After four days of hearings in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and despite his minions’ shameful attempts at a massive cover-up, the truth about President Benigno S. Aquino’s culpability for the massacre of 44 Special Action Forcec (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, is unraveling.
Both former police chief Alan Purisima and SAF Director Getulio Napeñas testified that Aquino had been privy to the operation from its very inception back in April last year. The two even reported that Aquino was last briefed on Jan 9 at his residence, Bahay Pangarap, in Malacañang. Even Aquino, in his speech Jan 28, implied he gave the operation the go-signal, but not the exact date it would be undertaken.
Aquino prepositioned himself Jan 25 in Zamboanga City, on the pretext of raising its residents’ and officials’ morale after a car bombing two days earlier. That was close enough to Cotabato City so he could fly there immediately to congratulate the commandos for their mission in capturing the terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir aka Marwan, and even to view his corpse, a photo-op that would be in newspapers all over the planet. (The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Mindanao bureau reported in its web edition Feb 8 that city officials were informed of Aquino’s visit just a day before Jan 25, while Malacanang officials were in Cotabato City in the afternoon of that day preparing for the President’s visit.)
With him in Zamboanga were practically his entire security team: Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr. Even the commander of the Western Mindanao Unified Command, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, was there.
In the hearing yesterday, all of them claimed they had not informed Aquino of the clash between the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) SAF and guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that started in the wee hours of the morning.
They all claimed that they, indeed, received reports of the event at midmorning but felt that they didn’t need to inform the President about it. There was no sense of urgency in the reports, Gazmin, Roxas and Catapang all said.
It was only at 5 p.m., which meant hours after the trapped 44 commandos had been killed, helpless since they ran out of bullets, that Aquino met with them (the top officials) in a room at Edwin Andrews Air Base to be briefed. No one among them could even say who was the first person to inform the President that the SAF policemen were trapped and have likely been killed.
WestMin commander Guerrero’s text messages to 6th Infantry Division Commander Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan seemed surreal, not just because of the time it was dispatched – 6 p.m. – which was hours after the massacre.
His message to Pangilinan was: “Best effort without endangering our reinforcement troops, per guidance from President. Ensure no friendly fires since it is nighttime. If we can resupply them with ammo and food, how?”
Imagine this: Your family is hostaged by a crazed armed group, and you rush to the nearest police precinct and ask for urgent help from the commander. He turns to his deputy and says: “Go to the house and rescue them. Best effort without endangering our policemen.” Do you think the police will rush to rescue your family?
Why would Guerrero, a three-star general, have to invoke the Commander-in-Chief’s authority in an order to his subordinate Pangilinan when he texted “per guidance from President?”
Because the general himself wondered why the order wasn’t to mobilize all troops necessary to rescue the SAF troops, and had to explain it was the President’s “guidance.”
If Roxas, Gazmin and Catapang told the truth that they didn’t bother to tell the President in the morning about the unraveling massacre, they should be fired – even charged for criminal negligence.
Roxas was told at about 6 a.m. by PNP Officer-in-Charge Leonardo Espina of the operation to capture an international terrorist in MILF territory. And he didn’t think this was an important piece of information to tell the President, especially since he knew very well that this could endanger the passage of the Bangsamoro law, which his boss wanted passed ASAP?
Gazmin said he got the information at about 10 a.m., but echoed Roxas’ excuse that they had been receiving “continuous” reports of, in Roxas words, “encounters here, encounters there.”
They were either lying or totally incompetent to be given such powerful jobs over our security forces. When was the last time there was a SAF-MILF firefight? Never.
When was the last firefight between any of our military forces and the MILF? More than three years ago, when a combined MILF and Abu Sayyaf guerrillas massacred 19 Army Special Forces troops.
Gazmin just doesn’t have any excuse not to have informed the President about the impending massacre. Zamboanga City is just six hours to Mamasapano along the Pan Philippine Highway. I know for a fact that it is standard procedure for the Philippine President to be evacuated immediately from Mindanao as soon as any armed conflict erupts in the region. This is a security protocol since the armed clash could mean a diversion, or even a region-wide campaign, to attack the Commander-in-Chief, who could be trapped in the Mindanao area if the airport were sabotaged. Immediately as they couldn’t afford to wait: None of the Air Force planes and helicopters were capable of flying at night.
Didn’t Gazmin who is the ultimate commander of the Presidential Security Group think the President should be informed of a military clash not too far from Zamboanga, and advise him to leave for Manila immediately?
The reason why Mar Roxas and Catapang pretended nothing was happening in Mamasapano, and had relaxed at lunch and merienda with Aquino, and accompanied him in his chit-chat with local officials was this:
After being informed about Mamasapano at midmorning, their staff briefed them that it was Purisima’s operation, and that Aquino had given the go-signal for the operation.
“Ganoon ba? ” was the reply of both Gazmin and Roxas when told about this. They both spent the whole day debating with themselves whether to tell Aquino or not, whether to risk a bawling: “Boss, yung operasyon niyo ni Purisima, palpak, and daming patay.” (The Inquirer in the same article reported that Aquino arrived in Zamboanga City at 10 a.m. in a visibly foul mood.)
In yesterday’s hearing, both Senators Nancy Binay and Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. asked Purisima a straight question: “After the operation was launched early morning, did you inform the President about it, and did you keep him informed as it unfolded?”
With the grimmest of faces, Purisima replied: “I would have to ask the President for permission to tell you.”
That request in itself was an admission that he did report to Aquino on the operation from start to finish. Even Aquino, in fact, in his short press conference Jan 28 said: “Early in the morning I was already told about the results of the Marwan operation, and while we were inspecting the site of the Zamboanga bombing, the reports were coming in.” Obviously it was Purisima who was reporting to him.
But all this information was for naught. The Commander-in-Chief froze, and even afraid to ask advice from Roxas, Gazmin and Catapang what’s to be done to save the 44 commandos, while the Army merely pretended to rescue the SAF commandos.
Or maybe Aquino thought it was just a game, that when the screen flashed “Game Over!” he could just reload it.