CONTRARY to its claim of transparency, the Aquino administration has used obfuscation, misdirection, rhetoric and even threats to shield an incompetent and ethically challenged President from blame for the death of 44 police commandos in a covert operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The obfuscation began almost immediately after the Jan. 25 bloodbath, with President Benigno Aquino III maintaining an inexplicable three-day silence on the tragic events of that day. When the President finally opened his mouth to speak, he played down the role of his suspended police chief, Alan Purisima, in the ill-fated operation, claiming that he merely consulted Purisima to better understand the “intricacies” and the “jargon” of the plan to arrest the international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan.
Subsequent testimony before a Senate investigation, however, revealed that the President was being disingenuous, and that he had in fact issued orders directly to Purisima, who in turn issued directives to the Special Action Force (SAF) commander at the time, Getulio Napenas.
On several occasions, both Purisima and Napenas had briefed the President on the progress of the operation, without the knowledge of the officer-in-charge of the Philippine National Police, Leonardo Espina.
Purisima, we now know, had ordered Napenas to keep his commanding officer, Espina, in the dark about the operation, and had informed the Armed Forces about the raid only when the commandos were already at the scene—limiting the Army’s ability to support the SAF members in a timely manner.
When it became apparent that things had gone terribly awry, the President found a scapegoat in Napenas, blaming him publicly on several occasions for failing to coordinate with the Armed Forces. Later, when it became apparent that the SAF commander could not have acted alone, the President threw Purisima under the bus, claiming that his long-time friend had lied to him about the progress of the Mamasapano operation.
In Congress, Palace allies succeeded in stifling hearings on the massacre
At the same time, the administration used misdirection to take public attention away from the Mamasapano debacle. This it did by initiating new moves against opposition senators embroiled in the pork barrel scandal, and a renewed military offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a group that the government had previously dismissed as mere bandits.
The President and his allies also used the rhetoric of peace in an attempt to defuse public outrage over the Mamasapano massacre. The peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was critical, the President insisted, even though members of this same group had participated in the massacre of the police commandos.
Aquino then fatuously equated the passage of the MILF-supported Bangsamoro Basic Law with support for peace, and opposition to the flawed document as a vote for war.
The BBL, the Palace said, was “bigger than Mamasapano,” disregarding the words of the President’s own mother, the late President Cory Aquino, who said: “Reconciliation should be accompanied by justice, otherwise it will not last. While we all hope for peace it shouldn’t be peace at any cost but peace based on principle, on justice.”
As calls for the President’s resignation over the Mamasapano fiasco began to mount, Aquino’s attack dog, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, threatened those who demanded he step down, warning ominously that the state could file coup d’etat or sedition charges against them.
This has neither cowed nor silenced the President’s critics, however.
Caloocan Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iñiguez Jr. speaks of a “systemic cover-up” aimed at protecting the President at the expense of the truth.
“Mamasapano is not just about 68 persons slain on Jan. 25….. Above all, Mamasapano is a glaring example of the President’s willful violation of all tenets of good governance and accountability,” Iñiguez said.
The truth may well set us free—but it could also put this President behind bars.