GENERAL SANTOS CITY, March 24, 2015 – President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, three months into his six-year term on August 23, 2010, revealed his lack of decisiveness. At about 10 a.m. that day, dismissed Police Capt. Rolando Mendoza took hostage at the Quirino Grandstand 20 Hong Kong tourists together with their Hong Kong guide and five Filipinos including the bus driver. At 7:30 p.m. the police SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team attacked the tourist bus killing Mendoza; eight tourists were killed.
At 9:30 p.m., according to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Aquino was meeting the Police, DILG officials and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim at a conference in the Palace concerning the incident. Had he done that, or acted more decisively, right in the morning, Mendoza’s grievances could have been resolved without losing a life. He was busy, the Palace explained. He should have thought of the serious international and diplomatic repercussions; but, obviously he cared less.
After that, through five years and five months today, there were instances he showed he cared more for friendship and less for conduct in public service when his friends he had appointed to his cabinet or positions of confidence committed malfeasances. On these, cynicism has thrived: “Aquino III’s government is that of his friends, by his friends and for his friends”.
The “Oplan Exodus” operation last January 25 that ended in Mamasapano debacle that got the international Malaysian terrorists Julkipli bin Hir alias “Marwan” at the cost of 44 National Police Special Action Force commandos may be the last, but the most telling, exposé of Aquino III’s indecisive leadership. Add to the disaster the resurrection of the anti-Moroism that can scuttle the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law now floundering in the Congress — the much-hoped-for solution to the Moro problem.
What caused the disastrous miscarriage of “Oplan Exodus”?
First, there was break in the PNP chain of command.
Second, as a consequence, there was no coordination in the top ranks of the PNP Command, between the PNP and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) or Military Command, and with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) as called for in the Government-MILF Ceasefire Agreement.
Media reports pointed to the President as the principal cause of the break in the chain of command; so, as a consequence, he was responsible for the debacle. The special PNP Board of Inquiry and the Senate, after investigating the Mamasapano incident, confirmed these and cited the President as fully or ultimately responsible for break in the chain of command leading to the debacle.
Was the President really responsible?
From the PNP BOI Report: The President gave the go-signal and allowed the execution of Oplan Exodus after the concept of operations was presented to him by Napeñas. (He) allowed the participation of the suspended CPNP Purisima in the planning and execution of the (mission) despite the suspension order of the Ombudsman.
The President exercised his prerogative to deal directly with Napeñas instead of PNP officer in charge Leonardo Espina… and while (he) has the prerogative to deal directly with any of his subordinates, the act of dealing with Napeñas instead of PNP OIC Espina bypassed the established PNP chain of command (As quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 14, 2015: BOI: President broke PNP chain of command).
From the Senate Report: The President must bear responsibility for giving assent to and failing to prevent the unlawful exercise of official functions by [suspended] PDG [Alan] Purisima in connection with Oplan Exodus.
It is beyond doubt that the President was fully aware that PDG Purisima was preventively suspended by the Ombudsman on 4 December 2014, and that PDDG [Leonardo] Espina was designated Officer-in-Charge of the PNP on 12 December 2014.
Yet, the President:
- Allowed PDG Purisima to join the 9 January 2015 meeting at the Bahay Pangarap, where a sensitive and classified PNP operation was being discussed;
- Instructed PDG Purisima to coordinate Oplan Exodus with the AFP;
- Communicated exclusively with PDG Purisima in regard the progress of Oplan Exodus on 25 January 2015; and
- Gave instructions to PDG Purisima as to the conduct of Oplan Exodus on 25 January 2015, as when the President sent PDG Purisima a text message reading, “Basit should not get away.”
The President himself admitted that all the communication regarding Oplan Exodus emanating from him to PDIR Napeñas, and vice-versa, was being coursed through a then suspended PDG Purisima. (Excerpt from: Full Text: Executive summary of Senate report on Mamasapano clash as published by Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 17, 2015.)
The Palace disagreed.
First, on the President’s part: He addressed the nation twice, January 28 and February 6, to tell what he knew. Last March 9, he related “what really happened” in a 30-minute narrative — more like a “story telling” — during the open forum after a prayer meeting with leaders of the evangelical groups in Malacañang. He owned the responsibility but blamed the SAF commander, Police Director Getulio Napeñas, for all that had happened.
He reasoned that he had given orders to Purisima and Napeñas. He believed that since he had given the orders, these would be followed. He rued he was fooled. He took it for granted. He did not check up to make sure his orders were followed. In reasoning so, he cared more for the giving, less for the obeying.
In yesterday’s Inquirer report (March 23, 2015: Aquino: Purisima let me down), he rued Purisima’s and Napeñas’ betrayal. He trusted them. “Why did I fail to detect that they were misleading me?” Ruing only magnified his indecisiveness. Had he called the AFP Top Command and Espina on January 23, he could have discovered no coordination had been done; right then, he could have called off the operation.
On the part of the Palace: Led by PCOO (Presidential Communications Operations Office) Secretary Herminio Coloma, the presidential spokespersons defended him.
Item: Coloma argued that while the President admitted he was responsible, he should not be blamed. “Responsibility” is not “culpability”. In Bisaya, this may be dismissed with dry humor: “Pataka ka lang” [loosely in English, “You’re nuts (or crazy”)] – implying, sloppy or careless thinking or playing clever. The two terms are not identical; however, the second is the necessary consequence of failure to keep the first.
Item: Lacierda (The Philippine Star, March 15, 2015; Palace disputes chain of command findings) belabored the contention that the President did not violate the PNP chain of command in dealing directly with Napeñas and involving Purisima. As Chief Executive, he is not part of the chain of command but has full control and supervision over all PNP “members, regardless of rank” – emphasizing, “the chain of command rule … applies only within the PNP”.
Again, “pataka ka lang”. The chain of command is important to the PNP. Granted, the President is outside of it. He has the full control and supervision over all PNP members; he by-passed the OIC Director General. That did not violate or break the chain?
Item: The real issue, the consequence of the President’s exercise of his prerogative, was distorted – focusing on “the severity of the consequences of decisions made by those officials who disobeyed the President”. The focus must have been on “the severity of the consequences” of the President’s failure to make sure his orders were obeyed. In reality he left it to chance, belying “The President therefore left nothing to chance.”
Item: The BOI failed to get the side of the President on contentious issues. The BOI had free access to the Palace. “The President would have answered any questions they may have had. But no official request was made.” That was really unfortunate.
How could the Palace have responded had the BOI made the request? Last March 4, the Senate made a written request for the transcript of the SMS conversations of the President and Purisima. The President approved the release two weeks after (Rappler, March 20, 2015: Aquino okays release of SMS transcript to Senate) Why did it take two weeks for the President to decide – three days after the Senate had released online its Report last March 17? Did he really care?
Item: In the same report of The Philippine Star (3/15/15: Palace disputes …), Justice Secretary Leila de Lima made an issue of the President being the PNP commander-in-chief (CoC).
President Aquino is not PNP CoC, citing a 1992 Supreme Court decision. The BOI’s conclusion that President Aquino broke the chain of command of the PNP as CoC was wrong based on a wrong premise. Incidentally, the President in his March 9 30-minute narrative said he was PNP commander-in-chief.
She clarified that the President, as the Chief Executive, relates to the PNP “in the same way that he acts as the Chief Executive to all the civilian agencies of the Executive bureaucracy”. What she failed to cite was the 1995 Executive Order No. 226 of President Ramos institutionalizing the “doctrine of command responsibility” with the President at the top of the chain of command. Aquino III violated it in “Operation Exodus”.
De Lima was indulging in technicalities evading the issue: Was President Aquino III accountable as Chief Executive in exercising his authority over the PNP in the operation of “Oplan Exodus”?
In her speech at the conference of Rotary International District 3800 in Manila on Friday, March 20 (Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 23, 2015:De Lima says President erred in ‘Exodus’), she stuck to the technicalities but said, “That does not mean that the President is not accountable”, expounding on the issue lengthily. Aside, we think she was playing it safe. In her statements to the press, no reader would question her; in the Rotary, she knew she would be roasted.
Item: While disputing the 130-page BOI Report from many aspects, the Palace did not seek its amendment (philstar.com), March 16, 2015: Palace won’t seek amendment of BOI report). But it released a point-by-point rebuttal of the charges the Report hurled against President Aquino III (Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 21, 2015: View from the Palace: Reply to BOI report) There were 17 replies within 15 pages. On the whole, it was an anemic reply – many of them irrelevant, pointless, and repetitive.
To recapitulate, two erratic decisions caused the Mamasapano debacle.
One, the President’s decision to entrust the operation of “Oplan Exodus” to Purisima and Napeñas, and, the other, his taking it for granted that his orders would be followed; these caused the debacle. He said Napeñas should have aborted the operation. That was easier said than done under prevailing circumstances. But he could have easily aborted it by himself had he checked on January 22 or 23 whether there was coordination as he had ordered. He did not care to.
The Palace communications or press corps is doing its utmost to make the President look blameless while being responsible. This is incongruous; this is lack of cogency; this will only worsen matters. In their obsession, the President’s spokespersons belabor; they seem to presume that all they say will be believed. This is careless presumption.
What will the President do?
First, ignore the call for the President to resign. This is not the solution to the crisis.
Second, let the President admit his faults without reservation. Acknowledge the integrity of the BOI and Senate Reports. Then, lapse into silence. As the Chinese saying goes, “More talks, more mistakes; less talks, less mistake; no talk, no mistake.”
Third, apology is not necessary although the President’s doing it on his own volition can salve hurt feelings and rein down emotions. The best apology, however, is for Aquino III to do what he must do as President in the fifteen months remaining of his term. Only he can stabilize the Presidency and turn over a stable Philippines to the next President. Well used, fifteen months are long enough to make the difference.
That calls for President Aquino III to be decisive and care-more.
(Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at [email protected].)