The Senate inquiry
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile had to contend with President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s allies who were resolved to save their patron from any criminal liability in the January 25, 2015 massacre of 44 Special Action Force police commandos by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. He was effectively sidelined before he could fully build up his case, and present any audio-visual evidence of Aquino’s reported ‘stand-down order’ to the reinforcement units, assuming he had any such evidence.
Many in the media had expected Enrile to present such evidence. But he offered none. Retired Police General Diosdado Valeroso, who used to be close to Enrile, has been reported to be in a possession of such a video, but has so far failed to share it with the media forums where he was expected to appear. Without such evidence, the Senate had little to add, if at all, to what we already know about the massacre. This is not to say that the reopening of the Senate inquiry was all for naught. It may not have broken any new ground, but it did nothing to undo the established facts of the case.
It is now beyond dispute that:
1) Aquino not only authorized the special police operations (“Oplan Exodus”) to neutralize two high-value national security targets in Maguindanao. He also put himself personally and directly in charge of the same operations when he cut out DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and Acting Philippine National Police Chief Leonardo Espina from the established PNP chain of command, and illegally brought back the suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima as his “operations officer.” He also ordered SAF commander Getulio Napeñas to coordinate directly with him.
2) Purisima had no legal personality to be part of any operation, having been suspended from office by the Ombudsman because of a pending criminal case. PNoy (Aquino) had no authority to change Purisima’s legal status by disregarding the suspension order of the Ombudsman. This was an impeachable offense. For his part, Napeñas, as ground commander, should have been coordinating with a properly designated operations officer, rather than with Purisima or the President and commander-in-chief himself. In both cases, Purisima and Napeñas were able to do what they did because of the illegal or inappropriate orders from PNoy.
The Zamboanga sortie
3) On Jan. 25, 2015, PNoy flew to Zamboanga City with an entourage of Cabinet officials. It was the 82nd anniversary of his late mother Cory Aquino’s birthday—an important family day for PNoy. But he left his four sisters in Manila to commemorate their mother’s birthday by themselves, in favor of a “pressing” out-of-town engagement in Zamboanga. This was, ostensibly, to assess the effects of the latest violent incident in Zamboanga, and to inspect the progress of the rehabilitation and housing projects for the 110,000 or so victims who had lost their homes during the 2014 “siege of Zamboanga.”
4) In that “siege,” Aquino had directly commanded the military operation from the naval headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command, although Mar Roxas had fronted for him. This involved some 5,000 government troops against 200 or so poorly armed elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), who had slipped into the city to raise the flag of “Mindanao independence.” Prior to the encounter, the MNLF group leader tried to sue for peace by proposing a truce to allow his badly outnumbered troops to leave Zamboanga without any armed engagement. Aquino rejected this. In the fighting that ensued, all the MNLF fighters, except their group leader, were killed, and an estimated 110,000 population was displaced. Several civilians and government troops also perished in that incident, but their numbers were never officially released.
The real reason
5) Contrary to the official cover of his 2015 visit to Zamboanga, it appears that Aquino’s real mission was to monitor the progress of “Operations Exodus” through the monitoring facilities at Westmincom. He obviously expected the operation to be an instant success, and was eager to announce it to the public as soon as it happened. So upon arrival, he requested an early afternoon meeting with the city’s community and business leaders at a designated venue near the airport, and the place quickly filled with enthusiastic Zamboanguenos after lunch. There they waited from 1 pm until late in the afternoon, but Aquino failed to show up. It was Roxas who finally appeared to explain that Aquino could not come because there had been a “misencounter” in Maguindanao.
6) From a careful piecing together of the facts, it became very clear that Aquino decided to play soldier again in Zamboanga just as he did in the same city the year before. But where he was the one ordering the slaughter during the “siege” he could only watch the massacre in Mamasapano unfold from his monitoring station. Outgunned and outnumbered, the commandos asked for reinforcement from the government, and turned to texting their loved ones for prayers. The military units then asked for clearance to move, but were ordered to stand down.
7) It appeared that Aquino’s primary concern was the so-called “ceasefire agreement” with the MILF, which had already broken down and cost the SAF Company so many lives. This was the point which the various inquiries conducted by the PNP and the two Houses of Congress uniformly had all tried to avoid; they went around this issue, to shield the President from criminal culpability for the death of the 44.
The public had expected that the reopening of the inquiry would allow Enrile to press this point. But through a skilful manipulation of the hearing, under the guidance of Senate President Franklin Drilon, Enrile, a legal veteran and former Senate president, was ultimately outmaneuvered by Aquino’s lackeys. And because no evidence was presented about Aquino’s stand-down order, we are now back where we started. All we have is Napeñas, who, as the principal scapegoat, has to acquit himself of any accountability for failing to coordinate with the various officials and units, which Aquino had deliberately excluded from the operations from the very beginning.
An official confirmation at this time of Aquino’s criminal responsibility for the death of the SAF 44 could have clarified the most important issue about the massacre. But it could also have presented us with a horrendous problem without an easy solution. For it would have made Aquino immediately impeachable at this time when Congress is no longer there to try and impeach him, and there is simply not enough material time left in the less than six months that Aquino will be in Malacanang. The impeachment process also lies in tatters.
We saw this much earlier. In July 2014, some Bayan Muna and Gabriela representatives filed three impeachment complaints against Aquino, two for graft and corruption in connection with the manipulation and misuse of the multibillion-peso Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which the Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional, and one for culpable violation of the Constitution in connection with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, which the Court recently declared constitutional. These complaints were thrown out of the House committee on justice on Sept. 3, 2014 for being allegedly insufficient in substance.
A new impeachment complaint could have been filed against Aquino after the lapse of one year—i.e., from Sept. 4, 2015. But it would have had to contend with Aquino’s control of Congress, after he had bribed its members to impeach and remove Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona at the beginning of his term.
People like former Tawi Tawi Governor and president of the Islamic Society of the Philippines Almarin Tillah and many others believe that Filipinos should have gone out into the streets to oust Aquino after the massacre. But this did not happen then; can it possibly happen now? Unless the military leads it, I wouldn’t bet on it, regardless of the anger that the massacre has provoked among our countrymen. What is more likely to happen is that more people would be working against Aquino’s candidate or candidates in the elections, and preparing to file criminal charges against him as soon as he is out of Malacañang.
As of now, the mother of a slain SAF commando has filed a civil suit in the Cordillera against PNoy and other responsible officials. The next cases are most likely to be criminal in nature, primarily intended to put Aquino behind bars.
Insanity as a defense
Certainly Aquino is not unaware of this. In fact, he has already said, in one previous interview, that in case he was jailed, he would like to end up in the “Fort” in Taguig, with all its fine-dining restaurants and other facilities. But this cannot be his first option. His survival instinct would prompt him to do everything humanly possible to escape incarceration. I have a surefire formula for him to avoid prison, which I am offering free of charge. This is by pleading insanity, with the support of the psychiatric reports by a couple of well-known Jesuit psychiatrists, which have been withheld from the public even now. Additional evidence could come in the form of Aquino’s many official acts that could not be explained by reason and which the late Joker Arroyo said could only be the work of a “student council.” Even that would surely be an offense to any student council.
Coming from a critical source, Aquino will most probably reject my suggestion. With Smartmatic’s support, he will instead try to ‘cook’ the elections the way he did the 2010 and 2013 elections, and make sure that the next President would be a friend or a clone who would save him from criminal prosecution. Or, if he is unable to find such a clone, he could throw a monkey wrench into the entire electoral process, so that we would not be able to hold elections altogether. This would provide him with the motive and the opportunity to extend himself in power.
Last chance for unity
As many as those who are dead set against this idea, are those who are praying that this, in fact, would happen. Not because they believe Aquino should be given any grace period or term extension, but because they believe that where the Mamasapano massacre had earlier failed to unite the nation in a concrete action against Aquino, any attempt on his part to stay in office one minute longer would bring all the disparate forces together against him.