GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 February)– President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III’s address to the nation last January 28 was an apology; the second one last February 6 was an assurance. In both, the President intended to dissipate a gathering storm, calm a threatening crisis in the aftermath of the well-planned Mamasapano police operation gone awry. Let’s join him.
But as he sought to dissipate the gathering storm and calm a threatening crisis, his second address raised some posers that if not well understood can worsen the storm and the crisis. His assurances have been met with dissatisfaction – not just from his critics but most notably from the angry he had sought to pacify – according to media reports.
His Principal Messages
While addressing the nation, the President was obviously speaking in particular to the Philippine National Police and the relatives of the 44 members of Special Action Forces who died in the Mamasapano operation. In brief, his messages were:
First: Our policemen and soldiers make the greatest sacrifice when fighting “those who wish for continued violence and discord” in “our desire for lasting peace and security”. This the SAF commandos did in the covert operation in Mamasapano against the Malaysian international terrorist Zulkipli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and Moro terrorist Abdulbasit Usman. Marwan was killed but the “triumph” was at the “heavy” price of 44 commandos killed.
His assurances: (1) Re- his responsibility: “As President and Commander-in-Chief, I am fully responsible for any result—any triumph, any suffering, and any tragedy—that may result from our desire for lasting peace and security.”
(2) To the widows and relatives of the 44 commandos: “Just as I was responsible for your loved ones, so too am I responsible for you; it is my duty to ensure that the sacrifices made by your relatives are repaid. My promise to you remains unchanged: During my remaining 17 months in office, I am doing, and will continue to do, everything I can to guarantee your families’ well-being.”
Second: Considering the risks and recalling the many failed operations the police and military had previously launched against Marwan, he assured: “When it comes to the operations reported to us, we have always reviewed them to learn the lessons they may carry, especially when our troops are slain.”
Reflecting on the Mamasapano debacle: “This is why I continue to ask: Was there anything more that could have been done to avoid this tragedy?”
Third: From his “own investigations” and his “own interviews of those who participated in this operation”, this fact “clearly emerged that: The situation our troops found on the ground was vastly different from what was expected under the plans.”
Fourth: He fully laid the blame on the SAF chief, Police Director Getulio Napeñas. “As commander, he had full knowledge of the entire plan, together with the dangers that came with it; he would be the first to know if the plan was being executed correctly. He should have known what was happening at every moment.” From “what had transpired”, he said, Napeñas could have decided when “the mission could have been aborted or postponed, or when the plan could have been dramatically changed”.
Fifth: He announced the resignation of the suspended Police Director General Alan Purisima. Acknowledging the vital role Purisima had played in the efforts to capture Marwan and Usman and recounting his long personal association with Purisima, he said it was painful for him to accept Purisima’s resignation.
.Sixth: Obviously, parrying the call for his resignation from some sectors especially the left, he assured: “I fulfill, and I will continue to fulfill, my duties as President. The morale of our Special Action Force troops needs to be raised. Their status as a fully operational unit needs to be restored.” He assured, too: “As there are those who seek to drive a wedge between the AFP and PNP, we will make sure they do not succeed; we should not waste the good working relationship between the AFP and PNP.”
Seventh: He sent a strong message to the members and leadership of the MILF:
“From the onset, I have considered you brothers on the path to peace. Until now, I am confident that you will help us in seeking justice; that those who have done wrong should be held to account, especially if it is confirmed that there were SAF troopers who were executed despite being wounded and defenseless. Your efforts to limit the movement of the BIFF are a good first step.
“Now about Usman, let me point out the following: If he remains within your territory, or is protected by one of your members, we expect you to surrender him to the authorities. If not, we expect you to do everything you can to help capture him. And if even this is not possible, do not interfere with our pursuit of Usman.
“May this serve as a warning and a reminder: We will get Usman, whatever you decide, regardless of who provides a safe haven for him, regardless of where he may be hiding. Let no one doubt: We are partners in pursuing peace and justice. To those who have lost their way, who would still stand in our way, remember this: You are fighting the State, and we will run you over.”
Eighth: His assurance: “To all those working with us towards peace: We are fully committed to continuing the fight.” And warning: “And I say to those opposed to our objective, especially those who resort to violence: Mark my words, you will feel the sharpened and strengthened might of a unified Filipino nation.”
He stated: “Like you, I want to know the whole truth behind this incident.” What does he mean? In “Third” above, he said he had clearly seen the main cause of the debacle and, in “Fourth”, he fully blamed Napeñas for this. Corollary to the “Fourth”, why did he accept Purisima’s resignation if Napeñas was fully responsible (“Fifth”)?
What did he clearly see? “While studying what had transpired”, he saw (1) “the situation on the ground was so different from what had been envisioned in the plan”; (2) “no coordination had taken place regarding expected assistance” from the military; (3) “the Armed Forces could render little aid, if at all, because they were not given sufficient time to prepare”.
What more truth does he want to know? He said, “I have complete confidence that the truth will be uncovered through the comprehensive and unbiased investigation of the Board of Inquiry. We are awaiting its results.”
His assurance: “We are doing everything to uncover the truth. The report that will emerge from this investigation will provide invaluable lessons, to ensure such a tragedy will never happen again. There will be changes.”
Will the Board of Inquiry, composed of PNP top brass, sacrifice the good PNP image to the whole truth? Why did he not form a commission like the Agrava Commission to do the “comprehensive and unbiased investigation”?
He expects Napeñas to explain to the BOI (1) why “there was no coordination”, (2) why the mission continued “when it had deviated so far from the original plan, and our troops were already in grave danger”, and (3) the many other questions that plague his mind.
The last mission update to the President on the Mamasapano covert operation was at Malacañang on January 9, 2015. With Purisima briefing the President were Napeñas and Police Senior Superintendent Fernando Mendez. Purisima was already under suspension. Did he question the absence of PNP OIC Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, a break – hence, lack of coordination — in the PNP chain of command? Why did he tolerate Purisima’s usurpation of Espina’s authority? He was told the AFP would be informed at the start of the operation. Did he question this improper coordination?
Yet, in “Second” above, he said: “When it comes to the operations reported to us, we have always reviewed them to learn the lessons they may carry, especially when our troops are slain.” Did he do this after the January 9 briefing until the deployment of the SAF forces starting January 22?
In wanting to know the truth now, does he already know the truth but is afraid to face it?
Why did he state in “First” above, “I am fully responsible for any result” yet he fully blamed Napeñas?
What is the full import of the President’s message to the MILF, actually the content of his letter to the MILF Chairman?
This warning is serious: “Let no one doubt: We are partners in pursuing peace and justice. To those who have lost their way, who would still stand in our way, remember this: You are fighting the State, and we will run you over.”
It is repeated in “Eight” above: “And I say to those opposed to our objective, especially those who resort to violence: Mark my words, you will feel the sharpened and strengthened might of a unified Filipino nation.”
The MILF has remained silent except when in response to (1) the demand to surrender Usman: Chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told the media, “We cannot surrender what we don’t have;” (2) the demand for justice for the 44 slain commandos: the MILF will act according to the Government-MILF Agreement; and (3) the invitation of the Senate to its committee hearings: “We are still a revolutionary organization until the Agreement is implemented” – meaning, the BBL is passed and the Bangsamoro established.
In fine, assurances laden with posers are less reassuring. Is a surprise that, as reported by media, the widows and other relatives of the 44 slain commandos as well as many in the PNP rank and file were not happy?
(Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])