By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
“What decisions did I make? My decisions were based on information available to me at the time, and that’s how I want to be judged.”
That’s how President Aquino premised his “tell-all” speech last Thursday about the tragic Oplan Exodus counterterrorism operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25. He deemed his speech before the Philippine National Police Academy 2015 graduates as his “last chance to talk about Mamasapano in particular and to tie everything up, unless further clarifications are sought.”
Two official investigations on that tragedy — by the Senate and by a PNP board of inquiry – have concluded that P-Noy is accountable as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief. Specifically he is blamed for having relied on and illegally allowed his friend, suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima, to continue exercising a major role in the operation.
Yet P-Noy has rebuffed the various calls for him to forthrightly acknowledge accountability, to apologize to the people, and to resign.
Two days earlier, he gave his version of the circumstances and the decisions he had made before and during the Mamasapano operation, which he reiterated in his PNPA speech.
In summary, this is how he presented the issues:
• He approved Oplan Exodus on Jan. 9, after being convinced by then SAF chief Getulio Napeñas’ detailed briefing (with Purisima) that the planning was “very, very thorough.” He also got assurance from Napeñas — who nodded twice to his repeated order — to coordinate the operation with the military and the GPH-MILF ceasefire committee to avoid falling into a pintakasi (a firefight with a larger number of adversaries) and jeopardizing the peace process.
A pintakasi precisely happened in Barangay Tukanalipao on Jan. 25, causing the death of 44 commandos mostly of the 55th SAF company serving as blocking force, 17 MILF fighters, and three civilians.
• P-Noy entrusted the plan’s implementation to Napeñas and Purisima, fully knowing the latter was under suspension by the Ombudsman, rationalizing that he had been “on top of all this” before having been suspended. But as the operation began going wrong, P-Noy found both men confused and incoherent in reporting to him via text messages, so that he couldn’t be properly guided on what action to take. Worse, both men disobeyed his explicit orders (to Purisima: to inform PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina, who was “not in the loop,” everything about Oplan Exodus).
Thus, P-Noy was unable to do anything to prevent or lessen the pintakasi casualties, for which failure he is principally called to account.
• Learning that the 84th SAF Seaborne (which carried out the operation) was beleaguered, P-Noy directed the AFP to provide reinforcement, even after the military had told him it was impossible to link up with the Seaborne at nightfall. He boasted: “So I directed Westmincom (commanding general, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero) to convene his battle staff and to come up with a plan to effect the linkup that night with reasonable risk… I said that, regardless of the risk, you have to resupply the 84th tonight.”
The reinforcement was done, enabling the 84th to slip out. P-Noy thus claims credit for directly intervening to save the SAF unit which had killed the operation’s prime target: Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan.” The unit cut off one of Marwan’s fingers and later handed it over, in General Santos City, to US agents for DNA verification.
Is P-Noy right to think that, by seeking public judgment only on the tactical decisions he made or failed to make, he can simply ask for the people’s understanding and not apologize for any wrongdoing?
No, say some legal quarters, for instance, the National Union of People’s Lawyers.
Generally P-Noy has committed acts and omissions in violation of his solemn oath as President under the Constitution to “do justice to every person and to faithfully execute the laws.” These, notes the NUPL, are all culpable violations of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust (which are grounds for impeachment).
As Chief Executive (head of the government) and as Commander-in-Chief (of ALL the armed forces of the state, per Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution), P-Noy is “legally vulnerable” for violating certain laws.
For one, the NUPL avers, he may have violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act on at least two counts:
1. For “causing undue injury to anybody, including the government,” and for giving a suspended public official (Purisima) “unwarranted advantage and preference in the discharging of his official functions through manifest partiality or gross inexcusable negligence.” These are deemed as corrupt acts and therefore unlawful; and
2. For inducing a public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations duly promulgated by a competent authority (the PNP).
Likewise, P-Noy may have violated the Code of Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees for “openly breaching, through his acts and omissions, the injunction that public interest should come first before any personal interest.”
He could also be liable, as principal by inducement, for a) “suborning and even sanctioning usurpation of authority and official functions by a suspended public official” and b) contempt for or disrespect — even defiance — of a lawful order of suspension by the Ombudsman.
P-Noy has much more to clarify about his role in Oplan Exodus and the Mamasapano tragedy.
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Published in The Philippine Star
March 28, 2015