The cataclysmic collapse of his credibility and trust ratings has sent President B. S. Aquino 3rd spinning in the wind, as it were. According to reports, 79 percent of those polled found his explanation about the Mamasapano, Maguindanao massacre “not enough,” only 10 percent believed it, and his trust rating has fallen to a net 14 percent. Bad as these numbers are, the real statistics could be far worse, given the pressure on even the most honest pollsters to fudge their findings.
Aquino’s inspired reaction was to approve the release of “the transcript of his text messages” with the then-suspended(now resigned) Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima when the House of Representatives resumes its own inquiry into the massacre of 44 PNP-Special Action Force commandos on a mission to “neutralize” three international terrorists being harbored by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
At the same time, contrary to the finding of the PNP Board of Inquiry and the subsequent statement of former President Fidel V. Ramos, that Aquino violated the PNP chain of command, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima continued to argue that a civilian organization like the PNP has “no chain of command” which he could have violated. More on this later.
For now, we have to talk of what happened on Friday evening. Rumors flew thick and fast that Aquino had physically “collapsed” and injured his head after his last public appearance at the inauguration of the President Emilio Aguinaldo museum in Kawit, Cavite. The original source of the story was not known. There had been unconfirmed talk days before that he had suffered a nervous breakdown during the week of February 2 to 8, and that he continued to get medication for it. But on Friday reporters started calling Malacanang to inquire about his reported “collapse.” This prompted the Palace to issue a curt official denial. “No such thing,” the spokesman said, quoting the President.
This was nothing trivial. The public needed (and needs) to be assured the President remained in good health, even if they want to get rid of him. And Malacanang failed to do so. They could have released a video showing Aquino having dinner with a female celebrity guest or having a grand time with his nephew Joshua at the play station at the time of the rumored collapse. But they did nothing of the sort. Thus despite the denial, the rumors persist.
This takes us back to the time in the Marcos presidency when rumors first began to spread about the President’s health. I had left the Cabinet as information minister then, and had returned to journalism, and was the first and for sometime the only one to write about Marcos’ secret kidney transplant. This was elaborately denied by the Palace, using TV film footage and official photos to show the President actively performing his duties. But my medical sources stood by their story, and the rumors grew stronger and stronger as the President’s public appearances grew less and less and Cabinet members failed more and more to gain access to the President. The rest is history.
This so impacted the nation that when Cory Aquino’s 48-member commission wrote the 1987 Constitution, they inserted two relevant provisions in anticipation of something similar happening in the future. Thus Article VII, Section 11 provides that “Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.
“Whenever a majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President…”
And Sec. 12, same Article provides that, “In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health. The members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall not be denied access to the President during such illness.”
Amid the sky-rending calls for Aquino’s resignation (“stepping down,” the National Transformation Council puts it,) following the Mamasapano massacre, and his prolonged unexplained disappearances from public view, particularly during emergencies and calamities, the Cabinet could invoke Sec. 11 to save Aquino from making the painful decision himself. But the Cabinet is known to be led by the sworn enemies of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, and they have been running the government for Aquino since 2010. They could be the ones pressuring Aquino to hold on, despite any inclination or temptation on his part to call it quits.
As for Sec. 12, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, and Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang are all too docile to insist on their rights, if Aquino personally denies them access during a bout of physical or mental illness. The way Malacanang has responded to the Operation Exodus inquiries provides no indication that Aquino would be completely transparent with respect to any serious illness. Given all the lying and official cover-up we have seen in the various inquiries, we cannot expect that any official medical bulletin on Aquino’s state of health would be completely trustworthy.
Mendacity is now the largest official industry because of the Mamasapano inquiries. To such unmitigated lying, Aquino and his officials have added an overload of fallacious reasoning and sophistry. From the PNP Board of Inquiry Report, and the Senate inquiry report, we heard that Aquino broke the PNP chain of command, and was ultimately accountable for the Operation Exodus fiasco. But from the BOI head Director Benjamin Magalong and Senate inquiry chair Grace Poe Llamanzares, we subsequently heard that Aquino committed no punishable crime. One statement cancels the other.
Now comes our good friend the Justice secretary trying to split hair with FVR, former AFP Chief of Staff, former Secretary of Defense and former President, on the “chain of command” issue. Ramos reminds Aquino that in 1995 as president he issued Executive Order 226 which provides (in Section 1) that “any government official or supervisor or officer of the PNP or that of any other law enforcement agency shall be held accountable for “neglect of duty” under the doctrine of “command responsibility” if he has knowledge that a crime or offense shall be committed or is being committed, or has been committed by his subordinate or by others within his area of responsibility and despite such knowledge, he did not take preventive or corrective action either before, during or immediately after its commission.”
Against this, De Lima insists that there is no PNP chain of command, since the PNP is a civilian organization and the rank of “commander-in-chief” applies only to the military. Aquino is the first and only President to see it this way. Every organization has a chain of command, whether written or unwritten, and the head does not have to wear the title of commander-in-chief. This is true of every household, as understood by every head or member of a normally functioning family.
Perhaps out of deference to a successor-president, FVR has declined to define with complete accuracy Aquino’s real offense with respect to the chain of command issue. For the same reason, the various inquiries have failed to define the same offense correctly. I hope we can do it here simply and clearly.
The PNP chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Interior and Local Government (Mar Roxas), to the PNP Director General (Officer-in-Charge Leonardo Espina) and to the component PNP units (Director Getulio Napenas, in the case of SAF). In a police operation directly authorized by the President, this is the chain that holds. The PNP Chief must answer directly to the DILG Secretary, who must answer directly to the President for the success of the project.
In Exodus, Aquino took out Roxas and Espina from the chain, and replaced them with Purisima, who had already lost his legal standing in the PNP because of his suspension by the Ombudsman, and Napenas, who should have been reporting to and taking orders from Espina, but whom Aquino had illegally but effectively put under Purisima. By removing Roxas and Espina from the chain, and replacing them with an illegal personality (Purisima), Aquino effectively created a new chain of command with only two legal members, himself as the commander, and Napenas as the commanded. This was probably the only police operation in our history where the President was in direct command and control of the operating units, without any intermediaries or alter egos in-between.
Now, Aquino has agreed that “the transcripts of his text messages” with Purisima be read by the House when it resumes its probe. Assuming these messages are authentic rather than fabricated, (for they can easily be fabricated), how could they help prove his innocence or good faith? The first thing they could prove is that he had inserted an illegal personality into a delicate anti-terrorism operation after cutting out the rightful officials with specific legal rights and duties to be involved in it. And also, that he had converted an otherwise legitimate police operation into a personal adventure, where he did nothing according to the book because he believed it was his prerogative to do anything he wanted to do.
Aquino has put all the blame on Napenas for allegedly failing to coordinate with the Armed Forces Chief of Staff on the fine details of the operation. Can you in your right sense put any value to that statement? Had Aquino previously informed Gen. Catapang on the operation, and had he not cut out Espina from it, Espina could have coordinated with Catapang, and Napenas with his military counterparts on the ground. But to expect the PNP ground commander to coordinate with the AFP chief of staff, without the latter having been previously briefed by his Commander-in-Chief, is absurdity of the highest order.
Yet upon this ground Aquino hopes to send Napenas to the scaffold while he is crowned for his innocence. The real culprit here is Aquino’s unadulterated amateurism. He never understood the chain in command issue because he has never understood the presidency. Yet this abysmal ignorance does not constitute treason. What constitutes treason is the one act, about which nobody has dared to ask in any of the inquiries, and which I hope the members of the House will have the courage to ask when their inquiry reconvenes.
Why did Aquino order the reinforcement to the 55th SAF Company to stand down? How many of the fallen 44 SAF commandos would have survived, if Aquino had not given the stand-down order? And what is the usual penalty for a commander who issues such an order to the death and destruction of all his troops in an armed encounter?
The act of stepping down, which is what the National Transformation Council and everyone else are calling for, is too small a price to pay for such ignominious crime.