We did not need the 120-page Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry report to tell us that President B. S. Aquino 3rd “violated the PNP chain of command” in the Jan. 25 Operation Exodus, where 44 PNP-Special Action Force commandos were massacred by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. We all knew this before the inquiry began.
This was the cause of everything else that went wrong in the operation, and of all the lies we have since heard from the effort to absolve Aquino of all blame. We did not need the BOI report to tell us this. We needed the report to tell us why Aquino broke the chain, and what punishment should be inflicted on him for all the harm his act had caused.The BOI report was completely silent on this.
The report tried to treat Aquino with kid gloves. Instead of saying Aquino “violated the chain,” (active mode), the report said, “The chain of command in the PNP “was violated” (passive mode). The President, the suspended CPNP (Chief, PNP) (Alan) Purisima and the former Director SAF (Getulio) Napenas kept the information to themselves and deliberately failed to inform the OIC (Officer-in-Charge) PNP (Leonardo Espina) and the SILG (Secretary of Interior and Local Government, Manuel Roxas 2nd). The chain of command should be observed in running mission operations,” the report said.
The “chain of command” runs from above not from the ground
The PNP chain of command runs from the President to the SILG and to the PNP Chief, and ultimately to the component units. Therefore, Aquino alone violated the chain when he excluded Roxas and Espina from the operation, and put it in the hands of the suspended Purisima and Napenas. He, and not Napeñas, had the duty to inform Roxas, (and Roxas, Espina) about the operation. So Purisima and Napeñas were only his instruments in breaking the chain, not his co-principals. The “chain of command” is so called because command runs from above, not from the ground.
By making Purisima and Napeñas equally responsible as Aquino, and saying it was Aquino’s “prerogative” to deal directly with Napeñas, the report tried to spread the blame and lighten Aquino’s load. But not content with that, Malacañang questioned the BOI finding, saying Aquino did not break any chain of command. The PNP is but a civilian organization over which the President exercises absolute control, said the spokesman Edwin Lacierda; he is not subject to PNP’s “internal rules.” The chain of command is nothing but a PNP internal rule, which can be disregarded anytime, he said; just as even the Constitution could be disregarded anytime.
He told Napeñas to deal directly with an unbriefed much superior officer, AFPCS Gen. Catapang
Aquino was inclined to break the military chain of command as well. During a meeting with Purisima and Napenas in Malacanang, according to the report, Aquino ordered the then-SAF commander to “coordinate” directly with Gen. Gregorio Catapang even without the AFP Chief of Staff having been briefed earlier by competent authority about the operation. This is simply execrable.
The military chain of command runs from the President and Commander-in-Chief to the Secretary of National Defense to the AFP Chief of Staff to the various services and commands and ultimately to the foot soldiers. The correct procedure would have been for Aquino to inform Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin about the operation, and for Gazmin to inform Catapang, who would then inform the appropriate command that would be working with the PNP-SAF. Napeñas would have had to “coordinate” with a specific command, not with Catapang, who is way way above his rank.
Aquino’s ad hoc approach during that reported meeting was completely unprofessional. It cannot be justified under any rules of conduct by any head of state or government, in relation to the military or the police. Now, trying to defend what is eminently indefensible merely compounds Aquino’s offense.
How did Operation Exodus get started in the first place? The report failed to give this point the importance it deserves. According to the report, Aquino approved the operation and Purisima and Napeñas implemented it without the knowledge of Roxas and Espina. The objective was to “neutralize high-value targets,” identified as international terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, Ahamad Akmadatabi Usman, and Amin Baco, alias Jihad. Until this report came, the media had identified only two targets—Marwan and Usman—for whose death or capture the US Federal Bureau of Investigation had offered a bounty of $6 million.
Who originally decided to mount Oplan Exodus and why did it end up like a ‘personal enterprise’?
But the first question is this: Did the decision to mount an operation originally come from Aquino, or did he get it from Purisima and Napenas as a finished product? There seems enough reason to speculate that the idea had come from Purisima, who must have received the first intelligence report on the terrorists before he was suspended by the Ombusman on Dec. 16, 2014, and who alone was close enough to Aquino to ask him to run a police operation without the knowledge of Roxas and Espina, his known rivals. He must have thought that his success could serve as a jumping board for his triumphant reentry as PNP Chief. This seems the best explanation why Operation Exodus took on the appearance of a “personal enterprise.”
But breaking the chain of command was but Aquino’s first offense. The more costly and unforgivable offense was his reportedly ordering the reinforcement to stand down when the 44 SAF commandos asked for it. Aquino was reported to have ordered the stand-down from his Drone-assisted monitoring facility in Zamboanga City, after the SAF 44 had run out of ammo and called for help. The BOI report was completely silent on this.
Was there, in fact, such an order? I was the first one to report on this, based on the most knowledgeable sources, and have since repeated it several times in this space. Not once has Malacañang, the PNP, or any of the defense authorities tried to deny it.
How Aquino could have given the stand-down order and his legacy of death frighten many people
Obviously the BOI did not pursue this question for fear of coming face to face with a truth they were not prepared to address. Moreover, they were limited by the fact that Aquino, like Purisima, Catapang, and Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero of the West Mindanao Command, had refused to grant any interview for the report. Although the report now says Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Sixth Infantry Division, “took it upon himself to withhold artillery fire support in consideration of the peace process and artillery fire protocols,” those who had monitored Aquino’s presence in Zamboanga on Jan. 25 insist that everyone in the city knows that the stand-down order had come from him.
How Aquino could have given such an order is what frightens many people. Given the legacy of death that has accompanied his presidency from the very beginning, and his surprising inability to show any sign of regret or discomfort over such occurrences, we have to ask ourselves what kind of abnormal person now controls the presidency. What indeed if Aquino’s rumored madness has become officially certifiable?
That, for me, is a danger I cannot begin to imagine. But our inability or refusal, as a people, to want to do anything about it, in the name of every stupid thing in the world, is what I consider to be the far greater danger.