Not even his 55th birth anniversary last Sunday gave President B. S. Aquino 3rd a reprieve from the public outrage over the Jan. 25 massacre of 44 Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
As a critic, I prayed for him more intensely than I normally used to. I prayed that he may finally be touched by the light of truth and justice, the grace of wisdom and humility, and accept the necessary consequence of his bungling his command of the operation at Mamasapano and the whole of his unhappy presidency.
But far more people have grown very angry. So many in the social media seemed resolved to inflict upon him a particular kind of cruelty. The canons of responsible journalism do not permit me to reproduce any of their comments here, but in another time and another place they might have passed for lese majeste. They did not spare the most offensive words to inflict the most painful injury.
Even in the entertainment world, where everyday celebrities tend to specialize in superficial and synthetic issues, and the presidential sister’s influence has long held sway among young performers, the most unbelievable remarks have been heard, prompting the polyamorous Kris Aquino to “unfriend” and “unfollow” some of her former protégés.
The showbiz crowd appears to have reached the point where, in Camus’ famous words, even the slave must now rebel. Hidden and unsaid for the last four years, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Aquino must now be said: He is unfit to command. He represents not only a grave danger but much more than that, the gravest possible danger to the Republic. This is what the Mamasapano massacre has revealed.
This had not dawned on many during the first massacre under his watch (in 2010) when eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in a bus-hijacking incident in the heart of Manila before the lone hijacker was taken out. Aquino had been in office only a few months then, and it wasn’t so clear how close he was to the scene of the hijacking when the hostages were killed. Claims persist that he was in a nearby Chinese restaurant with some aides, but these have remained unconfirmed.
His unusual reaction then was to refuse to talk to the head of the Hong Kong government for not being his equal in rank and to apologize to the Hong Kong or Chinese government for the death of the innocent tourists. This stubborn and inexplicable attitude disturbed the long friendly relations between Manila and Hong Kong, at the expense of the tens of thousands of Filipinos working there, until Manila mayor and former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada apologized to Hong Kong on behalf of his city and the more decent elements of the national government.
Neither was this fatal flaw visible to any great number when in October 2011 the combined forces of the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf Group massacred 19 members of the AFP Special Forces Battalion in Al-Barka, Basilan while on a mission to serve a warrant to a high-value target in the middle of a ceasefire between the MILF and the Aquino government. This triggered suggestions of an “all-out war,” similar to the one which enabled the military under Estrada to overrun the MILF main base at Camp Abubakar, despite a formal request from US President Bill Clinton to stand down. But Aquino said he would pursue “all-out justice” instead.
Aquino’s unfitness to command escaped public scrutiny when he ran the operations against the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga City last September, using some six thousand troops to contain a couple of hundred poorly armed fighters. The MNLF fighters were all eliminated, and 10,000 civilian homes burned to the ground—-something the country had not seen before in any of its anti-insurgency operations. The “success” of this totally one-sided operation rendered superfluous any inquiry into the conduct of the military action — whether or not excessive force was used to quell the pocket incursion.
CNN was the first one to publicly raise the appropriate question after super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda flattened Tacloban and Aquino and his purported heir apparent Mar Roxas stood paralyzed by the enormity of the challenge. Anderson Cooper bewailed the total absence of government in the rescue and relief operations, which international donors had started running with their ships, planes, men, money and relief items, while Christiane Amanpour asked Aquino whether he would allow the perceived state of paralysis to define his government for the rest of his term.
Aquino answered he would not, but proceeded to spend the rest of the year “Noynoying” on Tacloban, thereby prompting the Yolanda victims to wage a strong campaign against Malacanang’s continued heartlessness, negligence and inaction. Aquino countered with greater inaction, and when Pope Francis came to visit last January he avoided any discussion of the fate of the victims by preemptively attacking the Church in general, and some unnamed Catholic prelates in particular in his highly offensive “welcome” of the Pope in Malacañang.
His unfitness to lead could no longer be hid at this point. But this became excruciatingly self-evident in the police operation that led to the Mamasapano massacre. This was so from the very beginning to its tragic end.
Aquino had named his shooting buddy, PNP Director-General Alan Purisima, as the “case officer” in the project to bring down Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and his Filipino associate Abdulbasit Usman, for whose death or capture the FBI had announced a bounty of $6 million, and who had been reported to have found a sanctuary close to the MILF and BIFF camps in Mamasapano. But he failed to recall the designation after the Ombudsman had suspended Purisima for six months from December in connection with charges of corruption. Then he deliberately excluded from the project his own DILG secretary, Mar Roxas, and the PNP Acting Director General Leonardo Espina, despite their being part of the regular PNP operational chain of command.
On the day of the operation, Aquino flew to Zamboanga City, ostensibly to visit the victims of a bombing the day before, but obviously to monitor the Mamasapano operation from the Western Mindanao command. He spent part of the morning visiting hospitals; but probably expecting success in Mamasapano by noontime, he asked that the city’s business and community leaders join him at the Andrews air base multipurpose center in the afternoon. The group came at 1 pm and waited and waited until 6:30 pm when Roxas finally came to tell them that a “misencounter” in Maguindanao had kept Aquino from coming.
The most important development in Operation Wolverine or Exodus happened at this point. The SAF commandos had run out of bullets, and had sent out distress calls for reinforcement. The reinforcement forces, including a light armored brigade, were ready to move in; the brigade had even fired a white phosphorous flare to mark out their location. But they were ordered to stand down. So no reinforcement came. The only reinforcement that came was on the side of the MILF, with the BIFF joining in. Throughout all this, Aquino was understood to have been watching–listening–monitoring. He alone could have given the stand-down order. If he did not, he alone could have cancelled or reversed it, if he wanted to save the 44.
If you ask the widow or orphan of any of the fallen 44, why the 44 were killed, none of them is likely to say, because Purisima or Getulio Napenas, the sacked SAF commander, had failed to coordinate with PNP Acting Chief Leonardo Espina or the AFP units in the area, but only because the SAF commandos had failed to get the needed reinforcement. And who denied them the reinforcement? The stand-down order from the President and Commander-in-Chief. The inquiry must focus on this, without allowing any undue distractions.
Now, every effort is being made at the Senate inquiry to absolve Aquino of any culpability, and to undo the truth about his unfitness to command. This is far beyond regrettable. The death of the 44 has already deeply enraged the nation, but the Senate exercise to try to persuade us that Aquino had nothing to do with their slaughter is tantamount to saying that no one is left to tell the nation the truth anymore, and that the 44 must rise from the dead to tell us what really happened. This could provide the humblest citizen the most compelling reason to withdraw recognition and support of the Aquino regime now.