Progressive groups lambasted President Aquino, who, in a nationally-televised message, passed the blame to the head of the elite police commando unit for the deadly Mamasapano clash.
By DEE AYROSO
Various groups assailed President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for saying that it was the head of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) who failed to coordinate its operations in Maguindanao which ended in the biggest casualty suffered by the elite police unit in recent history.
Forty-four PNP-SAF men were killed when they attempted to capture two Jemaah Islamiyah bomb experts, Malaysian Zulkipli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and Filipino Basit Usman in Mamasapano town, but ended up clashing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
In a nationally-televised address on Jan. 28, Aquino said that the PNP-SAF had “actionable intelligence” and did not require his approval to capture the two terror suspects. He said that he had known about the operation since last year, and had repeatedly reminded SAF director Getulio Napeñas to coordinate with other agencies. But it turned out that the military learned about it only after the 400-strong police had taken off.
The SAF chief had since been sacked from his post.
Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan chairman, flatly rejected Aquino’s argument that the bloodbath is a result of lack of coordination and said it is a result of “the commander in chief’s liquefied backbone and failure of leadership.” “He insisted that he was not asked for a go signal…Even for our uniformed personnel, this is a very insulting statement.”
Kilusang Mayo Uno chairman Elmer Labog said that Aquino only tried “to insulate himself and top officials closest to him from accountability for the effects of this botched operation.”
“He chose to give the impression that the PNP is allowed to carry out operations that may sabotage peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rather than admit that he was responsible for imperiling the peace talks,” he added.
Labog also said that Aquino made it appear that the PNP-SAF undertook the operation on its own, to hide the key roles played by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima in the operation.
Kabataan partylist Rep. Terry Ridon noted that Aquino’ speech might have “prejudged” the governent’s own investigation “by insinuating that the SAF might had some deficiency in coordination.”
Aquino said that he had formed a Board of Inquiry that will look into the incident.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad said in a statement that they had formed a Special Investigative Commission (SIC) composed of members of the Central Committee and the general staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Force (BIAF) “to gather reliable information and interview witnesses to establish the truth.”
The MILF suffered 11 dead and nine wounded.
The President declared Friday Jan. 30 as National Day of Mourning for the slain policemen.
Aquino justified the police entry into a rebel stronghold, saying that the targets each have a long list of crimes and had been wanted since 2002. He said that since the police already know where they are, hey would be commiting “malfeasance” if they do not carry out the arrest.
Aquino also denied that the elite police troops entered the MILF territory, because the two targets were in a separate encampment.
On the effects of the clashes on the passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, Aquino said that it will continue to work for its passage, and that the incident should not be used to setback the peace process.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) had stronger words, as it claimed that Aquino knew about the risks in the operation, and that the elite police troops were “sacrificed on the altar of the US terror war.”
In a statement in its website, the CPP said it believes that the US military in the country “instigated” the failed operations.
“To describe the firefight as a ‘misencounter’ is grossly inaccurate,” said the CPP. “It is clear that the police troops were ordered to carry out a virtual suicide operation that involved penetration of difficult terrain and confronting a hostile armed population. The apparent plan was to use its big numbers to run down BIFF and MILF defense at the cost of sacrificing its troops in the hope of catching up with their targets.”
The CPP said the Aquino regime did not coordinate with the MILF, with which it has a standing ceasefire agreement, but which it suspects of providing safe haven to Marwan. “It carried out the operation at Mamasapano at the risk of derailing the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and peace negotiations with the MILF,” it said.
The CPP also pointed out the possible participation of US troops in the operation. The two targets have long been wanted by the US, and carry a total of $7 million bounty.
The CPP said that after the operation, US military forces were among the first to send assets to the area to help identify whether Marwan or Usman was among those killed in the carnage. The CPP added that information has also surfaced about the possible inclusion of American soldiers among the casualties, and that one of the US military’s objectives in arriving at the area posthaste was to retrieve the bodies of slain American serviceme.
Four male Caucasians in plainclothes were seen in a TV network’s footage, aiding the retrieval of the bodies and helping wounded police men into a civilian helicopter.
The CPP expressed sympathy with the families of the policemen who perished in the clash. It called on police officers and men “to speak up and stand against the Aquino regime and its police officials who ordered the Mamasapano operation and expose continuing US military interventionism in the Philippines.”
The CPP also called for the immediate junking of the US-PH agreements, such as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Mutual Defense Treaty which it said “violate Philippine sovereignty.”