (GMA-7), Aksyon (TV5) and TV Patrol (ABS-CBN 2) from September 8 to 17.
During the forum, Aquino said that the photo of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” which was published by the Inquirer on January 30, “posed many questions.” (“New Mamasapano lead eyed,” Inquirer, September 9, 2015)
“There are certain quarters who did point out certain questions that arose from viewing that (Marwan’s) picture. Does this support the so-called official version of what transpired? Now, if it doesn’t support [the official version], can it be explained or not? That is an ongoing process. There is no conclusion at this point,” the Inquirer quoted the President.
Some of the questions raised about the circumstances surrounding Marwan’s death included why he was half-naked, and how the SAF was able to take photos from such an angle during a firefight.
While the report did say that there were different investigations conducted on the incident, the Inquirer initially failed to refer to official documents produced by fact-finding bodies that had previously offered the conclusion that the SAF had neutralized Marwan.
Following its initial report, the Inquirer issued follow-up stories on the issue, the next one being a report on Sunday, September 13, on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) views on the “alternative truth” the President had mentioned.
In that report, MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal stressed that there was “no alternative truth,” and that the only truth there is was the one they found in their investigation of the incident. (“Marwan killed by aide,” Inquirer, September 13, 2015)
The Bulletin, for its part, did put out related stories, but these were focused on the proposal to revive the Senate probe on the incident, as well as comments and statements from various personalities. Those cited included President Aquino; Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda; the camp of Vice President Binay through spokesman Rico Quicho; as well as Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Francis Escudero, and Ralph Recto.
The Philippine Star’s reporting was similar to the Bulletin’s, as most of their reports were more about the comments by personalities, rather than expanding discussion on the issue.
In the end, it was the Inquirer that remained consistent, with each of its follow-up reports offering insights into the other details of the issue. This was not surprising as it was the paper that started the discourse after all.
The TV news programs were similarly unfocused in their reporting as well, as the reports mainly used sacked SAF chief Getulio Napeñas as their source in their stories.
GMA-7’s 24 Oras reports limited the discussion to the claims of Napeñas that the SAF commandos were responsible for Marwan’s death. (“Napeñas , nanindigang SAF ang nakapatay sa teroristang si Marwan,” 24 Oras, September 14, 2015)
The same can be said about the reporting of TV5’s Aksyon regarding the issue. Aksyon’s report featured photographs showing Marwan, who was already dead, before and after his finger was cut for DNA testing. In the report, Napeñas belied the claims of the MILF that Marwan was killed by his aide. (“Napeñas, iginiit na SAF ang pumatay kay Marwan,” Aksyon, September 16, 2015)
ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol also had similar content, as it featured photos of the SAF operation, and the statements of Napeñas belying MILF claims that it was not the SAF who killed Marwan. (“Mga larawang kuha sa OPLAN Exodus, nagpapatunay na SAF ang pumatay kay Marwan,” TV Patrol, September 14, 2015)
Overall, the media’s reporting on the issue was again lacking in context. There was too much focus on the exchange of sentiments and comments by different personalities instead of discussing the official reports by the fact-finding bodies that had already offered a conclusion on the incident, such as the report by the PNP Board of Inquiry (PNP-BOI).
The reports did mention the PNP-BOI report, as well as the Senate report submitted by Senator Grace Poe, but this was done only in passing, with little or no explanation at all. And that remained the case until President Aquino dismissed the alternative version of events on Thursday, September 17.
These documents, as well as the MILF report, should all have served as a reference in reports by the media in relation to this development to enable readers to better understand what the whole fiasco was really about.