Until now docile and forgiving Filipinos have tended to look the other way as President B. S. Aquino 3rd routinely abused the Constitution. His crimes have piled up, but none of them had affected the nation as much as his ignoble and wretched response to the January 24 Maguindanao massacre of 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
He failed to show enough sympathy and respect for the martyred policemen and their families, but he used the occasion as a platform to glorify his dead parents at the expense of their old enemies.
The 44 victims were among the finest in our police force. Nearly half of them were 26 years old and younger. They were killed while on a special mission to bring in two well-known Muslim terrorists–the Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hiralias “Marwan,” and his Filipino confederate, Basit Usman, who carried a combined bounty of $6 million from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. This was to be paid not to the apprehending peace officers but to the one who provided the information leading to the death or capture of the targets.
The Moros finished off the 44 after their support forces, which included a light armored brigade, deployed close to the area of operations, failed to respond to the calls for back-up, after they had been ordered to “stand down.”
Unanswered and unasked questions.
Many questions remain unanswered. Some have not even been asked yet.
Just exactly who was running “Operation Wolverine,” as the operation was reportedly called? Under the PNP operational chain of command, the line of authority flows directly from the President and Commander-in-Chief to his alter-ego, the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, and then to the PNP chief and the Regional District Commander. But neither DILG Secretary Mar Roxas nor acting PNP chief Leonardo Espina nor the Regional Commander knew of the operation.
While DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, acting Director General Espina and SAF Director Getulio Napenas were in Cotabato after the massacre, a visibly angry Roxas reportedly asked Napenas, “Who authorized the SAF mission?” The latter reportedly responded, “the President.” Instead of complaining to Aquino, a visibly angry Roxas sackedNapenas on the spot for failing to coordinate with him.
Indeed, instead of following the established operational chain of command, Aquino created his own chain of command, effectively bypassing Roxas, Espina, and the Regional Commander, choosing to involve Director-General Alan Purisima alone, even though he had just begun serving a six-month suspension order from the Ombudsman because of corruption charges.
How did this happen?
Purisima was made “Case Officer” of Oplan Wolverine long before he was suspended, and this was never revoked even after his suspension. This was an inexcusable lapse, but aside from his being known to be Aquino’s personal favorite, this seemed the only other reason for his continued involvement in the project.
Now, the SAF is merely a “force provider,” that’s all. Even though Napenas has “assumed responsibility for everything,” it seems clear he has simply decided to take the fall in the name of the service. There is no reason to accept his self-incriminating statement, nor to agree with Gazmin, who was himself out of the loop, that Napenas was the ground commander. Neither could Roxas hold him accountable for failing to inform or coordinate with him.
It was the President’s task to course things through Roxas, following the established chain of command. But if Aquino had chosen to bypass Roxas, it was not Napenas’ duty to inform Roxas. His sacking therefore seems a completely unjustified tantrum on Roxas’ part.
Organizing the mission
Now, how was the Wolverine force organized? With a total of 392 commandos involved, this means 50 teams of eight members each. How were they chosen? Who put them together? How was the ground commander chosen? Who chose him, and what was his name? Regardless of what has already appeared in the media, these questions deserve forthright answers.
Who ordered the stand-down?
But the most important question of all is this: Who gave the order for the support forces to stand down? And why was it given? It was not only a simple tactical decision that a commander makes whether to defend a position or withdraw when pinned down. It was a political decision of the highest import made by the highest authority in charge of the entire operation. It could not have come from a mere ground commander. And there was no higher authority involved here than the President himself.
At the time, Aquino was in Zamboanga with Teresita Deles, the presidential adviser on the peace process, reportedly monitoring the operation from an intelligence facility inside the Western Mindanao command. At the same time, a civilian team from Deles’ office had reportedly entered the MILF camp in the middle of the gun battle, to negotiate with the MILF camp a cessation of the hostilities that had broken out in violation of the ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the government.
There is reason to believe that Aquino did not want to endanger the team’s mission. At the same time he was mortally afraid that if the government tanks started rolling in with all of the support forces, a fullscale military engagement would ensue, and its first immediate casualty would be his “peace process” and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (Babala), which seeks to create a new political entity for the MILF to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, earlier created by law for the Moro National Liberation Front.
So the stand-down order was given, and the result is now history.
Aquino’s real role
Aquino has not had the courage to admit with candor his role in this tragedy. He had greater courage attacking his family’s dead enemies. He has pointed to Purisima as the one reportedly calling all the shots. This is unacceptable; it just doesn’t make sense. Given that Purisima remains suspended to this day, it is hardly credible that the SAF commander or any other officer or unit involved in the operation would take any order from him without any confirmation from higher authority.
More to the point, if the PNP were running the show, wouldn’t the funding have come from the PNP as well? But the PNP did not fund it, so who did? Malacañang? Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa’s anti-terrorism council? Or some foreign government?
Aquino’s personal and official reaction to the whole tragedy shows it all. The tragedy occurred on Sunday; but Aquino managed to say something about it only on Wednesday evening. In his speech, he failed to condemn the massacre but talked more about the need to push the peace process and the Babala in Congress. Then he failed to show up at the Villamor Air Base to receive the bodies of the fallen policemen, choosing to attend instead a Japanese company function out of town. When he finally showed up at the necrological services for the policemen, he was one hour late, and he used the occasion to talk about himself and the murder of his father, the masterminds of which neither he nor his late mother had shown any eagerness to identify.
We cannot blame the bereaved families of the fallen and so many of our countrymen for being angry at this time. What has come out of Aquino’s mouth and the mouths of all his lackeys is all about the need to ram through the Babala in Congress as though the massacre never happened. But the massacre has exposed at least two things that have made the indecent haste to ram through the Babala doubly unacceptable.
First of all, contrary to all assurances from the MILF, they have been harboring terrorists within their camp. The case of Marwan and Usman proves this beyond all doubt. Second, contrary to the propaganda that the BIFF is a breakaway faction of the MILF, and that they have nothing to do with each other, they are in fact working together. This is reminiscent of the situation in the 1990s when the MILF was presented as a mere breakaway faction of the MNLF, only to emerge as the main insurgent force after the MNLF had made peace with the government.
We have suffered enough betrayals in the past. Let us not suffer any more now. We could perhaps stand betrayal from the MILF, but we should not allow ourselves to be betrayed by our own President. Yet as far as millions of our countrymen today are concerned, this is what has happened in Maguindanao. For them, treason has been committed, and this cannot go unpunished. The people must act.
Message to Aquino
It is not easy to put into words what so many of our people feel about their self-indulgent and sanctimonious President. But after listening to his two unbelievably self-centered speeches after the massacre, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, a leading spiritual and moral light of the National Transformation Council, has shared with us the following message to Aquino:
“How can you lead us, much less comfort or console us, when you are buried in the quagmire that is your self?
“How can you listen to our cries when you are deafened by the wailings of your own fears and unforgiveness?
“How can you weep when your eyes mirror your hardened heart and tears can no longer fall from them?
“How can you pray when your soul bows to relativistic gods?
“How can you pursue peace when your path is hounded by your past that keeps pulling you back and pulling you down to dwell only in the comfort zone of your own ego?
“How can you stand tall when you have limited your myopic view to selfish gains?
“Cry, my fellow countrymen, for our fallen brothers… But cry more for ourselves if we are not moved to right the wrong and bring justice not only for our soldiers but for every Filipino unjustly served.
“Only then can true peace and progress be achieved.
“Let’s unite and rebuild this Blessed Land. Turn to God who will not fail His faithful ones.
“Remember Cory had 22 dead farmers at Mendiola. PNoy had 44 dead policemen in Maguindanao.”