PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd and three top Philippine National Police (PNP) officials who planned the operation to capture terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan should be held liable for the death of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) members who carried out the mission, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said.
In a media briefing after attending the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs inquiry into the Mamasapano clash, Santiago on Thursday said it is difficult to pin the blame on a single person, considering that the President and the three PNP officials were aware of the operation and had discussed it several times. She was referring to resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima, SAF commander Getulio Napeñas and Intelligence Group head Fernando Mendez.
The feisty senator added that the three police officers can be charged in court, but not Aquino because he is immune from suit.
The President can only be charged when he steps down from office next year.
Aquino “has immunity from suit except impeachment, but he loses the immunity when he leaves office in 2016 and he can be charged, that is a principle of law,” Santiago explained.
The senator, a former regional trial court judge, noted that the admission made by Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas that they met several times to discuss the operation constitutes strong evidence but it will be difficult to tell who among the four is really responsible for the massacre of the policemen for lack of evidence.
“But certainly these are all part of the discharge by the President of his functions as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), so in effect, all four must assume responsibility for the failure, in fact not only a failure but the carnage, the massacre that took place,” Santiago said.
The senator added that Napeñas should not be blamed solely for the incident because she believes that he was only following orders.
“Who are the people responsible? Who are the people behind your back? You have acted as a gentleman but who are the people pulling the strings behind you?” Santiago asked Napeñas.
Santiago is convinced that the President had a direct involvement in Oplan Exodus because he even allowed Purisima to participate in the planning and execution of the mission even if the latter had been suspended by the Sandiganbayan.
To spare the President and Purisima from any liabilities, however, Napeñas is being used as a scapegoat, Santiago said.
And the sad part, she added, is that the suspended SAF chief is willing to be the sacrificial lamb.