President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s fight for political survival appears to have taken a turn for the worse after the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) survivors of the January 25 massacre in Mamasapano, Maguindanao reportedly asked him “behind closed doors” to resign. Until then, the call on Aquino to “step down” has come from the National Transformation Council and various other groups who want him to account for his numerous constitutional violations and for his role in the Mamasapano massacre.
Highly informed sources said the SAF resignation call came on Wednesday during an early three-hour-plus “bull session” with the commandos at the PNP-SAF Headquarters in Camp Bagong Diwa, Camp Bicutan, Taguig City, before the assumption of command by the new SAF director, Chief Superintendent Moro Virgilio Lazo, in place of Chief Superintendent Getulio Napenas, who was sacked immediately after the Mamasapano debacle, and Chief Superintendent Noli Talino, who had taken over from Napenas as Officer-in-Charge
The call came, the sources said, after Aquino had complained about the “poor planning and execution” of Operation Exodus, which resulted in the death of 44 SAF commandos, while trying to capture two international terrorists —the Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir and his Filipino associate Abdul Basit Usman—who had found shelter near the camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Aquino had taken direct control of the police operation and put suspended and now resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima “in command.”
Aquino also broke the PNP operational chain of command by cutting out the Secretary of Interior and Local Government Mar Roxas, who is legally in charge of the police, and the acting PNP chief Leonardo Espina, who had taken over after the Ombudsman suspended Purisima on corruption charges.
The Congress hearings, which tried to cover up Aquino’s accountability for the massacre and treated the nation to the most outrageous lies, had studiously avoided pursuing reports that Aquino, who monitored the actual fighting from a military station in Zamboanga City on January 25, personally ordered the reinforcement for the Fallen 44 “to stand down.” But Malacañang itself has not denied those reports.
The PNP top officers were not present during the “bull session.” They waited at the open-air quadrangle fronting the SAF headquarters while Aquino spoke to the commandos. The closed-door meeting was supposed to last no more than half an hour, but ended only after more than three hours. Nobody spoke to the media after the meeting.
Aquino had apparently expected the session to be stormy, for although on Tuesday, Malacañang advised the media that he would be making a speech during the command turnover, by Wednesday morning they were told the speech had been cancelled. A podium had been set up with the presidential seal on it but this was eventually removed.
The officers did not clap when Aquino emerged from his closed-door meeting, and the turnover was done in 15 minutes. Only Talino and Lazo spoke. The press did not see Napeñas at all.
The cashiered SAF commander’s last famous appearance was on video, which showed him briefing top defense officials on Jan. 26, a day after the massacre, about the illegal role performed by the suspended Purisima, and the briefings he had given the President on the ill-fated operation. This video had gone viral on many social media sites, allowing more people to see Aquino’s actual culpability in the whole fiasco.
The dean of the San Beda College of Law Graduate School has said that Purisima clearly usurped authority, and that Aquino could be prosecuted for “condoning” Purisima’s usurpation of authority. Others, however, have pointed out that Aquino did not merely “condone,” but in fact “caused,” “ordered,” “authorized,” and “facilitated” the usurpation.
Apparently Aquino’s meeting with the commandos had such a deep impact on him that the crisis committee meetings inside Malacañang have not had any letup since. “The grand picnic is over,” said one source. The mood of some Malacañang insiders, according to this source, is that Aquino may not long survive, and may be ultimately compelled to step down, if offered “a good deal.” This could include immunity from arrest and imprisonment, exile to a country of his choice, and freedom for himself and his immediate kin to enjoy whatever money they had made in the last four years.
Others, however, fear that even his life may now be in danger from the very troops that are supposed to protect him. This issue was recently publicly raised at Tapatan, a well-attended press forum at the Aristocrat Restaurant on Roxas Boulevard, where Aquino’s secretary for political affairs, Ronald Llamas, and I, among others, were present. The question referred to what happened to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was assassinated by two of her own bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984, while on her way to be interviewed by Peter Ustinov, the British actor. Her assassins were Sikhs, and the assassination was seen as an offshoot of the Indian army’s assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar three months earlier which heavily damaged the Sikh temple.
All of us at the forum could only express our hope and our prayer that nothing of the kind should happen.
But passions continue to rise, particularly in the face of Aquino’s determined effort to push for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (Babala), which seeks to create a new political entity for the MILF, even after it has been disowned by so many of its original authors in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and amid reports of deception and double-dealing on the part of the MILF and its backers, with respect to certain important issues.
For instance, with respect to the MILF returning to the government the weapons taken from the fallen SAF 44 by its fighters, authoritative sources have reported that Gov. Mujib Hattaman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Aquino’s own handpicked political leader, is the one paying for the weapons, using government funds, through his regional secretary of the environment, to be “returned” to the government. “We are being fried in our own oil,” said one source.
With respect to the government’s demand that the MILF surrender for criminal prosecution all its men who had taken part in the Mamasapano massacre, the latest news is that the government would soon be told that all of them had broken away from the MILF and defected either to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters or to the so-called Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM), which was supposedly organized by breakaway elements from the BIFF. This obvious ruse is reported to have the “blessings”, if not the “connivance,” of some of those running the Office of Presidential Assistant for the Peace Process (OPAPP).
In addition to the endless “crisis committee meetings,” Aquino has decided to travel his untrodden path. He is now asking for prayers, and asking prayer groups to pray with him (assuming he will be there) or to pray for him in Malacañang on Monday. Until now, he has shown more indifference to, than sympathy for, men and women of faith and prayer; he insisted on making Pope Francis’s apostolic visit to the Philippines a state visit also, so he would not be left out while millions of Filipinos pour out of their homes to be with the Pope. But he revealed his real self when he attacked the Church as a whole, and some unnamed churchmen in particular, in welcoming the Pope in Malacañang.
This is probably not as grave as any of Aquino’s unpunished constitutional violations, nor his culpability for the Mamasapano massacre. But nothing he has done could be denied forgiveness if he genuinely and sincerely asks for it. The trouble with Aquino, though, is that he wants and expects to be forgiven without doing penance, and without restituting (giving back) what he has illegally taken away from others (the people). He has to learn to give up the illegitimate power that he values so much in order to be returned to the trust and confidence of the people. He must learn to argue against self-interest, and put the interest of the country and its people above his own. The country must rise, and he must step down.