Amidst the clashing claims that the reopened Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano tragedy was a triumph for Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, and that it was a dud for failing to produce new evidence, I will now venture my own take on the controversy.
I spent my weekend in a punishing review of the published records on the incident, the multiple inquiries, and the statements of leading actors in this drama. I have diligently watched both the initial hearing and the reopened inquiry on live TV.
A Filipino version of Rashomon
At the end of it all, I reached a somewhat enigmatic conclusion: Mamasapano, as a tragedy and controversy, has unfolded as a Filipino version of Akira Kurosawa’s classic film, Rashomon.
As some readers will remember, the Kurosawa film was a trail-blazing examination of “the relativism and unknowability of truth” and the mutability of human nature.
Set in 11th-century Japan, Rashomon examines a brutal rape and murder from four different perspectives, each one claiming to be the truth.
The Mamasapano tragedy has become like Rashomon because of the way different parties and groups have shaded the question of accountability and responsibility to favor their interests. It is astonishing for the way responsibility has been thrown in different directions, and in surprising ways.
I list down here five perspectives or versions of responsibility for the Mamasapano tragedy.
1. President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s perspective: “I am responsible because I am the father of the nation…”
In his second address to the nation on the Mamasapano disaster on February 6, 2015, President Aquino boldly took responsibility for the tragedy.
He said in his address:
“I am the father of the nation and 44 of my sons were killed. We can’t turn back the hands of time, the tragedy happened under my term; I will carry this burden up to the last days of my life. They were my responsibility, together with the entire Special Action Force, in this operation, including those who extricated them and who put their lives in danger.”
The President offered not a word of explanation or reference to his role in the failed operation or on his actions on the day of the tragedy.
2. Perspective of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile on Mamasapano: President Aquino is responsible for the tragedy based on his failure to lead.
At the reopened inquiry, Senator Enrile laid down eight issues and specifications against the President that indicated the extent of his responsibility for what happened in Mamasapano.
The eight issues are:
First, President Aquino actively and directly participated in the planning and preparation of Oplan Exodus
Second, President Aquino deliberately compartmented or compartmentalized Oplan Exodus to himself and Deputy Director General (DDG) Purisima, so that top officials of the DND, DILG, the AFP and the PNP were effectively excluded from the operation.
Third, President Aquino was the approving authority of Oplan Exodus
Fourth, during the execution of Oplan Exodus, President Aquino was fully aware of what was going on, because he was receiving updated messages from Purisima
Fifth, President Aquino wantonly disregarded the command systems of the PNP (Philippine National Police) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines).
Sixth, President Aquino was actually, intentionally and directly dealing with a person who before and at the time of the Mamasapano massacre was not an active part of the command system of either the AFP and the PNP.
Seventh, President Aquino did not make any effective decision or issue any effective order or do any effective action as President of the Republic of the Philippines to prevent the barbaric slaying and slaughter of the PNP-SAF troopers
Eighth and finally, President Aquino hid himself from any responsibility and accountability for the Mamasapano debacle, by hiding behind DDG Purisima.
3. Perspective of Grace Poe and Senate committees: President Aquino is ultimately responsible for what happened in Mamasapano.
Senator Poe did not explain what she meant by “ultimately responsible” or how she arrived at this conclusion.
Her executive summary of the report said: “As the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines, the President exercises supreme operational command of the nation’s military forces. The President also controls all the executive departments, bureaus, and offices. He wields the awesome powers of government, and has its vast resources at his disposal.
“The President’s decision not to use these resources at that instance, must be explained by him. The President is ultimately responsible for the outcome of the mission.”
4. AFP perspective on Mamasapano: former SAF chief General Napenas is to blame for the Mamasapano debacle.
At the reopened Senate inquiry, the AFP laid the entire blame for the tragedy on former Special Action Force chief Getulio Napeñas.
Former military operations chief, Maj. Gen. Angelito de Leon, conducted the AFP’s video presentation on Mamasapano.
He declared: “Napenas failed to provide or exercise combat leadership and commandership to his troops and when everything was said and done — he blamed everyone, including the President and the AFP for his failures.”
The military was kept in the dark about the high-risk mission that targeted Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and were only told when the operation was already ongoing.
5. Perspective of general Napenas: I was made a fall guy for the debacle; the SAF commandos were abandoned in the field of battle.
The AFP and the president’s Senate allies sought to debunk Napenas by laying the blame for Mamasapano on Napenas.
If the scapegoat strategy does not work in the movies, it stumbles even more in real life.
No fall guy is ever helpless.
Getulio Napenas could surprise us all. He is running for the Senate in the May elections.
He has a powerful message to spread during the campaign. He will personify the SAF 44.
Methinks the people will listen to him.