PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Friday claimed full responsibility as Commander-in-Chief for the botched police operation in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province that led to the killing of 44 elite Special Action Force (SAF) members last January 25.
“As the Commander-in-Chief, the responsibility rests in me,” Aquino said in a 10-minute address he made on live television where he also said such operation was necessary “in the pursuit of peace” and justice.
“I am the father of the nation and I lost 44 children whose lives can never be returned. I will carry this [burden]until my last day. They are my responsibility, including those who survived and those who rescued them,” Aquino stressed.
At the same time, he announced that he has finally accepted the resignation of suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima, whom the President credits for engineering a plan that eventually led to the neutralization of Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
“We have been together for the longest time, starting from the attempted coup d’etat in 1987 where we were ambushed . . . He was with me when I went against powerful interests. Even if it endangered his career, he never left my side. That is why it pains me that he’s leaving under these circumstances,” Aquino said of Purisima.
“I accept the resignation of Gen. Purisima and I thank him for his long service,” the President added.
Purisima and Aquino were under fire for directing the Mamasapano operation even when Purisima was serving his suspension.
The police general was ordered suspended last December by the Department of Interior and Local Government upon recommendation of the Office of the Ombudsman where Purisima is facing graft charges.
Aquino gave weight to the role of sacked SAF chief Director Getulio Napenas who, he said, has a lot of explaining to do about the incident.
“I have conducted my own investigation on the operation . . . It was clear that the situation was far from what the troops had expected it to be. He has been there for a very long time so that it should be expected of him to have situational awareness. He knew the plan and he knew what were needed to implement it correctly. He should know each step,” the President pointed out.
His statement could be seen as an indication that Napenas could be facing serious charges for being the official directly involved.
Because there was already a huge difference from the previous situation, Aquino said, upon his own inquiry, Napenas should have coped with the ever-growing needs of the operation, especially since there was no coordination and not enough time to prepare.
“Why was there no coordination? . . . the former SAF commander will have his chance to explain,” Aquino said.
“We await the results of the [PNP Board of Inquiry] probe. As President, we should identify what went wrong in the soonest possible time,” he added.
Toward the end of his speech, Aquino warned those who may be harboring Abdul Basit Usman to step aside or face the state’s juggernaut.
“Our work is far from over. Usman remains at large. I hope that you will help in finding justice, especially if reports were true that the injured were also killed… Surrender Usman if he is in your territory. I expect you to do that. Or do everything to help us find him. If you cannot do that, then, get out of the way. We will get Usman whoever may be keeping him or wherever he may be,” the President said, apparently addressing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Combined fighters of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters had engaged and finished off the helpless SAF commandos, who ran out of ammunition because of the prolonged gunfight.
“To those who will stand in the way, the State will deal with you.”