There seems to be some kind of conspiracy in the Senate and in the conscript media to save President B. S. Aquino 3rd from any criminal liability for the death of the 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) who were massacred by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters while trying to bring in Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and his Filipino associate Basit Usman in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25.
In an obvious effort to exempt from any accountability the person primarily responsible for the unmitigated tragedy, everything is being done to focus public attention on why the suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima and the now-cashiered SAF commander Getulio Napenas had failed to “coordinate” the secret operation with the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, the acting PNP chief, the military, and possibly even the conscript press. All sorts of questions are being asked to divert attention from the most important questions. We shall return to this later.
The DILG Secretary, the PNP chief, and the Regional PNP commander are part of the PNP operational chain-of-command, which begins with the President. They were all left without the merest sliver of information about the project. But Purisima and Napenas are now being asked to explain why the tragedy happened. No one has had the courage or the brains to point out that this question should be directly addressed to, and answered by, the President.
The most pertinent, if not the only such question that should be asked of Purisima is this: What was he doing in that operation? How did he manage to get there after the Ombudsman had suspended him for six months from all his official duties and responsibilities, because of charges of corruption? In a previous piece, I pointed out that he had been designated “case officer” of the project to get “Marwan” and Usman long before he was suspended, and that his designation was never revoked since then. But I failed to point out that this was not good enough.
Aquino knew that his suspension had reduced Purisima to the status of a private individual, and an outsider, without any function in the PNP administrative or operational chain of command. If his designation as “case officer” had not been revoked earlier, Aquino had (has) the full authority to revoke it any time. So why didn’t he? Instead he authorized Purisima’s pivotal participation in the highly sensitive operation, in violation of law and all known security protocols.
Purisima himself knew he had no legal right or duty to carry out any official task in the name of the PNP, especially one with such serious national security implications. He should have declined the presidential offer or order, knowing he was in no legal position to be the pivot of any PNP operation. But the more serious accountability rests with Aquino who knew of Purisima’s legal disability, yet simply ignored it altogether.
Now everyone in the Senate and in the conscript media seems unable to see this far. They are eager to hear Purisima “talk”, instead of asking Aquino why, and by means of what right or power did he choose to involve Purisima at all.
Indeed, so many other questions are being asked, many of them with sensational headline potential, and the ability to divert attention from the most important questions to the peripheral. Did “Marwan” perish during the gun battle, as claimed by the MILF, or did he escape, as claimed by the Moro National Liberation Front? Who would receive the $5-million bounty in case Marwan’s reported death was finally confirmed? Were the Americans involved in Operation Wolverine, as the operation was called? Whom should we believe, the US Embassy statement denying any American involvement or the unverified report about an unidentified farmer seeing a blue-eyed Caucasian corpse among the victims?
In the meantime, the Aquino regime, supported by Malaysia, several foreign powers, and the various foreign NGOs operating in the Philippines, would like to railroad the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (Babala) to create a new political entity for the MILF to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao created earlier for the MNLF, as though the 44 policemen had offered their lives for the “balkanization” of the Philippines? We shall not discuss this here.
But back to some pressing questions. Who, aside from the President, was in command and control? Who ordered the reinforcement units to stand down? This last sums up everything, and is the most important question. The answer to it also answers the question posed by the bereaved families of the 44 fallen warriors, and so many of our countrymen: Why did the 44 have to die? Who was ultimately responsible? The 44 were prepared to die fighting, but not under the circumstances under which the one in command left them.
There were sufficient forces standing by, including a light armored brigade, which could have turned the tide in their favor, if they had moved in. But they were asked to stand down. Exactly by whom? Nobody knows. Not Napeñas certainly, whose men were the ones being slaughtered. Neither Purisima most likely whose presence there as suspended PNP chief was at best questionable, and whose order might have been questioned and disobeyed by the support units.
The only official whose authority would not go unquestioned was the President himself, who was in Zamboanga at the time. He was monitoring the operation from an intelligence facility in the Western Mindanao Command, together with Teresita Deles, the presidential adviser on the peace process. He need not have given the order directly to the units himself; he could have done it through Deles who is well-known to the police, the army, and the Bangsamoro insurgents.
Now, is there anyone in the Senate or in the conscript press willing to raise this point? Aquino’s cronies and allies might have no inhibitions in saying he had authorized the operation. This is because the data can no longer be controverted, and there is nothing criminal about it. But it would take more than raw courage to say Aquino had ordered the “stand-down,” which left the 44 to be butchered by a savage enemy by denying them much-needed reinforcement. To say so would be tantamount to accusing Aquino of treason, since what he did was a treasonous act.
Instead of saying so, Sen. TeofistoGuingona 3rd, chairman of the Senate committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, has proposed that an “independent” fact-finding commission be organized to conduct an inquiry into the massacre. This sounds very good good, but it is at best meretricious. Given Aquino’s authoritarian hold on the entire government, how “independent” would be an “independent commission?” To whom would it submit its final report? To an “independent” Congress? And who would implement its recommendations and findings? A culpable President?
We may have reached a deadend, a point of no return. At heart, our people know what happened in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. But they are powerless to make sure that the guilty parties are punished. Because the President is primarily involved, and he has seized virtual control of the tripartite system of government, there can be no justice for our fallen heroes while Aquino remains in office.
Justice is possible only under a new, reform-oriented government. The only other possible relief is, as Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has suggested, for Aquino to be brought to the International Criminal Court as an international criminal even before he is turned out of office.