PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd deliberately kept Oplan Exodus to himself and his trusted man, former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima, even if the mission was too perilous, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said at the reopening on Thursday of the Senate investigation of the killing of 44 police commandos in Maguindanao last year.
The President, according to Enrile, disregarded the command system of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP.
“To understand this, when I say compartmented Oplan Exodus, I mean that President Aquino intentionally, deliberately and actually confined and arrogated unto himself and Purisima full knowledge, command and control, and strategic decisions over Oplan Exodus,” the senator said.
He added that the President assumed responsibility for the operation and set aside the command system of the police and the military.
Former Special Action Force (SAF) chief Getulio Napeñas agreed with Enrile’s observation.
Enrile said Aquino excluded concerned members of his Cabinet and officials of the police and the military in the operation and sent the SAF troops on thr dangerous operation to capture terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and two other targets.
But Purisima, who was present in the hearing, insisted that Oplan Exodus was a mission planned and executed by the SAF and Aquino was exercising his authority as head of the PNP and as President.
In his statement at the start of the hearing, Enrile maintained that the reopening of the hearing is part of the fulfillment of his promise to the families of the SAF police commandos and has nothing to do with politics.
“I’m doing this for the country so that never again shall a similar gruesome butchery will happen in this land. I’m doing this for the people so that they will know the national leaders who failed them because of ineptness and lack of leadership,” he said.
The senator added that aside from compartmentalizing the operation, Aquino also did not make any effective decision or take any action to prevent the barbaric slaying of the SAF troops.
“President Aquino deliberately hid or was hiding himself behind Purisima,” he said.
Napeñas said the United States had bigger involvement than offering $5-million reward for the capture of Marwan.
He explained that the US military provided human support and equipment to help in the evacuation of the commandos.
Enrile also questioned the failure of former AFP chief Gregorio Catapang to inform Aquino about the situation in Mamasapano even if he had information about the clash on that fateful Sunday morning of January 25.
Catapang admitted that he did not inform the President about the encounter because it was not his place to do so.
“That [was]a PNP operation. I should not be the one that should inform the President, it should be the PNP,” Catapang noted.
He said he received information about various operations against high value targets but he was not aware that it was Marwan that was being hunted down.
The military, according to Catapang, failed to immediately respond to the policemen’s appeal for help because there was no coordination with the police.
In a power point presentation, military officials blamed Napeñas for the botched operation, noting that the Armed Forces could have easily sent support had the former SAF chief not withheld important information.
According to the military, Napeñas did not provide information on the strength of his forces and their location.
There was also no communication with the SAF members, making it more difficult to find them, it said.
“If only the Oplan Exodus that was prepared by Napeñas contained all the foregoing, it might have made it easier for the nearby AFP units in the area to provide support or reinforce plans for execution even on short notice, even on the so-called ‘time on target’ basis,” the military added.
Although no new information was presented, Enrile said he was satisfied with the hearing because he was able to focus on the responsibility and accountability of the President in the massacre of the SAF troops.
“I focused on the President and nothing more. In the first hearing, there was no question about the President’s role,” he added.
As for Aquino’s liability, Enrile said that will be decided by the court.
Senator Grace Poe, head of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, said no new information was presented to warrant a change in the committee report on the incident that was signed by 21 senators last year.
“It was established that the President has been misinformed on the gravity of the situation in the Mamasapano and communication is lacking in details,” Poe added.
There was also no truth to claims that the President gave orders to the military to stand down and not send reinforcement to the trapped SAF police commandos, she said.