MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 18 March) – Had President Aquino apologized and admitted responsibility for the clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that led to the death of 44 Special Action Force commandos, 18 guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and five civilians, he would have been politically at peace by now. Unfortunately for him, he allowed his haciendero’s ego to get the better of his judgment and chose instead to find scapegoats for what is arguably the biggest crisis his administration has faced so far.

And even as both the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry and the Senate have finished their respective reports on the incident there are no indications yet that Aquino will finally man up and say “sorry” even if he has taken responsibility for the botched operation.

“So far, he has been focused on what can be done in the aftermath of the January 25 incident and he has been focused on these things,” Deputy Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters on Wednesday (March 18). Valte’s statement can only mean Aquino’s lingering reluctance to declare that the buck stops with him as Senator Grace Poe insists.

But even if the president does say “sorry” in light of the outcomes of the BOI and Senate reports, such gesture appears rather late at this stage. So much damage has been done. The incident has rekindled old, though unspoken, issues between the police and the military, imperiled the peace process with the MILF in particular the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and worsened anti-Moro sentiments.

In addition, in his desperate attempt to come out clean by pinning all the blame on sacked SAF chief Director Getulio Napenas Jr., Aquino may have unknowingly made the other top police and military officials doubt if they can expect their commander-in-chief to stick with them through thick and thin. Everybody knew that had the Mamasapano operation unfolded as planned, Napenas would have become a household name and Aquino would have heaped praises on him. But since it ended in a fiasco with 44 SAF troopers dead the president is now portraying him as an incompetent official and tactician.

Unknowingly too, by excluding PNP officer in charge Deputy Director Eduardo Espina from the planning and execution of the plan and tapping instead suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, Aquino was sending across the message that he does not trust Espina. Aquino was lucky Espina did not give up his OIC post upon knowing that he was being bypassed – in favor of a suspended official!

No, it wasn’t simply a case of Aquino breaking the chain of command in the Mamasapano operation as the BOI report said; it’s a case of the president resorting to barkada-style management. (Shades of Erap Estrada’s midnight cabinet?) Never mind the implications of breaking the law by engaging the services of a suspended police official, an act which Aquino and his allies have ignored.

Just another detour along the “matuwid na daan”?