Should Aquino apologize? Palace says no
MANILA, Philippines – Should President Benigno Aquino III apologize for the botched Mamasapano operation that killed 44 Special Action Forces (SAF) commandos?
Malacañang doesn’t think so.
Asked whether Aquino owes an apology to the nation for his handling of “Oplan Exodus,” an operation targeting two top terrorists, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda admitted there may have been operation lapses, but said that has yet to be determined by the Board of Inquiry (BOI) probing the incident.
“As I have said before, the President deals on the policy level. What is the policy on that? We fight terrorism. We promote peace.... And I think there is nothing irregular. In fact, it should be a policy for our country to fight terrorism,” he said.
“On the operational level, however, we’ve seen lapses in the operation and for that particular instance, there is the BOI and the Senate to go through the details of the operation itself.”
Pushed further, however, on whether Aquino should issue an apology for putting then suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima in charge of the operation, Lacierda put the blame not on Aquino but on the resigned cop, saying Aquino gave “very clear instructions” to Purisima to coordinate with his higher-ups, but “ those instructions were not carried out.” (READ: Aquino, Purisima and the past that binds them)
Told he was not answering the question on whether an apology was warranted, Lacierda then went on to say, “You want a categorical answer? The categorical answer is that the President deals with the policy level.”
On Monday, senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Grace Poe said Aquino ought to explain to the public why he "created his own chain of command" in the police organization, which became the root cause of the tragedy.
On January 25, some 392 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos entered Mamasapano town, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to serve arrest warrants to top terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman. Marwan was killed while Usman got away.
The operation resulted in a bloody clash between SAF troopers and rebel forces that claimed at least 65 lives, including 44 SAF troopers. The MILF blames this on the SAF team's failure to coordinate with them, as provided in its agreement with the government on operations in known MILF territories. Questions have also arisen on why there was no coordination with the military, which could've provided back-up.
Napeñas, Purisima to blame
Following the operation, various sectors have called for the resignation of Aquino, who has been criticized for his handling of the incident, and amid confusion over his role in the operation.
Texts messages have shown Purisima was heavily involved in the operation in terms of directly reporting to the President and receiving information from SAF chief Getulio Napeñas, despite Aquino's earlier pronouncement that he was only involved up to the point he was suspended. (READ: Did the President lie? Text messages contradict Aquino)
Lacierda said this was evident that Aquino was not “micromanaging,” and that it is Napeñas and Purisima to blame.
“So, was he micromanaging? Obviously from the text exchanges, you will see that he was not. He was only being briefed by General Purisima on the goings on the operation. So, again, on the policy level, one fights terrorism. On the operational level, who should be held accountable? That’s another matter for the BOI to conclude,” he said.
He also said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who were kept out of the loop and only made aware of the operation when it was already ongoing, only received “dribs and drabs.”
“So who had operational information? It was General Napeñas, General Purisima,” Lacierda said.
But asked about the President's decision in the first place to involve a suspended official, Lacierda evaded the question.
“Obviously, we’re talking here in hindsight. The briefing, the operational plan, one has to discuss who crafted the operational plan. We would assume that there was some vetting on that. So, again, swe’re all spitballing here. We’re all talking hindsight where everything is 20/20,” he said.
“We don’t know what really happened prior to those situations before that. So that’s the role of the BOI to look into that. It’s so easy for us to say, with benefit of hindsight, why did the President do this or why did Napeñas not do this, or why did Purisima not do that? It’s so easy for us to ask those questions and that’s really the benefit of hindsight.”
The President has close ties to Purisima, whom he appointed as PNP chief in 2012. Aquino has been accused of protecting Purisima who also served in the Presidential Security Group (PSG) under the late president Corazon Aquino, mother of the President.
As a PSG member then, Purisima was assigned specifically to guard the young Aquino, and was with him when rebel soldiers attempted to assassinate the then presidential son. Aquino accepted Purisima's resignation two weeks after the failed operation. – Rappler.com