FIRST, on category of the killings. What makes a massacre? Large number of casualties and cruelty in the taking of lives.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said the death of 44 police, 18 rebels and five civilians, including an eight-year-old child, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25, 2015 was not a massacre.

Yet three years hence, people, from high officials to plain citizens, still use that term. The report of the Senate committee on public order also did. CHR disagreed in its separate report but the description has stuck.

Wrongly categorized, the CHR’s March 25, 2015 report said, because use of high-powered firearms and mortars didn’t necessarily make it a merciless or cruel killing. And it was not “akin to a trap,” an ambush, as the Senate committee put it. The rebels didn’t know the SAFs were coming. And the SAFs were also armed and were not “helpless or unresisting,” said then CHR chief Loretta Ann Rosales.

Accuracy, precision

Whose side is CHR on, people may ask. Yet accuracy of terms is important, especially in a Congress whose fact-findings influence government policy and public opinion. The word “massacre” evokes hate and stiffens opposition to forging peace with “mass murderers.”

Accuracy also affects the question of identifying culprits. Were the killers mass murderers or were they armed persons waging a rebellion?

But have MILF and BIFF rebels been charged? The rebels have to be captured first and the public is not told of any arrest or indictment. Instead, former president Noynoy Aquino and ex-PNP chief Alan Purisima and ex-SAF commander Getulio Napeñas are facing charges for the botched operation.

Noynoy’s liability

The Senate report tagged then president Noynoy as “ultimately responsible” for the fiasco and the Board of Inquiry found him to have “bypassed the chain of command.”

Aquino, with Purisima and Napeñas, will be arraigned on Feb. 19 for usurpation of function and graft charges, which even President Duterte scoffed at as petty (“what president could usurp functions?”).

Relatives of victims and Noynoy’s enemies wanted him punished for the killings but the ombudsman ruled the offenses he and two others are charged with were not the “proximate cause” of the Mamasapano deaths. In a way, some say, Noynoy was severely punished when his surrogate candidates lost heavily in the 2016 elections.

Same noise next year

Noise over the unanswered questions on Mamasapano is anniversary ritual. Leaders have to show concern over the horror of a bungled police mission. It should not be repeated, Duterte said while traveling abroad. We will stop the arraignment next month so Noynoy can be charged with higher crimes, said justice chief Vitaliano Aguirre. Address the social and political causes, said Sen. Grace Poe, who wrote the 2015 report that CHR criticized.

Sober watchers predict that not much progress will be made between now and next Jan. 25. Noynoy and his former aides would still be out of jail. Private armies and rebels would go on disrupting peace in Maguindanao. The Mamasapano puzzle would remain unsolved. And people would still call the killings a massacre.