By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld
President Benigno S. C. Aquino III’s speech at the PNPA graduation was meant to write finis to the public uproar over the bloody, botched counterterrorist operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Instead it only managed to further rile a people sick and tired of the finger-pointing, the obfuscation and lies about what really happened, the stonewalling about key factors that caused the failed operation and, to top it all, the pathetic excuse that the president is, after all, only “human” and also makes “mistakes”.
But the only mistake Aquino admits to is the total trust he conferred on the sacked SAF Commander Napeñas (who he says “fooled” him about the seeming foolproof design of Oplan Exodus and his capability to lead it) and on suspended Chief PNP Purisima (who he says failed to follow his order to coordinate with the AFP and who failed to give him accurate updates on the progress of the operation). The question he refuses to answer: why didn’t he, as Commander-in-Chief/Chief Executive, ensure that AFP Chief Catapang and the OIC PNP Chief Espina were in the loop from the very beginning? Why did he rely on a suspended general with no authority whatsoever, and a lower level PNP officer whose authority is not at par with either Catapang or Espina, to call the shots in this complex, high-level and high-risk operation?
What Aquino is still trying to obscure is the fact that he authorized Oplan Exodus including the so-called “time-on-target coordination” with the AFP, meaning the AFP would only be informed when the operation was already under way. He also agreed to set aside the ceasefire protocol with the MILF which meant the SAF commandoes would enter MILF territory without any prior coordination whatsoever with the joint AFP-MILF bodies overseeing the ceasefire. These two factors are what led to the Mamasapano fiasco: the lack of proper and timely coordination with both the AFP and the MILF.
Aquino stonewalls about his authorizing the setting aside of the ceasefire protocol with the MILF despite knowing about the dangers of fully armed contingents of MILF, BIFF and PAGs (private armed groups) in the area and the likelihood of the “pintakasi” phenomenon (where the armed community unites to resist any armed intruder) as clearly pointed out in the BOI report.
According to the BOI report, Aquino never gave any guidance as how Oplan Exodus would take into consideration the ongoing GPH-MILF peace process. Aquino obviously agreed with the assessment that the MILF was coddling Marwan and was not to be trusted on that score. He apparently did not consider weighty the ensuing fall-out on the peace process should anything go wrong. Aquino does not admit to any of these and still pretends to be the leader who would do everything to achieve “peace” in Mindanao, even if it only means getting Congress to pass a watered-down Bangsamoro Basic Law that he wagers the MILF will nonetheless accept.
These two fatal errors sealed the doom of the SAF troopers who in effect walked into a death trap: there was no escape and no rescue until it was already too late.
What stands out in Aquino’s speech is that he was most silent about US involvement in the Marwan operation. The Foreign Affairs department had all but exonerated the US by testifying in the Senate hearings that they accepted hook, line and sinker the US embassy’s declaration that US involvement was limited to the medical evacuation of the trapped SAF troopers.
That claim by the US embassy was proven to be a big lie when a video taken by a SAF commando of a drone flying just overhead and monitoring the battle surfaced. This validated reports from independent fact-finding missions of the presence of drones days before and on the night of the SAF operation.
Forced to amend its statements, the US and some Philippine government officials subsequently admitted that they helped in intelligence gathering (which is allowed under PHL-US agreements such as the VFA) but continued to insist that US forces were not otherwise involved, especially in combat operations.
However, SAF Commander Napenas testified under oath during executive sessions of the Senate hearings that there were six US officers, three of whom arrived with him, at the Tactical Command Post along with other SAF commanders. The presence of the six Americans, one of whom was even reported to have issued an order to an Army brigade commander to initiate artillery fire, speaks not only of the high interest the US had in the operation but the hand that they were allowed to have by the Philippine government — Aquino no less — in directing the operation.
Did the American “advisers” lead Aquino to believe that they had such reliable intelligence information, and they had trained and armed the SAF commandos so well, that arresting Marwan and Usman would be a walk in the park and that there would be no need to inform the AFP and MILF?
Was Aquino so enthralled by the thought that personally turning over “international terrorists” Marwan and Usman to the FBI would be a publicity coup without equal? Coupled with the capping of the Bangsamoro peace process with the imminent passing of the BBL, would this not make him a shoo-in for the Nobel Peace Prize which had eluded his mother? The thought that he could even surpass his revered mom’s record and name must have been so titillating, the other side of the coin — the high probability of a firefight and costly casualties — was completely overlooked or shunted aside in his calculations.
As a bonus, a successful operation would redeem the name of his BFF (best friend forever) General Purisima, justifying his decision to allow the latter to direct the entire operation despite his suspension from office on corruption charges.
Some quarters continue to press the question of where funding for Oplan Exodus could have come from. If the US funded it, then Aquino, Purisima and the SAF could be considered as mercenaries doing the US bidding. But if not, then Aquino and Purisima could be criminally liable for misusing the SAF personnel and related resources outside of the authorized government budget and chain of command and thereafter for bringing about the unnecessary death of the SAF 44, MILF 17 and several civilians.
For the nth time, Aquino dissembles and stonewalls on the full extent of his and US complicity in engineering the Mamasapano disaster. The lid on this political can of worms is off and all attempts at a cover-up by Aquino and his apologists are failing.
The political demise of the Aquino regime is all but written on the wall.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
March 29, 2015