In his televised speech to the nation last Friday, President B. S. Aquino 3rd tried to mime “personal responsibility” for the police operation that resulted in the massacre of 44 commandos of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanaoon January 25—his late mother Cory Aquino’s 82nd birthday—but quickly exempted himself from its logical and necessary consequences.
With a visible pallor of grief, Aquino accepted the resignation of his intimate shooting buddy and suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima, in an apparent effort to calm the nation’s anger over the mass slaughter of the 44 in the hands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. But although Purisima had been portrayed as the “unseen principal player” in the botched operation, Aquino evidently had more to answer for it than the police chief himself.
Having just begun serving a six-month suspension from the Ombudsman on corruption charges since December, Purisima could not have inserted himself in the operation on his own. He was there because Aquino put him there. Thus the grieving widows and orphans want Aquino’s head, not Purisima’s, or anybody else’s. To them letting the 44 commandos die in the hands of the Moros by denying them reinforcement was Aquino’s decision rather than Purisima’s. And they call it treason.
True, many had long wanted to see Purisima not only fired as PNP chief but also punished for alleged corruption. They were scandalized when the Ombudsman merely suspended him for six months on Dec. 4, 2014. But nothing had prepared them to see him, after this, involved in Operation Wolverine against the Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and his Filipino confederate Abdubasit Usman, where Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and acting PNP chief Leonardo Espina—the two top officials below Aquino in the PNP operational chain of command—had been left out.
So many more ached to see Aquino pay the highest price not only for the death of the 44, but also for calling the MILF his “friends” and trying to reward them after the massacre with the swift passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law (Babala) to create a new political entity for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for the Moro National Liberation Front.
Purisima’s ouster was seen as a partial victory for Roxas who had asked Aquino to sack him, together with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, who heads the anti-terrorism council. Roxas was reported to have engaged Ochoa in a shouting match, which prompted the latter to call sick the next day and the former to cry over his drink with a Cabinet drinking buddy for the next two days. In the end Purisima alone was sacrificed. But he tried to claim on television that although he had provided “intelligence packets” for the project, he never issued any orders during the operation.
This was contradicted by SAF Director Getulio Napenas and other sources who claimed the operation was Purisima’s alone. How are we to know the truth now, given these conflicting claims? Who put the operation together? If Napenas was, in fact, the “ground commander,” who was the overall operations commander? Who was calling the shots from the base of operations?
With Roxas, Purisima, and Espina out of the chain of command, and Napenas merely receiving orders, who then was giving the orders? The only candidate here seems to be Aquino and no other. He was the overall operations commander. This was not unprecedented, since he likes to play soldier. In the September 2014 siege of Zamboanga, he commanded the operation from the Zamboanga naval station to exterminate a couple of hundred MNLF fighters and raze 10,000 civilian homes to the ground.
In his speech, Aquino, who turned 55 yesterday, tried to work the emotion of his audience. “I am the father of the nation and I lost 44 children who can never be brought back,” he said. And he promised to hunt down the terrorist Usman, who had escaped the raid, after Marwan was reported killed. But his demagoguery had no apparent impact upon the grieving widows and orphans and others. It is no great secret that the bachelor demagogue has never been accused of being fatherly to anyone; his televised statements three days after the massacre and then during the necrological services for the fallen 44, showed a complete lack of sympathy for the victims and their kin. He was more concerned about the fate of the Babala, and how to please the MILF than with how the 160,000-strong PNP and the nation itself would react to the massacre.
With Aquino setting the pace, his people, aided by the usual foreign agents, have intensified their television campaign to press for the passage of the Babala, even after the more sensitive elements in Congress have withdrawn their support for the measure, and called upon others to give the people a chance to mourn their dead law enforcers. The crassest and most shameless message coming from Malacañang is that we must do everything to make ourselves worthy of the MILF, instead of demanding that the MILF first make itself worthy of our continued trust.
The massacre has thrown up certain compelling issues that must first be addressed. Trust is the first such issue. Without any confidence-rebuilding measures, can we honestly say we still trust, or should still trust, the MILF? The answer may ultimately turn out to be yes, but we must go through the process: the question must be asked and answered. The MILF having sheltered the two international terrorists (Marwan and Usman), it seems but logical to ask whether the Babala will not result in a political entity that would provide a safe haven for terrorists, or use terrorism as an instrument of official policy. This question could be ore fundamental than those that have been raised about the constitutionality of certain provisions.
But the most compelling question we must ask is whether we should continue any peace discussion with any party without first resolving the issue of Aquino’s continued stay in office. We can no longer temporize on this. Aquino’s propagandists appear to have launched a major effort to bamboozle us with the proposition that only a short time remains between now and the next presidential election, and that Aquino has not much more than 500 days to remain in office. Whatever crimes he has committed, why can’t we just let him finish his term?
It may not be easy to argue against this if we had a viable electoral process uncorrupted by the Commission on Elections and its Venezuelan partner Smartmatic. But even if we had a credible system, we cannot possibly not act against a treasonous president just because he does not have much longer to stay in office. After the massacre of the 44, the President has become a grave danger to our people and the State. Just as nobody could predict what would happen to our SAF commandos before they were massacred, nobody could predict what could happen to us at anytime if Aquino remained in office. Nobody has been able to explain medically Aquino’s public behavior; we might be dealing with someone with an untreated or untreatable psychiatric disease. We cannot risk to see what could happen to us next.
Some populist commentators have tried to spook our countrymen by saying that Aquino’s removal at this time could only bring in a “cure that is worse than the disease.” This is always a distinct possibility, given the rather narrow and venal bench from which to draw his possible successor. But the danger could be avoided if we agree that Aquino has destroyed the Constitution, and that it no longer works, so our common task at this point should be to push Aquino out of harm’s way and then to hold off the normal process of succession for a short while, in order to allow a multisectoral transitional and transformational council to fix that which is broken, so that our people could later choose competent, sane, intelligent and patriotic leaders freely in a fully transformed constitutional democratic system.