An “open letter” recently appearing in another paper passionately castigates President B. S. Aquino 3rd for the Jan. 25 massacre of 44 PNP-Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Signed by one Laurence Hector B. Arroyo, the letter enumerates Aquino’s acts and omissions, which have enraged the nation, notably the victims’ families, comrades-in-arms, and friends. It is skillfully written, but unless you are particularly attentive, you might find yourself agreeing that for all the things Aquino did or did not do to get the 44 SAF commandos killed, he should simply APOLOGIZE NOW rather than STEP DOWN, as demanded by the National Transformation Council and an immense sea of Filipinos.
Indeed APOLOGY is needed, as an expression of penance, but the nation demands Aquino’s RESIGNATION or STEPPING DOWN as a form of restitution. One cannot be a substitute for the other. According to a report from a private research foundation, only a tiny 17 percent of those polled are still opposed to Aquino’s resignation or stepping down. This is not because of Mamasapano alone, but rather because of all the unpunished crimes, which on August 27, 2014 the Lipa Assembly convened by the NTC declared as sufficient basis for Aquino to step down. Mamasapano was simply the culminating point.
As Times columnist Yen Makabenta colorfully puts it, Aquino’s approval rating has now plunged “underwater”– on its way to the ocean floor. For that reason, Aquino must now vacate—“immediately, if not sooner,” to borrow the late Carlos P. Romulo’s arresting phrase. Yet the Arroyo letter marshals its eloquence to downgrade what everyone else calls a “massacre” into a mere “incident,” and Aquino’s resignation or “stepping down” into a mere APOLOGY for the “incident.”
This has allowed the more obsequious of Aquino’s sycophants to “join the issues” quickly by saying that Aquino should not even APOLOGIZE because he was completely faultless—all he did, according to them, was to authorize the PNP-SAF operation against the three international terrorists being “hosted” by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. They do not mind crediting him for the “growth” of the economy where he has done absolutely nothing, but they would like to absolve him of any moral or criminal responsibility for the massacre that happened under his direct command.
I am sure that if the 44 SAF commandos had not been slaughtered, but had acquired without any major casualties the three “high-value” terrorist-targets, for whose death or capture the FBI had offered a bounty of $6 million, we would never have heard the end of obscene paeans for Aquino’s genius as a military or police commander. He would probably have officially presented his accomplishment report to US Ambassador Philip Goldberg in some official ceremonies at Malacañang, and proposed a sea burial for the dead terrorists somewhere in the Sulu Sea or near Kalayaan. Remember how Aquino was extremely honored to violate all known state protocol when on May 14, 2011, he boarded the US Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the company of US Ambassador Harry Thomas and five of his Cabinet officials, the AFP Chief of Staff and even the PAGCOR chief, in international waters, after it had dumped in the northern Arabian sea the body of Osama bin Laden, who had been killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011.
Now, his apologists and critic-defenders would have us believe that all we need from Aquino is a mere APOLOGY, not a RESIGNATION or STEPPING DOWN for the death of the SAF 44. One is not the same as the other: the two concepts are a world set apart from each other, but they would like to extinguish the distinction in Aquino’s favor. The change from the one word to the other would be untenable; it could produce what Chesterton might call a garden of wonders for those who were lucky enough to be unable to read.
But the real trouble here is that Aquino may never apologize. He is not known to do so. He has never apologized for anything in all of his public life. Not for the eight Hong Kong tourists who were killed in a bus hijacking incident in Manila at the beginning of his term.
Not for his stubborn refusal to come to the aid of the tens of thousands of victims of super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in Tacloban, Leyte and the rest of Eastern Visayas.
Not for his bribery of the members of Congress to force the enactment of the widely opposed Reproductive Health Law and the impeachment and removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Not for his failure to follow the Supreme Court directive to file charges against all those involved in the manipulation and misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the High Court has declared unconstitutional.
Not for his grandfather’s wartime treason against the Filipino people, and his late father’s own in exposing Marcos’s national security project to secure the nation’s rights over Sabah, which was incorporated into the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 over the strongest objections of the Philippine government.
Not for all the lapses in judgment and language that have routinely adorned his public discourse since 2010.
And not for allowing a crooked electoral process to install him as president, for which he has not shown the slightest moral and psychological fitness and intellectual or administrative competence.
Pride, as a function of megalomania, has prevented Aquino from seeing himself at fault in anything where he could find someone else to blame for his own excesses, failures or mistakes. It could be a disease, and it seems to be one of his strongest qualities. Because of this, he may not even recognize the favor that his critic-defenders are trying to do for him in asking that he merely apologize for something that demands nothing less than his immediate departure from office.
Unless calling on him to apologize were but part of a “damage-control operation” to lessen the public anger against him, and about which he had been briefed beforehand, he could end up going after those demanding his apology with the same fury as he would go after those who want him out. This would be most unfortunate. But it cannot be discounted.
For this is how Aquino has reacted to the PNP-Board of Inquiry report and the Senate inquiry report, both of which tried to treat him with kid gloves. He has called both reports “inaccurate, incomplete, unfounded and speculative,” just because they failed to whitewash everything 1,000 percent.
He has yet to comment on the House hearings, where his allies still tried to be protective of his interests, but where tougher questions were asked. Some members of the House had submitted written questions for the President and his Cabinet. These were not asked, first, because Aquino was neither present nor represented by a competent counsel or spokesman at the hearings, and also because his partymates obviously still wanted to spare him of any embarrassment.
The co-chairs of the hearings, Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer of the Committee on Public Order and Safety, and Rep. Jim Saliman Hataman of the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, could have asked Malacañang to answer the questions either on video or by written text. But this was not done, and we are all the poorer for it. For instance, from Abakada Party List Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz of the House minority group, the following questions should have been answered:
1) Mr. President, you have debunked the findings of the PNP-BOI and the Senate, but you have not said one word about the 35-page MILF report. Does this mean you agree with the contents, narration of facts, and conclusions of said report? (In its report, the MILF maintains that the members of its armed force are “combatants” (as in war), and that the taking of the firearms and personal belongings of the slain SAF commandos was customary behavior in war. Instead of the MILF turning over the killers of the SAF commandos to the government for criminal prosecution, the government should be paying reparations to the MILF and the civilian victims during the firefight.) Does Aquino, or any member of his Cabinet, agree with this?
2) What exactly is the truth, and who is to be believed? Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that Aquino’s views were never sought by the PNP-BOI, but his co-spokesman said there was a request to interview the President, but that it was coursed through him, and could not be relayed to Aquino early enough because of his “workload.”
3) Nine other operations were said to have been conducted against the international terrorist-targets in Mamasapano prior to Oplan Exodus. Of these six were in Mamasapano, two in Lanao Sur, and one each in Basilan and Sulu. What were the timelines? In the nine previous operations, did you maintain or disregard the established PNP chain of command? Did you also use the SAF as your “force provider”? Was there better coordination between the PNP and the AFP in the previous operations? What explains the alleged lack of coordination under Exodus?
The same question should have been asked of Roxas: Did he have any participation in any of the previous nine operations, or was he kept out of the loop in all nine as well? If he was, did he ever ask Aquino how he could ever repair the apparent lack of confidence?
For Roxas, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, Acting PNP Chief Leonardo Espina, and AFP Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang, the following question should have been asked:
• You were aware on Jan. 25, 2015 that the SAF commander and the 55th Special Action Company were pinned down by the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and were desperately calling for reinforcement. You were also aware that the 6th Infantry Division was just around the corner waiting to be mobilized. Why did you not make sure that the SAF commandos were reinforced? Why did you allow Commander Pangilinan of the 6th Infantry Division to exercise the political decision of withholding reinforcement at the height of the battle, allegedly because of “the peace process” which at that point had already broken down, precisely because of the ongoing massacre of the SAF commandos?
Now, after it had become known that the MILF chief negotiator, who had signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and all related documents, upon which the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is based, had been using an assumed name–Mohagher Iqbal–rather than his real name, (which he has refused to reveal to the public), to conduct the negotiations with the Aquino government, and to sign all the documents on behalf of the MILF, (in violation of the Revised Penal Code which prohibits the use of an alias or assumed name in any legal document), it seemed absolutely necessary for the House or the hearings as such to have taken a position on the validity of the documents signed, and specifically of Babala, which is a direct output of the CAB.
Shouldn’t the House have ordered the parties to go back to the drawing board with a new and properly credentialed MILF negotiator after that? Why did the House fail to take such a position? And what gives Malacañang and its pro-Malaysian lackeys to push the Babala as though its infirmities did not exist?
Is it enough for Aquino to simply apologize for all this as well? Let us agree that an apology has become indispensable, but it should be only as the first step toward Aquino declaring “I quit.” We do not have space for this now, but in our next column, we shall try to demonstrate why this is the only way to help Aquino survive as a human being, and for our country to survive as a civilized society, with some pretensions to a normally-functioning constitutional democratic order.