Six months after the Mamasapano incident on January 25, the nation and the families of the fallen SAF 44 still have to find closure in the tragedy. No cases have been filed against the perpetrators of the murder and officials who botched the operation. No court martial of a man in uniform has been ordered.
But the source of greatest dismay is the failure of official probers to establish the extent of President Aquino’s responsibility and accountability. At best, we have gotten Aquino’s vague acceptance of responsibility for what happened. When Sen. Grace Poe failed to ask him a single question in the Senate inquiry, when she declared that Aquino is “ultimately responsible,” and when she decided unilaterally not to make a report on the Senate inquiry, she cast the incident and the victims into limbo.
The process of forgetting the SAF 44 is inexorably moving forward.
When I wrote last Tuesday about Thomas Sowell’s view of the “presumption of innocence” principle, I had in mind the unanswered questions about presidential responsibility and accountability in the Mamasapano incident.
Many readers reacted positively to the column. Some were troubled by it. One said it degraded the presidency — which completely misses Professor Sowell’s point.
Sowell’s thesis is that it is dangerous to presume a sitting president innocent until proved guilty because his powers are vast and his duties are grave. The welfare of the people and the nation comes first.
The presumption of guilt with respect to a president’s conduct in office becomes clear when we apply it to the question of President Aquino’s responsibility or accountability in Mamasapano.
It offers a way to end the public’s uncertainty and confusion about presidential responsibility and accountability in the case. It allows people to focus on three facts that appeared to emerge from the televised inquiries:
First, President Aquino committed a huge mistake in naming a suspended PNP officer to direct and plan the SAF’s Mamasapano operation. This violated the PNP chain of command.
Second, Aquino dismally failed to order a rescue and reinforcement operation to save the beleaguered SAF units during the encounter. The hearings showed that he had all the time, and the units, and the information to issue the order. He froze before the responsibility.
Third, Aquino had command responsibility over the whole operation because he was involved in discussions of the operation from planning to execution.
Most Filipinos will not wait for a court trial to heap blame on Aquino for his actions and inaction in the incident. He is responsible on the face of the facts and circumstances.
In Sowell’s view, Aquino’s accountability is inherent in his duties as commander in chief and president.
This point becomes clearer when we take into account the meanings of the inter-related concepts of responsibility, accountability and authority.
Responsibility—Responsibility denotes the duty assigned to a position in an organization. The person holding the position has to perform the duty assigned. It is his responsibility. The term responsibility is often referred to as an obligation to perform a particular task assigned to an officer or subordinate.
According to one scholar, “Responsibility is an obligation of an individual to perform assigned duties to the best of his ability.”
It is hard to conceive of responsibility without authority, so it’s important to understand the meaning of the concept of authority.
Authority—Authority is the right or power assigned to an executive or a manager in order to achieve certain organizational objectives.
A manager will not be able to function efficiently without proper authority. According to one expert: “Authority is the right to give orders and the power to exact obedience.”
Accountability—In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving. Accountability is the liability created for the use of authority. It is the answerability for performance of the assigned duties.
The main difference between responsibility and accountability is that responsibility can be shared while accountability cannot. Being accountable not only means being responsible for something but also ultimately being answerable for your actions.
Applying these concepts to the Mamasapano incident, we can conclude the following:
Aquino had the authority in the operation. He exercised it in approving the operation. He failed to exercise his authority when he failed or refused to order rescue and reinforcement operations.
Aquino is responsible because of his position as commander-in-chief. He is first in the chain of command of the Philippine National Police.
Aquino is accountable as the official who ordered the operation, and as the official who failed to order rescue and support operations for the men he sent into action.
The fateful commingling of powers and duties in the person of President Aquino makes him both responsible and accountable in the Mamasapano incident.
The claim that he was lied to by leaders and planners of the operation does not wipe away the blame.
The incompetence and cowardice of probers does not absolve him of blame.
Thus, the onus in this tragic affair falls on President Aquino. It is he who must prove his innocence. And he must live with his failure in this tragic affair.