FOR the first time since President Rodrigo Duterte embarked upon his extra-judicial drug killings, even his most severe critics are in total agreement with what he is saying, although not about his war on drugs or the killings. He says that his predecessor, former President B.S. Aquino 3rd, should be made to answer for the death of 44 Special Action Force troopers in the Mamasapano, Maguindanao massacre of January 25, 2015. Only the Yellows (the Aquino loyalists) will object to this, so he has scored.
Many feel this is not the only crime for which Aquino must be held to account. They believe he should similarly be prosecuted for bribing the members of Congress to railroad the highly divisive Obama-dictated Reproductive Health Law, which DU30 is now determined to implement, and to impeach and remove the late former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, which completely destabilized the Judiciary. Some lawyers believe Aquino’s corruption of Congress effectively nullified the RH Law and Corona’s removal, a legal issue which should now be raised before the Supreme Court in appropriate proceedings.
They also believe that together with former Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, Aquino should be criminally prosecuted for illegally diverting close to P200 billion from the General Appropriations Act into various purposes not authorized by Congress, under the infamous Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which the Supreme Court subsequently struck down as unconstitutional.
Most traumatic effect
Chronologically, the other crimes precede the massacre. But Mamasapano had such a wrenching and traumatic effect upon our people that it deserves to be revisited even before any of the others are. For many reasons the official inquiries conducted by the Senate and the Philippine National Police (PNP) had failed to deliver the proper closure. For one, Aquino, the suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima, the AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang, and Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero—all of whom had vital information to contribute—uniformly refused to be interviewed by the PNP Board of Inquiry.
DU30’s statement before the relatives of the fallen 44, on the second anniversary of the massacre, could finally lead to a closure. But DU30 must stand firm on irrefutable evidence against Aquino, and not equivocate. All the facts show that Aquino assumed full and direct personal responsibility for and control of the botched police operation (Exodus) when he removed the Secretary of Interior and Local Government (Mar Roxas) and the acting PNP Chief (Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina) from the PNP chain of command and replaced them with the suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima, who was no more than a plain outsider at the time, and SAF Commander Getulio Napenas, who was the “force provider.” From this followed a long train of problems.
The objective of Oplan Exodus was to neutralize the notorious terrorist, Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and two other confederates named Ahamad Akmad atabl Usman (Usman) and Amin Baco (Jihad). Aside from coordinating with Purisima, who was under suspension for an anti-graft case and therefore had no authority to do anything official, Aquino, who liked to play soldier, dealt directly with Napenas. On Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, while his siblings were celebrating their mother Cory Aquino’s birthday in Manila, Aquino flew to Zamboanga ostensibly to “inspect some housing projects for the victims of the last siege of Zamboanga,” but in reality, to monitor the SAF operations in barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, from within the Western Mindanao Command. Reports said he used drones that belonged to the Americans.
The SAF units were able to neutralize Marwan, and cut off a finger for DNA analysis, but they were quickly overrun by numerically superior forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Faced with certain death, they pleaded desperately for reinforcement, but what came down to the military units which were standing by to respond to the SAF commandos’ appeals, according to reports, was a “stand-down order” from the President, allegedly transmitted through the presidential adviser on the peace process, Teresita Quintos-Deles.
Did Aquino actually give the stand-down order? As President and Commander in Chief and chief operations officer of Oplan Exodus, he alone could have given that order, and no one else. If anybody else had given the order, he alone had the authority to recall and reverse it, and he was there. But it was still necessary to ask the question: did he give the “stand-down” order? This column alone repeatedly asked the question throughout the Senate and PNP inquiries, but it was never answered. Nor did anyone ever bother to ask it formally during the two separate inquiries.
Now, DU30 has confirmed it. He says Aquino left his own troops, badly outnumbered and helpless, to be massacred by the enemy. Of the 44 commandos killed, several were tortured and executed at close range. Sixteen others, who survived, suffered severe injuries. This is what we feel the President knows about what happened. What I fail to understand though is why DU30 still wants to constitute another board of inquiry, made up of three Supreme Court justices and some private individuals, after arriving at the conclusion that Aquino is culpable under the law and should be brought to justice. What will such a board do? Confirm what the President has already declared, or come up with some new “alternative truths?”
As the first enforcer of the law, the President should now order the filing of the appropriate charges, if he believes his predecessor is guilty, and give him his day in court. A court trial may not have the entertainment value of a board inquiry, which, if open to free TV coverage, could give the masses their latest telenovela, as a substitute for good governance from the President. But Aquino has a right to it, and the nation an even greater right to see that the doer of the crime, if crime has indeed been committed, is finally punished.
In his statement, DU30 described the massacre as a botched CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) operation. He gave no details, and did not say whether he had talked to the US government and asked for an explanation or confirmation. Earlier reports had identified the Federal Bureau of Investigation as the source of the $5 million bounty on Marwan’s head, and as the source of information about his whereabouts, which was reportedly given to Purisima before his suspension from office. By the way, what happened to this $5 million bounty?DU30 himself wants to know. We would like to know. But the CIA and the FBI are two different institutions. Where the FBI may operate legally, the CIA may not.
The US Embassy denied any American involvement in the operation, even before anyone had suggested it. Then they said they were involved in airlifting the victims. Rumors, however, persisted that they airlifted “white-skinned” victims only, and left the SAF victims in the hands of the Philippine authorities. Rumors also continued about Caucasian casualties being sighted at the site of the massacre. As far as the PNP board of inquiry was concerned, “the United States was involved in the intelligence operations and medical evacuations. The US supported the operations by providing technical support to enhance monitoring of the troops on the ground.” The US also helped identify Marwan through DNA analysis of his severed finger.
How to prove DU30’s claim that Oplan Exodus was a CIA operation, even if true, would be a real problem, even for a major power. Will an inquiry made up of justices, whose task it is to rule on the law rather than unearth the facts, be able to do anything about it? What kind of facts, to begin with, does DU30 have to back up his public claim? Assuming he has the necessary facts, and was not merely theorizing, was talking about it the way he did before the audience he had, the most prudent and wisest way of handling such “facts”?
Badmouthing the bishops again
Before the same SAF widows and orphans, DU30 went back to his unprovoked abuse of the bishops and priests who have criticized his drug killings, accusing them of all sorts of offenses against their faith, which he despises. He went to the extent of defaming the innocent Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani of having “two wives” — just like himself, who proudly proclaims his sexual excesses. Not too long ago he tried to do something similar to Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla without any basis at all, after the prelate said that “what is wrong is wrong even if everyone does it, and what’s right is right even if nobody else does it.”
In a classic retort, the scholarly Bacani said, “I don’t have even one wife. I hope anyone who says I have two will produce even one. Poor guys who can only use lies against truth.” Caught flatfooted, DU30 then called on the public “to ignore” his tirades against the bishops. “Do not take my outbursts seriously,” he said. “That’s the way I am.” A moral derelict.
Will he now ask the US government, whose new President he is trying to win as a friend, not to take seriously his statement about the CIA’s alleged involvement in the Mamasapano massacre? Or is this his way of showing Donald Trump, who had an initial run-in with the US intelligence communities, that he is trying to help? This bears watching.
Apologizing to Korea but missing the point
In an unexpected development, DU30 apologized to the South Korean government for the death of the Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo in the hands of his police kidnappers inside the Camp Crame compound. The details of this murder have shocked the nation. “We apologize to the South Korean government and people for this irreparable loss. But we commit the full force of the law to ensure that justice is served and not delayed,” DU30 said through Ernesto Abella, his spokesman.
DU30’s behavior was in marked contrast to that of B.S. Aquino 3rd who refused to utter one word of apology for the death of several Hong Kong tourists in a bus hijacking incident in Manila at the beginning of his term in 2010. Aquino expressly said he would never apologize for the carnage; it took former President and now Mayor of Manila Joseph Ejercito Estrada to do so. For this DU30 clearly scored high points.
However, he fell short of the requirements of justice when he said that PNP Chief Rolando “Bato” de la Rosa, who is in charge of his war on drugs, enjoys his full trust and confidence and should not resign, as demanded by an enraged public. He is not guilty of criminal intent, DU30 pointed out, which was not incorrect. But he entirely missed the basic point. No one had accused Bato of being part of the fatal kidnapping, and no one expects him to own or share the kidnappers’ guilt. But what is involved here is the honor of the institution, not Bato’s personal innocence or guilt.
DU30 should have allowed Bato to profess that the honor of PNP has been tarnished, and that as PNP chief he could not allow himself to continue in office, after this disgraceful and unacceptable incident. At which point, DU30 could have stepped in and overturned Bato’s decision to quit. What a difference that would have made. But this shall go down as one of DU30’s missed opportunities.