THE Ombudsman the other day filed a graft case against former President Benigno Aquino 3rd for, in her words, “utilizing the services”—for the police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in January 2015 that led to the massacre of 44 police commandos—of Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima when he was under suspension at the time.
What a clever way for Aquino to escape justice.
The Ombudsman’s charge is like, if ever, US authorities charging the New York terrorist who mowed eight people to death with a rented truck solely with reckless driving.
As relatives of the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who were killed have pointed out—and are planning to ask the Supreme Court to order the Ombudsman to do—Aquino should be charged with 44 counts of criminal imprudence resulting in homicide.
There has got to be some graver offense in our laws to charge Aquino with over the Mamasapano tragedy.
Aquino’s failure—or refusal—to prevent the massacre of our elite troops in Mamasapano by Muslim rebels is the worst crime ever committed by a Philippine President.
Aquino had been told early that morning that troops of the police’s Special Action Force (SAF) tasked with terminating an international terrorist were pinned down, and that its commander Getulio Napeñas, was pleading for his troops to be rescued. Yet Aquino did nothing the whole day.
Only at dusk
He called for a “command conference” of his security officials to deal with the crisis only at dusk. Army troops with air support were ordered— nobody even knows by whom—to act only towards sundown, when the 44 SAF soldiers had already been killed by Muslim rebel snipers, with some of the wounded shot at point-blank range.
This is not speculation but facts that nobody has disputed. These had been established by testimony in Senate hearings a month after the tragedy, of several officials who were with the President throughout that tragic day.
Aquino himself claimed in an impromptu speech before the SAF two days later that “Maaga pa lang, tuloy-tuloy na ang mga ulat na natatanggap namin.” (Since early morning, the reports had been coming in continuously.)
In the transcript Purisima submitted to the Senate hearing, Aquino learned of the progress of the operation he had ordered at 7:36 a.m., and that the troops were trapped before 11:36 a.m..
Aquino didn’t do anything that entire day, and pretended that nothing was happening as he went around Zamboanga City with his officials, including Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
The scenario that he had worked out was that on the pretext of being in Zamboanga City that day to inspect buildings damaged by a bombing two days before, he would rush to Cotabato City, the nearest city to Mamasapano and an hour by helicopter, to congratulate the SAF troopers for their capture of the global terrorists in Mamasapano, and to boast how he himself was on top of the operation. Instead, his glorious scenario turned out to be a horror for our troops.
There are two explanations for why Aquino abandoned his troops to the wolves, to be slaughtered, as it were.
One is that, given reports of psychological instability and of his penchant for burying his head in the sand in the face of crisis, he simply panicked when he realized that the scenario that was in his mind was turning into a nightmare, and was paralyzed into inaction.
He also realized the consequences of being blamed for the massacre of 44 commandos, and prosecuted for having given the authority as overall commander for the operations to his long-time buddy Purisima—his close-in security during the entire term of his mother, from 1986 to 1992—even if Purisima had been suspended at the time by the Ombudsman over corruption charges, and therefore had no authority at all to direct police operations.
A second explanation, which President Duterte himself has advanced, is that he was allegedly told by Teresita Quintos-Deles, his chief negotiator with rebel groups, including the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, not to order the military’s air assets from bombing the Muslim rebel positions as the battle raged, as this would endanger the peace talks with the MILF.
While Deles has denied she ever told Aquino to order his troops to stand down, the reports have been persistent that indeed she did so. Deles had allegedly convinced Aquino that he, together with his negotiators, had a good chance of being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize if they finalize the peace pact with the MILF. (Incredible as this notion may initially seem to be, it has credence given the fact that Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos got the Nobel in 2016, for his peace pact with the leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, that had been waging a guerrilla war for 50 years.)
Dante Ang, the chairman emeritus of this newspaper, had reported in an article published September 6, 2015, that based on accounts of his sources, police and army reinforcements were on the way to rescue the SAF troopers, and their commander asked Aquino for his final approval. Aquino, however, replied: “Negative. Negative. Stand down.”
Whichever explanation is accurate, Aquino’s failure or refusal to order the military he commanded to rescue the SAF troops who had been pinned down since early morning is an abomination to the military and the nation.
Past presidents have been accused of corruption, on such a massive scale even. But Aquino is the only President who abandoned his troops, so that they were brutally massacred.
The Congress he controlled—with the Senate headed by Liberal Party pillar Franklin Drilon and the House of Representatives by Feliciano Belmonte, Jr.—share Aquino’s shame and crime, as even in this controversy that involved the massacre of the Republic’s troops, it chose to conspire in the cover-up of the worst crime by a Philippine president ever.
For the sake of the nation’s integrity, President Duterte with the help of Congress should find ways to get Aquino pay for this crime. We cannot allow an ingenious scheme that only pretends to bring him to justice to succeed.