Aquino just misinformed or liable for Mamasapano?
MANILA, Philippines – Now that some of President Benigno Aquino III’s text messages with his security officials are revealed, how do senators assess his role in the Mamasapano clash?
Some senators said that Aquino should not be held liable because he was misinformed about the situation on the ground, but the President’s critics saw a “strategy” of his subordinates to shield him from responsibility.
Senate public order committee Grace Poe echoed the observation of Senator Francis Escudero that resigned police chief Alan Purisima gave Aquino inaccurate information. Purisima told Aquino that the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers had artillery and mechanized support from the military during the morning of the encounter on January 25.
Poe told reporters after the Senate hearing on Monday, February 23, that it was clear that what actually happened was that the military only said that these were the assets available, not the ones deployed.
“Also, the President knew that there were a lot of troopers as part of the mission. He did not know that only 13 SAF were able to cross the river while the back-up force was 2 or 3 hours late,” said Poe. “So on that part alone, the President did not know that the plan was unraveling, that there was a domino effect on the ground. So how can he give a direct order?”
Poe said it was “difficult” for Aquino to order the military to reinforce the SAF because he thought that the assets were already deployed.
Yet the senator did not give a definite answer when asked if she held Aquino liable for the active role that his close friend, resigned police chief Alan Purisima, played in the operation even while on suspension over corruption allegations.
“Purisima just took it upon himself. Supposedly, he was just providing transition and institutional knowledge on the operation. But then again, was there too much power or autonomy given to General Purisima? I think if we piece all these things together, it will come out to that,” said Poe.
Muddle the issue
Opposition Senator JV Ejercito believes that the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Cabinet security cluster are trying to cover up for Aquino.
Ejercito pointed out that in the hearing on February 12, security officials said they only talked to Aquino about the encounter in the afternoon of January 25, only for them to admit on Monday that they were in touch with him early morning.
“It appears that their strategy is to muddle the issue by blaming the lack of coordination, probably to shield the highest official. That’s why they are pitting the AFP and the PNP against each other, and probably have just one fall guy emerge. Whoever that is, we will see,” Ejercito said.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr said it remains unclear whether Aquino should be cleared of liability because it is still uncertain what exactly were the reports given to him, and who gave these reports.
Marcos reiterated his call for Aquino to release his own timeline of events.
“We are collecting text messages from the commanders, and piecing these together to find out the series of reports the President got. But we still need to know what his orders were. We know the result: there was no reinforcement. What we do not know is where the problem occurred,” Marcos said.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said that the text messages revealed in the Monday hearing were still incomplete, as there was information given in executive session that has yet to be made public.
The Senate is investigating the mission to arrest top terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that ended in a deadly clash. The encounter killed 44 SAF troopers, 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberatio Front (MILF) and 3 civilians.
Aquino admitted knowing of the operation beforehand, but details of his actual involvement are only coming out nearly a month after the incident. The mission was controversial because it left the top military and police brass out of the loop, along with the MILF despite a peace process with the government.
Drilon: Ombudsman must charge Purisima
To Aquino’s staunch ally Senate President Franklin Drilon, the liability clearly rests with Purisima. (READ: Miriam to Purisima: Kung di ka siguro sumali, buhay sila')
Drilon said Purisima gave orders to then SAF Director Getulio Napeñas even while suspended, as shown by the exchange of text messages between the two officers.
“The Ombudsman should study the possibility of charging Purisima with usurpation of public functions because at the time of his suspension, he was performing functions of a public official who would have the power to direct the operations. It was very clear that he gave the go signal, which he should not have been doing,” said the Senate chief.
Poe supported Drilon’s suggestion, saying what remains unclear is if Purisima deliberately misled the President by saying that the SAF troopers already had the support requested.
“If you make a diagram, he is the triangle connecting all the participants in this operation. For a person supposedly just providing transition, it seems he really had a direct hand on how things turned out on the 25th and before,” said Poe.
No war room in Zamboanga?
Poe said another lingering question is how the President got reports on the operation later in the day of January 25.
Aquino was in Zamboanga for a security briefing on a bomb blast two days ago. He was with security officials including Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and PNP Officer in Charge Leonardo Espina.
“There is a gap in the text messages of the President with Purisima, that’s why we are wondering if the military, Secretary Mar or General Espina could have taken over the information given to the President during that time in Zamboanga. That’s what we’re still trying to clarify,” said Poe.
She added: “Perhaps the President could have set up a war room in Zamboanga to be able to assess the situation on time. Was there one? Was there none? If none, why not? We will ask that.”
The last Mamasapano hearing is scheduled on Tuesday, and then Poe’s committee will begin drafting its report.
Poe said there is no need to invite the US Embassy to the hearing to explain America’s reported involvement in the operation. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said on Monday that the mission was “100% planned and implemented” by Filipino officials and troops. – Rappler.com