By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The Mamasapano fiasco has been haunting Pres. Benigno Aquino III for weeks now. This is one issue that blew in his face not only because he adamantly refuses to come clean on his role and accountability in the failed military operation – although this keeps the issue from dying down – but mainly due to the fact that Oplan Exodus is flawed right from the start.
President Aquino was so close to signing a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Although it remains to be seen whether the signing of the agreement would have brought peace with the Bangsamoro people, but now it is more remote than ever.
The Mamasapano fiasco has angered both camps. The hawks within and outside government are calling out for blood and there are moves in Congress to emasculate the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, if it would be passed at all with a few months left for the current Congress.
In the other camp, other armed groups of the Bangsamoro people have become more distrustful of the peace overtures of the Aquino government. This is made worse by the all-out war declared by the Armed Forces of the Philippines against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The most effective way to unite a people is to wage war against one of its own.
By what logic did the Aquino government think it could launch a military operation into the stronghold of the MILF and BIFF and emerge from it with its forces and peace agreement intact?
Worse, Oplan Exodus was launched not for a military objective of the AFP but for the US Armed Forces. By all indications, Oplan Exodus was ordered, conceptualized, supported and funded by the US. It even trained those who would participate in the operations and provided intelligence, drones, and helicopters for the retrieval operations. Witnesses even reported seeing a Caucasian from among the casualties on the government side.
This is why the Aquino government tried to cover up the whole military operation by initially claiming that it was merely a police operation to enforce an arrest warrant. It also initially claimed that it is not President Aquino’s business to meddle into police operations.
When the testimonies of suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima and sacked Special Action Forces (SAF) commander Getulio Napeñas revealed that President Aquino was regularly briefed about the plan and operations, Malacañang’s response was that the president knew about the general plans but not about the details of the actual operations. President Aquino added that Napeñas was instructed to coordinate with all concerned and apparently did not do so.
When the text messages between Purisima and President Aquino surfaced revealing that the president was being provided real time briefings on what was happening on the ground, especially when the casualties on the SAF side were mounting, Aquino claimed, at first, that Purisima did not give him accurate information regarding the state of the SAF and the reinforcements. Malacañang even provided an absurd claim that Aquino’s cell phone was turned off during the actual launch of the operations.
After Purisima resigned and President Aquino praised him to high heavens, he again laid the blame on Napeñas by claiming that the latter fooled him.
President Aquino is currently in a fix. The fundamental flaws of Operation Exodus is so damning if he admits that he was on top of the operations. On the other hand, the more Malacañang releases only parts of the truth, the more questions are raised.
And the more testimonies reveal what President Aquino knows about the operations, the more absurd Malacañang’s excuses become.
Thus, it is not surprising that both houses of Congress have suspended its Mamasapano inquiries on the pretext that it does not want to preempt the investigation of the Board of Inquiry created by the PNP.
As of this writing, the PNP has not made public the report of the Board of Inquiry, which reportedly would be submitted to the PNP by 4 p.m. today March 12. With what has been surfacing so far, nothing short of the truth would be acceptable to the public. Unfortunately for the Aquino government both a truthful account of what happened and the president’s role in it or a cover up would not convince the Filipino people to just move on and put a closure to the issue by going “back to normal.” The call for truth, accountability, and justice would not simply fade away.