First of two parts
Many quarters now demand President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s resignation over the January 25 massacre of 44 Philippine National Police Special Action Force troopers in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Aquino should step down, they argue, for the country’s good and for public accountability.
There is another reason for resignation, which may matter more for Aquino and those who care for him: things will get even worse, and he may just break down.
His current plan is to pin the blame on relieved PNP-SAF Commander Getulio Napeñas and ride out the public outrage with a massive media campaign, like past crises. In his Friday speech the Chief Executive maintained that he and his friend, resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima, along with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), bore no responsibility for Mamasapano.
Instead, Aquino blamed Napeñas: “How and why did it happen that there was no coordination? Why did the mission continue, when it had deviated so far from the original plan, and our troops were already in grave danger?”
In his own media remarks, Purisima denied Napeñas’s day-old disclosure that he ordered the SAF head to inform PNP Officer-in-Charge Deputy DG Leonardo Espina only after troops had gone in.
Who will we believe?
Now who will the people, independent media, and 150,000 police believe?
The President who has yet to say what he did in Zamboanga after the SAF mission took a turn for the worse — that uncouth host who untruthfully told Pope Francis on national TV that his brother Filipino bishops kept silent about issues in the past administration?
The ex-PNP DG who provided intelligence for the operation, but allegedly did not care to give early advice to the interior, police and military heads — the same chief who said his sprawling Nueva Ecija house cost less than his Prado SUV before discount?
Or the SAF commander who, in fact, got the top mission target, but lost 44 men due to absent military support — a veteran officer retiring soon who throughout his many postings here and abroad, made sure to strictly obey and properly advice superiors?
If the PNP — the largest armed organization in the country — believes Napeñas and concludes that Aquino is skirting responsibility for the death of 44 of its best men, there could be more than just gripes and rage, but action or even, God forbid, violence.
Will there be People Power?
Already, there are street marches, head shaving, and mass leave plans by police. Will the animosity end if the Board of Inquiry, despite what PNP colleagues know and feel, parrots Aquino’s line and pins the blame on Napeñas and no other?
Or will a whitewash lead thousands of restive law enforcers to join anti-Aquino protests in another People Power uprising? In the two EDSA revolts, the uniformed services were not aggrieved, yet they backed regime change. Now, troopers are hurting.
Notably, four ingredients in the fall of Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada are in place: public unrest against corruption and misgovernance, Church despondency over the administration, a legitimate successor, and now, restive security forces.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has its own unhappy massacre still awaiting justice: the 2011 killing of 19 Army Scout Rangers in Al-Barka, Basilan, for which only military officers were punished, not the MILF base commander who led that attack and another in 2007 in which 14 Marines were killed, including 10 beheaded.
As for the Catholic Church, prelates in the National Transformation Council calling for Aquino’s resignation include the most influential and outspoken archbishops in the regions around Metro Manila: Oscar Cruz of Dagupan in Central Luzon and Ramon Arguelles of Lipa in Southern Luzon.
Cruz disclosed last week that a coalition of influential figures would lead a People Power movement against Aquino. They include Christian and Muslim leaders, incumbent congressmen, retired and active military officers, former government officials, socio-civic stalwarts, legal luminaries, and top educators.
As protests escalate, some Aquino camp insiders would very likely jump ship, ready to share and expose embarrassing or damning information about administration shenanigans. And as in the Estrada and Arroyo governments, Cabinet members could exit and call on the President to quit.
If protests and exposes fail to bring him down, it could well bring on something far worse for both him and the nation. Among 150,000 PNP and 125,000 AFP personnel, it is not impossible or inconceivable that a handful of police, soldiers or both could, heaven forbid, resort to violence.
Can Aquino cope?
Adding to Aquino’s woes are at least three more security challenges. First, the threat of bombings in retaliation for the SAF’s killing of Malaysian bomb terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias Commander Marwan. His Filipino counterpart, Abdul Bassit Usman of the extremist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), escaped, and there are dozens of terrorists trained by the pair.
The MILF may resume fighting if the Bangsamoro law and agreement get delayed, watered down or shelved. Last week 400 families reportedly fled their homes in North Cotabato due to MILF and BIFF troop movements. If the Commander-in-Chief looks shaky, rebels of every stripe will just stage attacks to enhance their battlefield positions.
Then there’s the biggest security challenge this year. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November, preceeded by APEC ministerial and lower-level meetings through the year, will demand even far more extensive and complex security planning and operations than the papal visit, coordinated with 20 foreign governments, plus the crush of international media and business packing the meetings.
Can Aquino cope with all that? Or will he freeze up and tune out, as he has done in crisis after crisis, from Luneta in 2010 to Mamasapano last month?
(On Thursday the second and last part will discuss how Aquino can exit, and the nation move on.)