So it has come down to this, as it has always been and to which it will keep coming back. Whatever the twists and turns of headlines and hearings, allegations and argumentations, disinformation and denials, insinuations and investigations, scapegoats and sycophants, the question on every Filipino’s mind, especially the grieving and angry families and comrades-in-arms of the Fallen 44 police commandos, remains:
Did President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the Commander-in-Chief at the apex of the military and police chains of command, order government forces to “stand down” or desist from mounting attacks to rescue beleaguered and eventually overrun Philippine National Police Special Action Force units, leading to the massacre of 44 PNP-SAF troopers in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25?
This newspaper reported on February 5 that President Aquino did hold back reinforcements, citing an unnamed insider who reportedly witnessed events in the US drone control facility in Zamboanga. Fellow columnist Rigoberto Tiglao cited resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima’s inexplicably interrupted transcript of texts with Aquino — missing eight hours from mid-morning to evening — as hiding the stand-down order.
Weeks ago Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said Aquino had allowed the PLDT subsidiary to give the Senate committee probing Mamasapano the “transcriptions of SMS conversations between him and General Purisima in the early hours of January 25, 2015.” But she said nothing about messages later in the day.
Smart said it has a log of calls and texts, which indicates time but not content of communications. It should be, well, smart enough to release the information before sectors demanding truth whip up a boycott of its mobile services to get the log out.
Time for a signature campaign
Still, just in case certain parties need more motivation to reveal the truth about the Commander-in-Chief’s reported command, a signature campaign may be in order. The public petition can be signed in places of worship, in schools, on the street, online, and other public spaces.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the National Movement for Free Elections, the Association of Major Religious Superiors, student councils, and other citizens groups can start the campaign with a joint full-page advertisement urging:
• President Aquino, Secretaries Voltaire Gazmin and Mar Roxas, Armed Forces Chief General Gregorio Catapang, PNP Officer-in-Charge Leonardo Espina, resigned PNP Chief Purisima, relieved SAF commander Getulio Napeñas, and the commanders of military forces near Mamasapano on January 25 to state under oath if they personally know of any orders given by the Commander-in-Chief stopping forces from taking armed action in support of the PNP-SAF units under attack.
• Smart Communications to release to both Congress and media the log of calls and texts between Aquino and Purisima on the entire 24 hours of January 25.
• Aquino and Purisima to provide transcripts of all texts yet undisclosed, based on the Smart log to be provided, and to state under oath what instructions, information, and other statements were made relating to the Mamasapano incident during their calls.
Won’t these demanded disclosures violate the privacy of private communications? No, messages regarding government actions like the Mamasapano operation are not private. They are official acts for which public servants are accountable, and which the people have a right to know under the Constitution, subject to national security, executive privilege, and other restrictions set by law.
Would disclosure compromise security? In fact, it is hiding the messages that now hurts security. If Aquino gave such orders, then all this recrimination between military and police top brass would end, since General Catapang and the rest of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were just following presidential orders when they desisted in assisting the SAF. Right now, AFP and PNP ties are strained by all the finger-pointing.
And if he did sacrifice the SAF for the peace process with the MILF, as many reports allege, our soldiers and police deserve to know that. Then future operations can totally preclude any possibility of encounters with the Front, since it is the Commander-in-Chief’s policy not to engage the MILF, even to save the lives of our fighting men, to preserve the Bangsamoro agreement.
Let the nation know
Okay, so disclosing the Aquino-Purisima SMS exchange on January 25 would not violate their privacy, and would even advance national security. What about executive privilege and the right against self-incrimination?
Executive privilege applies to the President and his communications with the Cabinet as well as the AFP and PNP Chiefs. It is accorded the highest organs of government, including the Senate and the House of Representatives in executive session, and the Supreme Court during its deliberations.
Under this principle, those top-level discussions may not be disclosed without permission from entities concerned, so they can have free and unbridled sharing of views and knowledge in shaping high-level state policies and decisions, and to safeguard the independence of co-equal branches of government.
However, the privilege does not apply to Aquino’s exchange with Purisima because the latter was suspended from all official duties on January 25. So disclosing their communication would not violate executive privilege.
As for self-incrimination, it too does not apply, since giving a stand-down order is not a criminal act. It is a legitimate exercise of presidential policy and decision making. It may be faulty, unpopular and heartless, but it is not unlawful or illegal. Disclosing information that proves Aquino ordered troops to desist from saving the SAF so that peace with Muslim rebels would be obtained, does not incriminate him.
So, please, Mr. President, tell the truth, and set all of us — discordant generals, debating lawmakers, disturbed citizens, 44 distressed families, and yourself — free. That’s Daang Matuwid.