“I am the President, but I am also human.”
In what could be his final speech on the issue, President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Thursday again accepted responsibility for the disastrous January 25 Mamasapano incident and “humbly” asked for “understanding,” but offered no apology.
“I say this once more: As President, I carry the responsibility,” Aquino said in Filipino at the graduation rites of the Philippine National Police1 Academy’s “Lakandula” Class of 2015.
“To every Filipino who has felt failure or has been hurt because of the events related to this operation: It is with the abiding humility that I ask for your deepest understanding,” he added.
The President maintained that all the decisions he made on the day 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos died during a mission in Maguindanao were made based on wrong information passed on to him by people he thought he could trust.
Although he did not name anyone, Aquino earlier accused sacked SAF commander Getulio Napenas and resigned Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima of having misled him about the effectivity of “Oplan Exodus” and of disregarding his orders to coordinate the mission with other police units and the Armed Forces.
Nevertheless, he admitted, “Regardless of my anger for the disregard for the orders I gave, regardless of my regret for trusting people who concealed the truth from me, I can never erase the fact [that]44 members of our police force are dead.”
“I will bear this basic truth with me to my grave,” the President said.
Aquino reiterated that he would never send members of the uniformed service on a “suicide mission.”
He, however, said: “The version of the plan presented to me convinced me that adequate preparations were made, and that it would be executed correctly. I also assumed that all my orders would be followed, especially since I was dealing with professionals regarding the matter.”
He also maintained that there was no sense of urgency from the updates he received through text messages during the day of the operation.
This, according to the President, prevented him from responding immediately to the situation on the ground.
“My appeal is this: Try to put yourselves in my situation. If I had known this immediately, do you think I would have missed the chance to help our men?”
Aquino said no other leader could have performed better with the kind of information he had while the operation was unfolding.
“But now that I have shared all that I went through, and the information I held on that day, is there anyone who can say, in all honesty, that he can exceed everything we did in order to respond to the situation, given the information we had?” he asked.
The President took the opportunity to explain why he did not attend arrival ceremonies for the 44 police commandos when their corpses arrived in Manila, a decision Filipinos disagreed with.
“My intention was to help them heal. I wanted to have clear answers should I be asked, ‘What happened? Why did they die? What will happen to us now?’ “ he said. “If my response was ‘I do not know,’ how could I help hasten the healing?”
Aquino then again vowed he was telling the truth about the operation before again “humbly” asking for understanding.
“With God as my witness, I tell you the truth. But I am aware there are those who are close-minded, who will not listen regardless of what I say,” he said.
“As President, I have to attend to so many matters, all at the same time, all requiring an immediate response and decision from me. I am responsible for the 100 million Filipinos here at home and abroad. Yes, I am the President, but I am also human. I cannot read the mind of every person in front of me, and I cannot personally monitor every situation.
But as I have promised, I will continue to do what is right and just. I will continue to exert every effort to serve all of you and to faithfully fulfill my sworn mandate,” Aquino added.
He reiterated his pledge to seek justice for the slain commandos.
“I am not saying that I am like God, who knows everything, but I have a duty to right whatever wrong I discover. And I assure you: We respect due process. Those responsible will be held to account,” the President said.
Aquino has been criticized for not acknowledging his possible mistakes in the Mamasapano operation and passing all the blame to Napeñas.
The PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) report on the Mamasapano incident found that Aquino broke the chain of command when he exercised his authority to deal with Napeñas in the execution of the operation.
The PNP-BOI said the President also broke the chain of command when he also dealt directly with his close friend, Purisima, who was then suspended over corruption allegations.
The Senate committees that investigated the Mamasapano incident also said in their reports that Aquino is “ultimately responsible” for the outcome of the SAF mission.
In his speech, the President again expressed his disappointment in not being summoned by the Senate or the PNP-BOI, and not being able to air his side before investigating bodies, both of which released their respective reports on the incident.
“What saddens me is that at times, in lieu of asking me questions, those who prepared the reports chose to speculate instead. This leads us to ask: How can guesswork, instead of facts, help clarify this issue?,” he said, hitting both bodies for their “speculations.”
The SAF operation was aimed at neutralizing Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and his Filipino cohort Abdul Basit Usman.
During the mission, the SAF troops clashed with Moro Islamic Liberation Front members, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and private armed groups that led to the deaths of the 44 SAF men, 18 rebels and five civilians.
The Mamasapano tragedy has placed the government’s peace talks with the MILF in peril while Aquino’s perceived ineptitude in handling the Mamasapano issue has pulled down his ratings to their lowest levels.