Second of four parts
“This is a go, but I have to tell the president,” General Alan Purisima is quoted by the Board of Inquiry as saying after having been presented the plan for “neutralizing” Marwan and Usman Sali. The implication of this statement is that operation plans like Terminator 1 and 2 and ultimately Oplan Exodus have final approval of the Commander-In-Chief of all armed military and police forces – the President of the Republic of the Philippines.
I asked General Getulio Napenas why President Aquino had to take personal interest on Marwan whom I had a mind set of as a simple police matter. The general’s answer was most revealing, and to me, somewhat a surprise.
“In much the same way as President Obama took personal interest on Osana Bin Laden,” he said.
“Oh, yes?” I said, betraying my ignorance on the exact stature of Marwan. “Is Marwan that big?”
“He was responsible for killing more than 200 in Bali in 2002 and injuring scores more,” Napenas answered, eyeing me in a manner that showed his amazement at how little I knew about the HVT that was Marwan. Indeed, stories about terror bombings have been a news milieu a bit too much to make one terrorist a stand-out among the countless others. In Marwan’s case, however, a huge bounty of 5 million dollars can be the big difference.
Now, as General Napenas clarified it to me, SAF is a police agency precisely organized to combat terrorism and look after internal security. And though, as the BOI report revealed, it was the US State Department that put up the hefty $5 million reward for Marwan’s head, the problem of “neutralizing” him in the Philippines became a particular concern of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF). It goes without saying that once CPNP General Alan Purisima got wind of Marwan’s hiding in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, his immediate rccourse was to summon SAF Director General Getulio Napenas and give him instructions for going through the nitty-gritty of devising a plan for the capture of HVT Marwan. Terminator 1 was such plan. When General Purisima declared, “This (Terminator 1) is a go…,” he was in effect saying the requisite of the principle of chain of command on the Marwan operation has been amply met as far as his level was concerned. And when General Purisima added, “but I have to tell the President,” he was in effect declaring the President was the higher level to which the chain of command must rise. There being nobody higher than the President in the chain, ultimate responsibility for Terminator 1 stops at him.
“The responsibility of any operation is from the highest commander down to the lowest. You cannot make the subordinate commander responsible alone once higher commanders know the operation,” Napenas asserted in the interview.
In other words, so long as the principle of chain of command is followed, the result of operation, whether success or failure, is a command responsibility of the ultimate authority.
Terminator 1 was a failure. The local boats used by the operatives in going to the target site capsized and the operation was aborted. And true to the principle of chain of command, General Getulio Napenas reported the matter to DGPNP General Alan Purisima, who ultimately conducted the mission updates to President Aquino. The occasion took place in the Malacañang firing range.
Though Napenas and other SAF officers who were with him kept to the sideline, they were at hearing distance of the conversation between the President and General Purisima, and at certain points of the discussion, Napenas contributed his say.
A second Oplan Terminator was put in place in a determined bid to capture Marwan. It became evident that getting Marwan was of utmost urgency. However, again this operation got botched when an army detachment in the route of the assault was attacked by the MILF. Wanting to avoid engagement with the attacking MILF forces, the Terminator operatives withdrew, calling off the operation.
An intriguing facet of Terminator 2 is the fact that when President Aquino gave orders to General Purisima for its execution, the latter had already been suspended as Chief, PNP. That was December 12, 2014; General Purisima was suspended December 9.
Why President Aquino insisted in having the operation carried out under the command of General Purisima when along the principle of chain of command he had been rendered non-consequential, is a question that has remained unanswered until now.
In any case, in both the start and culmination of the two Oplans Terminators, President Aquino had clearly been in command of everything. Had the operations succeeded, he most expectedly would be quick to gloat in glory for the result. But now that it had failed, was he to escape responsibility?
The great war strategist Sun Tzu, in his book Art of War, has a very interesting illustration of just what command responsibility is.
A king has his wife as the commander of the women corps in his army. During a drill, the wife commander gives out a command but the women troops, unable to understand the command, giggle. According to Sun Tzu, when the first command is given and the troops fail to follow, the troops are to blame and they have to be made to learn. When, after the troops have been made to learn and yet they still fail to follow the command correctly, it is the commander who is at fault.
“What is to be done to the commander?” the King asks Sun Tzu.
Sun Tzu replies, “Behead him.”
Whereupon the King orders his wife beheaded.
And yet in the instant case we are facing now, we are only just talking about the two failed Oplans Terminator – not yet Oplan Exodus.
(More on this in my pieces on Saturday January 23 and Sunday January 24).