The usual investigation has been promised, this time into the killing of former Air Transportation Office Chief Panfilo Villaruel and Navy Lieutenant Ricardo Catchillar.
Villaruel and Catchillar had seized the Ninoy Aquino International Airport 2 control tower in the evening of Friday, November 7. Both died in the usual hail of police bullets in the early morning of Saturday, November 8.
As in almost every case in which people have ended up dead through police action, Villaruel and Catchillar’s deaths are raising questions, among them the usual one of whether their deaths were necessary. The police, NAIA management, and even Malacanang say yes, they had to be killed.
Senior Superintendent Andres Caro, head of the Philippine National Police Airport Security Group said the tower had to be assaulted and the two men “neutralized” to “normalize the situation and (airport) operations.”
Caro also said Villaruel and Catchillar had fired first, prompting his assault team to fire back. The PNP even commended the assault team, even as presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye told the media that “the swift assault and killings (were) necessary consequences of a police operation,” which seems to suggest that police operations necessary lead to killings.
Every investigation into police killings in this country inevitably ends up either exonerating those who actually did the killing, or at least their superiors. I have absolutely no doubt that both NAIA management and the PNP airport security group will be found to have acted within the so-called “rules of engagement”.
Villaruel and Catchillar’s deaths will thus end up among the very cases of government ineptitude, indifference, malice, corruption, neglect, etcetera that had driven them into enough desperation to take over the tower.
The only justification for the killings was the danger to the lives of airline passengers and the residential and business areas around the airport that willfully destructive instructions from the control tower could have posed. Both NAIA management and the police said Villaruel could have issued such instructions, and caused mid-air collisions and crashes into residential subdivisions, among other horrendous possibilities.
After the assault on the tower, however, broadcasters on the scene reported that the equipment of the tower had been destroyed, but that air traffic had been minimally disrupted because airport management had used the facilities of another tower to control the arrivals and departures of various flights.
On the other hand, the NAIA also told the media that the control tower Villaruel and Catchillar had seized had already been deprived of power, which made it impossible for the two men to use the facilities to cause aircraft collisions through deliberately misleading instructions, or even to just disrupt air traffic.
If the standby facilities were available all the time—and we have to assume that NAIA management has some kind of backup capacity to keep control over air traffic precisely in the event of emergencies such as that of November 8 and 9—did the NAIA immediately use them? If it did not, why not?
Even more to the point: what was the urgency of rushing the control tower and killing Villaruel and Catchillar, if they could no longer use the control tower facilities for whatever mischief they were contemplating or might have been contemplating?
And yet it seemed that Villaruel and Catchillar were not even thinking of any such mischief, both having first made sure that no aircraft was endangered, and solicitously sending the air traffic controllers out of the tower to assure their safety.
Practically the whole country also heard Villaruel, while being interviewed over radio, shouting that he and Catchillar were ready to surrender as the police team was breaking through the control tower door.
In the next few days, however, expect government and police sources to subject Villaruel and Catchillar’s actions to the usual speculations meant to explain away these disparities, and to depict the two men as crazy desperadoes who deserved what they got.
It will be easy to do that, despite Villaruel’s record as a soldier and government official. Villaruel’s statements over the media, for example, have been described as incoherent by such men as National Security Adviser Roilo Golez—who, even in his best days and armed with executive summaries prepared by a team of experts, is himself often less than coherent.
To expect Villaruel to have been “coherent” by establishing his premises first, providing illustrations for his main points, and then concluding with the appropriate recommendations as he sat in the Centennial Terminal control tower nursing his .45 while a SWAT team was about to assault his position is to demand a capability for concentration no PhD can muster.
It is of course likely that Villaruel could not have offered a coherent analysis of his frustrations and what’s wrong with the country even in the relaxed atmosphere of, say, a few drinks at the Camp Aguinaldo Officers’ Club.
But in that he would only be among the millions of Filipinos of whatever age, education, economic status and social standing who feel in their bones that something is dreadfully wrong in this country and that the government is somehow at the center of it.
Like Villaruel, some of these Filipinos have struck out, often blindly, at a scheme of things they can’t quite fully comprehend, but which they know is killing them daily. Some grab hostages in the belief that their grievances will be heard. Others take to the streets, raising their fists against this or that issue or official. Still others seek refuge in drugs and alcohol, jump off bridges, or hang themselves.
The Arroyo administration did not give birth to the desperation—the social and psychological costs of bad government—that’s metastasized all over the country of our sorrows. But it did make it worse, ironically because it was born amid so much hope.
In 2001 it had come to power on the crest of expectations that it would be honest where the government it replaced had been corrupt, efficient where it had been inept, and strong in the determination to address the country’s problems where it had been weak. In 2003 not only has it become even in IQ the exact copy of the government it had replaced; it has also become part of the long list of problems it was supposed to solve.
The result is not only disillusionment but desperation on a scale anecdotal evidence suggests is unprecedented.
The long lines of would-be emigrants at the foreign embassy consular sections are only part of that evidence. Even more compelling in this political season is the disgust with, and absolute distrust of, politicians across all classes and in every sector—workers, students, professionals, businessmen—one can think of.
It was that disgust that drove Villaruel and Catchillar to occupy the Centennial Termninal control tower over the weekend. It is that disgust that’s driving millions of Filipinos out of the country—and, in some instances, out of their minds.
No matter how many other cases like Villaruel’s the government sweeps under the rug, that disgust will persist for so long as greed, opportunism, incompetence and stupidity rule Philippine politics and governance. And so long as that disgust persists and grows, so long will this country be witness to its varied, unpredictable expressions, among them a former government official’s occupying an airport control tower—or 300 young officers a Makati hotel. Villaruel may be dead. What drove him to that tower last Friday lives.
(Today/abs-cbnNEWS,con, November 11, 2003)