It was the least President B. S. Aquino 3rd could do, even if it seemed too little too late – to declare a day of national mourning for all the members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) who perished in the Maguindanao massacre in the hands of the Muslim Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) last weekend. It came one day after the National Transformation Council called for a period of nationwide mourning – and prayers – for the victims and their bereaved kin. But apart from this, Aquino’s short TV address on the tragedy on Wednesday evening merely fueled the people’s anger across the nation.
Indeed, Filipinos are angry and their anger is mounting. It’s all over the social media, in the coffee houses, schools, factories, board rooms, and everywhere else. On Wednesday, I was in Cebu City where the Cebu Daily News bannered the story, “2 Cebuanos die with boots on.” There I saw a group literally hooting down Aquino as they listened to his speech that evening. I heard the same reaction from various groups in the city the next day.
Aquino supporters turning around
A Cebuano columnist-friend, writing for another Manila paper, told me that a well- known cleric who had long stopped talking to him since he started criticizing Aquino, has just texted him saying, “BSA 3rd is an idiot.” He said many other pro-Aquino supporters have since turned around. From Manila, I started receiving text messages urging the NTC to reissue its call on Aquino “to step down.”
One young Cebuano, apparently inspired by the slogan “Je suis Charlie Hebdo” (I am Charlie Hebdo), which went viral worldwide after the recent Islamist killing of 10 journalists and two others at the headquarters of the weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (for Hebdomadaire) in Paris, suggested the entire Philippines had become PNP-SAF. “We are all PNP-SAF now,” he said, and proposed that we use all means to proclaim it.
What Aquino failed to condemn
People expected Aquino to condemn the massacre and the mutilation of a number of the victims in the strongest possible terms. He did not. He was careful not to offend the MILF and the BIFF. He even refrained from calling the massacre by its proper name, but merely called it an “incident.” He was more interested in defending his so-called peace process, and the passage of the constitutionally questionable Bangsamoro Basic Law (Babala), as though the Maguindanao massacre never happened.
Babying the MILF
They expected him to demand that the MILF surrender all those involved in the massacre for the appropriate due process, and apologize to the nation for the cold-blooded killing of so many of our best-trained law enforcers. But he decided to baby the MILF instead. All he could say was that he would like the MILF to “identify” those involved in the “incident.” And instead of asking the MILF to prove to the government that it was still interested in pursuing peace, he said he was confident the MILF was “studying how to demonstrate their sincerity in the peace process.” This has not changed the matter-of-fact statement of the MILF, saying that what had happened had already happened and could no longer be undone.
Did he personally authorize the botched mission?
They expected him to tell the nation whether or not he had personally authorized the mission of the police commandos that brought them to their tragic death. But he failed to do this. He successfully evaded the question, leaving the public to sort out things for themselves. Unfortunately, the tidbits of information coming out tend to show him in the worst possible light.
One newspaper had reported that the assignment given to the SAF commandos – to serve arrest warrants to Malaysian bombmaker Sulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and his Filipino partner Basit Usman in Mamasapano, Maguindanao – had come directly from the still-suspended PNP director general Alan Purisima, who had personally cleared it with Aquino himself.
Waiting for glory that never came
This was why Aquino was in Zamboanga City on Sunday, waiting to receive the “captured terrorists” on the day of the massacre. Both he and Purisima wanted to “surprise” the nation with a “big terrorist catch,” to rehabilitate their sagging political fortunes. This story has not been denied.
Since then, the following unconfirmed information has trickled out from highly informed police and military sources:
1.American and local intelligence providers had tipped off the PNP high command on the presence of Marwan and Usman in Maguindanao as early as last November. However, the information was confirmed only during the week of Pope Francis’s visit in January. Planning was kept between the President, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, who chairs the anti-terrorism council, Purisima, the Regional District Commander, and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group. The PNP deputy director-general had vague knowledge of the operation but was not involved in its planning or in its execution.
Were the Americans informed?
It is not clear whether the Americans who have offered a total bounty of $6 million on the head of the two terrorists, through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were involved in the operation.
Extent of support for operations
2.About 450 troops from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP were deployed along a 10-kilometer radius of the area of the operation, as the “exfiltration” or extraction component during the operation. This included a light armor brigade deployed along the highway some 5 kilometers from the area of operation. All members of the SAF company were outfitted with throat-activated peer-to-peer communications equipment, as well as satellite and radio equipment, but apparently had no chance to really engage the MILF forces on equal terms.
Light armored brigade ordered to stand down
3.At the height of the fighting, the SAF company relentlessly called for support. But orders came down from the operations command for the light armored brigade, which was the unit closest to the fighting, to stand down.
4.The MILF forces were equipped with high-powered weapons, originally sourced from government, but having taken away all weapons from the fallen policemen, all their sophisticated weapons and communications equipment, including Barret sniper rifles and Steyr AUG A3 machine guns, are now in the hands of the mujahedin.
Aquino no-show at Villamor
Following his speech on Wednesday, the public expected Aquino to be on hand to receive the bodies of the fallen commandos upon their arrival at Villamor Air Base yesterday. He failed to show up, citing as his excuse a previous appointment in a factory in Calabarzon. To many observers, this simply underlines his utter lack of humanity, and his greater lack of any valid reason to stay one minute longer as president.