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Of Flags and Forensics

Perhaps, in the light of the international uproar that has been caused by the hostage-taking by former policeman Rolando Mendoza earlier in the week, having a flag sent to be draped around Mendoza’s coffin strayed on the side of poor taste. The flag, a news report at the Inquirer web site stated this morning, was sent to the family by the Mayor of Tanauan. The same report stated that the Mayor herself had denied ever sending the flag; understandably so, particularly after the Chinese had sent in a protest over diplomatic channels.

There are those among us who – at the very least – wonder how a decorated policeman could have completely lost his marbles to the point of holding hostage totally unsuspecting tourists. Whisper it quietly, but there are even those who think that there is not just a little element of truth to his claims that he had been unjustly dismissed from the force.

I will, in no way, condone any act of terror. I have said from the start that, no matter how valid Mendoza’s protestations were, his method of calling attention to his plight was the last one would expect of a former policeman, a decorated one at that, of all people.

The Chinese, fair enough, had every right to feel indignation at the sight of a flag over his coffin. What is galling is that the Chinese had to protest in the first place. This is the flag of the republic we are talking about. There is a protocol. Whoever sent it should have known; and if whoever it was did not, the very sensitivity of the situation should have precluded any intention, however well-meaning it might have been.

Just now on TV Patrol, the search is on for whoever it was. The family must be absolved of any blame. They did not ask for it, as one of them so rightly pointed out to the Inquirer reporter. They were in too much pain and trauma to have even considered for one moment the inappropriateness of draping a flag over Mendoza’s coffin.

If the sender is – if at all – found, what comes next? What does the law state against the absence of a sense of delicacy?

That the family should agree to the removal of the flag should be sufficient to put the matter to rest. I feel the utmost sympathy for the victims of the hostage-taking and their families. That said, the source of their pain was – himself – taken down. No one – not least in this country – could have possibly asked for what happened.

While I felt the Chinese protests over the flag issue were perfectly valid, the presence of a Hong Kong forensics team asking our own police that they be allowed to look inside the accosted bus was not. The policeman in charge denied the team, and for that, I applaud him. He did refer them to the Department of Justice so they could ask for permission to look inside the bus.

I would have sent them straight home. Is it just me, but the last I heard, this is still very much the Philippines; we are a sovereign nation; and we have our own forensics teams to conduct an investigation. It would have been a different matter had we asked them; but we apparently did not, so what business did they have coming here?

The unstated issue here is that there is – in Hong Kong – distrust about the manner with which our own policemen are conducting the investigation. The forensics team could have just asked the countless Filipino expats in Hong Kong and spared themselves the flight to Manila. They would have been told that – surprise – there is as much suspicion here!

A government official interviewed on TV Patrol was just tired of the whole business and said that if the Hong Kong forensics team wanted a third-party opinion, then they all they needed to do was to ask for a permit. That was generous; but what good would their findings be except to further fire an already growing sense of anger against us in the former Crown Colony?

To my mind, a third-party opinion – if at all – will have to come from the police of a country completely detached from what happened. The Chinese have every right to ask our government for a thorough investigation. They have also every right to ask for a third-party investigation team. Please note the word “ask.”

Our government must realize that it has no obligation other than a moral one to agree to any requests. The current administration has been all balls in not sparing any punches against the preceding administration. I would like to see bigger balls in dealing with another country that – to my mind – is already interfering in our affairs.

The presence of that visiting Hong Kong forensics team is – at the very least – insulting! If just to keep our good standing in the international community, I think the very least our government can do is to ensure a thorough and accurate investigation. I can even forgive it if it thinks it has to appease the Chinese by agreeing to a third-party investigation; delicadeza, we will just say. But I will ask the FBI and not allow in Hong Kong policemen who are probably as angry at us as the rest back home who are planning indignation rallies and heckling Filipinos for something they neither asked for nor did themselves.

Late in the nineties, there was a young Filipina who was killed in the subways of New York by a crazed gunman. Did we heckle Americans we met on the streets here in the country?

I am so sorry that those tourists are dead. I feel strongly for the families they left behind. But no, we did not kill them… Yes, one of us did; and we will all leave the final judgment to his Creator.

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