Key issues to settle in Mamasapano tragedy

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

The best step to quickly resolve the many questions why the Mamasapano operation ended in tragedy is for President Aquino to forthrightly assume responsibility as President and Commander-in-Chief.

If and when he does so, P-Noy should explain the US role in the operation’s planning and execution and why, in his first address to the nation after the tragedy, he gave premium to “taking down” Malaysian “terrorist” Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and fulfilling a long-running commitment to support the US “war on terror” that began in 2001.

The botched operation last Jan. 25 has sparked nationwide outrage, inflamed anti-Muslim bias, and pushed the peace process between the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front towards becoming another “failed experiment.”

Pressure on P-Noy to uphold his public duty as mandated by the Constitution first came from former President Fidel V. Ramos, once head of both the old PNP and the AFP.

Citing the Charter’s Article VII, Section 18, that states, “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces of the Philippines…,” Ramos emphasized that the phrase pertains to both the AFP and PNP. The President, being atop the chain of command, he added, must be accountable for what went wrong in an operation he had authorized.

Five congressmen, all former officers of the AFP and PNP, have echoed Ramos’ stand. The group’s joint statement says:

“There have been disturbing allegations of a cover up [of the SAF debacle] yet the government has done so little to quell these allegations. The President, as Commander-in-Chief, must assume responsibility over the operation regardless of its outcome.”

Specifically, the five legislators urged P-Noy to answer the following questions: when did he first know about the deadly clash between the SAF and the MILF and BIFF forces? What did he do about it? and what happened after he gave orders to the police and the military to deal with the situation?

Also weighing in on the issue is retired Court of Appeals Justice Mario Guarina III.

After having been briefed on the operation plan by suspended-now-resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima, SAF chief Getulio Napenas, and the SAF intelligence chief, Guarina said P-Noy should not simply have instructed Napenas to coordinate with the relevant officials and operating units.

Instead he himself, as Commander-in-Chief, should have done the proper coordination. Guarina invoked a principle in the law of damages that says “a man must always exercise reasonable diligence in his actions.”

(Based on disclosures made thus far, one reason why the SAF debacle occurred was that Napenas didn’t properly coordinate with the military and the MILF because he allegedly didn’t trust them.)

On the US participation in the operation against Marwan, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he saw no problem as long as the Americans didn’t violate the Constitutional ban on foreign troops engaging in combat in the country. “I don’t see what the problem is in terms of any assistance we may have gotten,” he said.

Oh yes, there’s a problem, and it’s in the government’s attitude of mistaken gratefulness for supposed US assistance. Mind that the operation against Marwan was basically America’s, which listed Marwan as a “top terrorist” and offered a $5-M bounty on him. It’s the Philippines that assisted the Americans.

An enraged SAF officer who requested anonymity revealed that an American named Allan Konz was the “immediate supervisor” of the 84th SAF Company (the unit that assaulted Marwan’s hideout and reportedly killed him; an officer cut off a finger of the slain man and immediately handed it over to the FBI for DNA analysis).

Konz, the officer added, was with Napenas at the SAF command post in Sharif Aguak during the operation. He poured out his anguish to a reporter, thus:

“The Americans used us. For us, we can allow ourselves to be used only to gain knowledge and expertise, but not end up like this.” (As I wrote in a previous column piece, the US has used Filipino troops as cannon fodder in its “war on terror.”)

Verily, the Mamasapano fiasco is a good jump-off point for a thoroughgoing review of American military activities in the country since George W. Bush designated the Philippines in 2001 as the “second front” of the US “war on terror” (the first was Afghanistan).

Such a review must include a series of “executive agreements” – the latest is the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA, now under constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court – that has tied down the Philippines to onerous military and other commitments to the US without popular consultation and approval or any Senate participation, review, concurrence and oversight.

In effect, these agreements negated the Senate’s historic termination in 1991 of the presence of US military bases. Two were “negotiated” on the sly and signed in 2002 and 2003.

The first is the 2002 RP-US Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, which has allowed the temporary stationing, refueling and repair of US warcraft at designated points in the country, and stockpiling of armaments and barracks construction for US troops under the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The other is the 2003 RP-US Mutual Non-Surrender Agreement. It exempts American military personnel from being charged and prosecuted before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes or international humanitarian law violations they may commit in the Philippines.

Utter subservience to US imperialist interests and impositions must end – the sooner the better.

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Published in The Philippine Star
February 21, 2015

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