Three days after the tragic deaths of 44 members of Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) in the hands of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters in Mamasapano in Maguindanao, President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino finally addressed the nation. However, the people who have been speculating for days about how and why the tragic event occurred were still left with even more unanswered questions. As usual the President was very good at evading simple questions and even appeared irritated at having to answer them. At one point, a coughing fit muddled his response.
BS Aquino’s carefully worded statements did not reassure the Filipino people that the events that led to the tragedy was backed by his authority. He said that there was an outstanding warrant on bomb makers Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” a Malaysian, and the Filipino Abdul Basit Usman since 2002 and that operation to capture him has been ongoing.
When asked by a journalist if he gave the authority for the operation to capture the bomb makers on that fateful day, the President could not say directly if he did give it. He said that he didn’t think he was ever asked the question, “Sir, can we have the go-signal?”
His response though contradicted his earlier statement. In his speech, he emphasized that he kept reiterating to the director of the PNP-SAF the importance of coordinating with the people involved in the operation, which he said was not done.
Sa paulit-ulit kong pagpapaalala sa pangangailangan ng koordinasyon, ang isinagot po sa akin ng direktor ng SAF, “Yes Sir.” Ang sabi lang niya, kailangan din ng operational security, o ang pagsigurong ang dapat lang makaalam ang masasabihan ukol sa operasyon. Gayumpaman, idiniin kong kailangan pa ring ialerto ang ibang mga sangay o ang kanilang mga hepe; kailangan nasa tamang oras ang abiso, at kumpleto ang impormasyon, para makapaghanda nang maayos.
So, the question still remains: Did he or did he not know about the operation beforehand? If he didn’t know, then it shows that the PNP does not respect him enough. It is possible because the president seemed to be annoyed that it was too late when the PNP-SAF – who he admitted were not equipped to respond to attacks — asked for help from the Philippine military:
Tanong ko: Bakit at paano nga po kaya nangyari na malapit na sa jump-off o naka-jump-off na, nang sinabihan ang batalyon ng AFP na malapit sa operasyon? Ang problema po dito, nagkalat sa iba’t ibang lugar ang mga sundalong kasapi ng batalyong ito na nagbabantay sa main supply route sa lugar na ito. Sa madaling salita, dikit na sa oras ng engkuwentro ang abiso, at mahirap masabi kung nagkaroon ng sapat na panahon upang ihanda ang ayuda kung kakailanganin. Kung may compliance pong nangyari sa atas kong siguruhing may sapat na koordinasyon, parang sinagad po itong very minimum compliance. Nagulat nga po akong malaman na ang pinuno ng Western Mindanao Command, o maski ng 6th Infantry Division, ay tila naabisuhan lamang matapos ang unang engkuwentro laban kina Marwan at Usman; palabas na ang puwersa ng SAF, at nagkakaroon na ng problema sa puntong ito.
A Manila Standard article reported that a police general claims that suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima conducted the entire operation and because he was doing it secretly, “Purisima would not share the intel with anyone and asserted he had to personally run and oversee the operations.” It was said that he was confident the operation would succeed because of the ceasefire agreement:
The ceasefire was in effect. We observed it. We expected the MILF to observe that too. There was no way we could coordinate with the MILF when the terrorists we were after were in their territory,” the general said.
Apparently, the Philippine military was unaware of the operation, which was the main reason why they could not respond immediately.
It wasn’t just the military that wasn’t aware of the operation; even Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas who is supposed to be in charge of the PNP was also caught surprised by the tragedy. Apart from the 44 dead, someone’s head rolled too. Director Getulio Napenas as chief of the Special Action Force was sacked after the botched operation. That was even before the “investigation” was conducted. Life is tough for people who don’t have friends in high places.
President BS Aquino’s speech did not condemn the actions of the perpetrators – members of the MILF. As a matter of fact, the President even commended the MILF. He made special mention of how they have helped in the past in achieving “peace” citing how they were instrumental in saving a Japanese hostage in 2014. He wasn’t specific about details of how the MILF helped in that instance though.
The bottom line of BS Aquino’s speech is that, this “misencounter” should not derail the passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. His standard response to journalists who were asking him tough questions was: “Let us wait for the result of the investigation”, which is another way of saying “I will not answer your question.”
It was also incredible how BS Aquino tried to cast a shadow of doubt over who was to blame for the tragic events. When asked what he thinks about members of the MILF who allegedly stole personal belongings of the dead police officers, his response was to advise journalists not to be too quick to assume the MILF was solely responsible for that.
The fact remains: MILF rebel forces were protecting Malaysian terrorist bomb makers and claiming authority over a “territory” even without the passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
President BS Aquino’s speech was clear on only one thing. His deal with the MILF will not be held back even when rebel forces break the ceasefire agreement and slaughter those who are supposed to protect the Filipino people. It seems he has no qualms about treating the enemy with kids’ gloves and possibly betraying his own men in the process.
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