First of two parts
2015 began with Pope Francis visiting the Philippines. It was a gift and blessing to millions of Filipinos, believers and non-believers alike. President B. S. Aquino 3rd welcomed the Pope with a sour and an ungracious message, but the latter simply ignored the lack of manners. Francis came down to Tacloban and under inclement weather condoled with the victims of super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, who had been waiting in vain for the aid which various donors around the world had coursed through the government.
The papal visit eased their suffering and pain. But it did not improve the government’s response to the plight of the victims. The Yolanda victims continue to wait.
The euphoria was still there when on January 25 tragedy struck at Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Forty-four elite commandos of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police — during a special operation, codenamed Exodus, to capture a Malaysian terrorist named Zulkifli Abdir, alias Marwan, and his confederate Abdul Basit Usman in a sanctuary close to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) camp — were massacred by MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The US Federal Bureau of Investigation had listed Marwan as one of its most wanted terrorists, and had offered a $5-bounty for his capture, dead or alive.
The MILF had (and still has) a standing ceasefire agreement with the Aquino government, and was pushing for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress; it was not expected to figure in this incident. But everything that could go wrong went wrong on that day at the expense of the government. It was the 82nd birth anniversary of the late President Corazon Aquino, but instead of joining his siblings in commemorating his mother’s birthday, B. S. Aquino 3rd flew to Zamboanga City, purportedly to inspect the rehabilitation project for the victims of the Sept. 13, 2014 “siege of Zamboanga,” where a couple of hundred Moro National Liberation Front fighters were killed, 10,000 homes razed to the ground, and over 100,000 residents displaced during a military operation against MNLF intruders who had come to raise the flag of “Mindanao independence” in the city.
In reality, he went to Zamboanga to monitor the Mamasapano operation by remote control from inside the Western Mindanao command. He had put himself in direct control of Operation Exodus after he cut out then Secretary of Interior and Local Government Mar Roxas and the acting PNP chief Leonardo Espina from the established PNP chain of command, and illegally put his old friend, the suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima, as his principal operations officer, while dealing directly with PNP-SAF commander Getulio Napenas, who was the chief force provider for the operation. Operation Exodus was an apparent success, for they were able to cut off a finger from Marwan, which, according to the FBI on Feb. 4, 2015, proved Marwan’s death, although his body was never found.
But on the way out, the SAF commandos walked into an ambush. They were heavily outgunned and outnumbered. Their appeals for reinforcement went unheeded, and met with a “stand down” order instead. But where did that order come from? And what was the reason for it? The only one who could issue that order was the President himself. He was personally in charge of the operation and was monitoring everything as it unfolded. But the ambushed SAF commandos were not given reinforcements because Aquino wanted to preserve the “ceasefire” and the “peace negotiations” which he had started with a questionable secret meeting in Tokyo with the MILF Chairman Hajji Murad, even though the MILF had already violated what he was trying to protect by their naked assault on the SAF commandos.
Stories about the stand-down order and Aquino issuing it, which appeared in this space, were never denied, causing extreme anger among the widows and families of the Fallen 44. Aquino made things worse when he failed to show up at the military base when the cadavers of the commandos arrived, all because he had chosen to attend a Japanese company’s social function instead. One visibly angry widow tried to attack him when he finally showed up at a later meeting, but was bodily prevented from making any physical contact with the President.
Several official inquiries were conducted by the PNP and the two Houses of Congress, but all these inquiries tried to focus on the alleged failure of the SAF commander to “coordinate” with the various personalities whom Aquino himself had excluded from the chain of command. The PNP Board of Inquiry report, according to highly reliable sources, was released to the media only after it underwent “heavy editing” by the appropriate authorities. The Senate report, under Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares, was sent to the Archives without being formally discussed in plenary, sparing Aquino of any accountability or embarrassment.
None of the inquiries ever tried to determine why the SAF commandos were denied reinforcement. None ever raised the question of Aquino’s actual responsibility for the death of the commandos. The inquiries turned out to be a whitewash. And there was no mention of the SAF massacre in Aquino’s fourth Monday of July State of the Nation Address.
None of those responsible for the massacre have been surrendered by the MILF and the BIFF to the government for prosecution. Malacañang has made a public show of demanding that the weapons belonging to the Fallen 44 be returned, but subsequent reports have since claimed that the government had to pay for them at a cost higher than the original price of each, after they had been dismantled and rendered useless.
Meanwhile, a mural showing the faces and names of the Fallen 44, which was earlier put on display at the PNP Alumni Academy, was ordered taken down for purely whimsical reasons. Malacañang has vehemently denied any part in this dishonoring of the SAF commandos, but the mural is no longer there and now hangs inside the Coconut Palace, where Vice President Jejomar Binay holds office.
Despite the massacre, Malacañang has continued its efforts for the creation of an autonomous political territory for the MILF, to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao under the MNLF, at the behest of the Malaysian government and so many American and European NGOs. It took the intervention of the Senate committee under Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr. to break the mad rush to enact the BBL, which otherwise tended to ignore all other sources of opposition to it. Marcos undertook extensive consultations among stakeholders, who had been previously left out, and proposed amendments to the draft law, which the MILF and the government panel had previously agreed should be passed as is, regardless of any violation of the Constitution.
Together with some bishops who are identified with the National Transformation Council, and the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and I filed a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, upon which the proposed Babala (BBL) is based. Unfortunately, the petition has not moved. But not even the recent outbreak of ISIS terrorism in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the United States, which threatens to install the Islamic caliphate from North Africa through the Middle East to southern Philippines, has dampened the spirit of Aquino’s “peacemongers” in pressing the enactment of the Babala.
Their latest move was to steamroll the proposed legislation, without the proposed amendments from the Senate committee of Bongbong Marcos. But it was nipped in the bud by the greedy and corrupt congressmen who demanded P20 million for every one of them in exchange for their votes. Malacañang counter-offered P5 million each, according to our sources, but at the end of day the “negotiations” collapsed. Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles Quintos was reported to have thrown in the towel, and had met with Hajji Murad and the MILF treasurer to negotiate new arrangements in place of the proposed Babala. It now appears that Malacañang has decided to fund the MILF operations in the South, which appear to include the resumption of violent activities, including the attack on electric towers which threatens to cast Mindanao in darkness.
These attacks call for prompt and sufficient reaction from the Armed Forces, but it appears that the AFP’s capability to respond is severely affected by the “lack of bullets” in the military arsenal. According to reports, out of a standing order of 800 million bullets, made much earlier this year, only 200 million had been delivered, and had been substantially used. The will to fight is there, but this amounts to very little without the needed logistics.
(To be continued on Monday)