MANILA, Philippines – The Senate panel that probed what it called the Mamasapano "massacre" that claimed 67 lives, including 44 elite cops, said on Tuesday, March 17, that President Benigno Aquino III “must bear the responsibility” for the botched operation.
"At this crucial time, it is imperative that the President display unquestionable leadership, be forthright and candid with our people, accept responsibility for all decisions he makes as President, and admit the mistakes he made along the way," Senate Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, said in a news briefing.
Poe read from the executive summary of the Joint Committee Report drafted by her committee with the committees on peace, unification and reconciliation, and finance.
The draft report had yet to be signed by the other committee members at the time of the senator's news conference.
The draft report said that Aquino "must bear responsibility for giving assent to and failing to prevent the unlawful exercise of official functions" by then suspended, now resigned, Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima in connection with Oplan Exodus.”
Poe added: “It is beyond doubt that the President was fully aware that PDG Purisima was preventively suspended by the Ombudsman on 4 December 2014, and that PDDG Espina was designated Officer-in-Charge of the PNP on 12 December 2014.” (READ: Text messages show Aquino knew details)
Poe said that based on the Senate panel’s findings, despite being aware that then Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima was suspended, Aquino did the following:
Allowed PDG Purisima to join the 9 January 2015 meeting at the Bahay Pangarap, where a sensitive and classified PNP operation was being discussed;
Instructed PDG Purisima to coordinate Oplan Exodus with the AFP;
Communicated exclusively with PDG Purisima in regard the progress of Oplan Exodus on 25 January 2015; and
Gave instructions to PDG Purisima as to the conduct of Oplan Exodus on 25 January 2015, as when the President sent PDG Purisima a text message reading, “Basit should not get away.”
The draft report also cited Aquino's own admission that communication on Oplan Exodus to and from him and then police Special Action Force (SAF) chief Getulio Napeñas Jr was coursed through Purisima.
"The foregoing shows that the President knew that PDG Purisima was exercising official functions despite the latter’s preventive suspension, and did nothing to prevent it. The President assented to PDG Purisima’s unlawful exercise of official functions, and continued to communicate with PDG Purisima in regard the Oplan Exodus," the draft report said.
'Aquino has to explain'
The draft report also said that the President must explain why he did not use the "vast resources" available to him that would have helped minimize the casualities in Mamasapano.
A part of the draft executive summary read:
Perhaps, if the President and the key security officials who were with him in Zamboanga City discussed the incident and shared information with each other at the early stages of the day, coordination between the Army and the PNP might have been hastened and fewer lives would have been lost.
As the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines, the President exercises supreme operational command of the nation’s military forces. The President also controls all the executive departments, bureaus, and offices. He wields the awesome powers of government, and has its vast resources at his disposal.
The President’s decision not to use these resources at that instance, must be explained by him. The President is ultimately responsible for the outcome of the mission.
The draft report, however, also cited Aquino's defense that "he was given inaccurate information, and his orders to coordinate with the PNP hierarchy and AFP were disobeyed." (READ: Aquino: Napeñas 'tricked me' on Mamasapano)
The draft report said that Purisima committed Usurpation of Authority or Official Functions, in violation of the Revised Penal Code and Presidential Decree No. 807 and grave misconduct, and “may also be held in indirect contempt by the Ombudsman for ‘disobedience of or resistance to a lawful writ, process or order’ of the anti-graft body.”
“The acts of Purisima exercising the functions of the Office of the Chief, PNP despite his preventive suspension constitute unlawful behavior. His actions show a clear and manifest intent to defy the preventive suspension order of the Ombudsman. His acts likewise constitute grave misconduct,” it said.
It also said that Napeñas committed grave misconduct as he coordinated with and reported to the then suspended PNP chief in relation to Oplan Exodus, and not with PNP Officer-in-Charge Leonardo Espina.
“Napeñas may also be held administratively liable for inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duties and for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service on account of the poor planning and execution of Oplan Exodus and his failure to coordinate the operation with the AFP,” the report said.
'Peace process with justice'
In the draft report, the committees recommend the filing of criminal charges against MILF fighters who were involved in the clash, and deemed as "unmeritorious and without basis" the statement of chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal that their fighters had acted in "self defense" since "armed men" entered their communities without any prior coordination.
The draft report also commended Aquino on his perseverance to see through lasting peace in Mindanao, as shown by his all-out support for the peace process with the MILF, but this must be "based on justice."
“If there is one thing the President should be commended for, it is his unwavering commitment to finding a genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao. Under his term, finding a political solution to the decades-long violent conflict has been made priority and rightly so,” it said.
The committees also wondered aloud if the Armed Forces of the Philippines was "constrained" by the peace process to provide timely support to the PNP SAF.
Based on the draft report, the committees found that "there are indications that the planning and the execution of the Oplan Exodus were not 100% Filipino planned and implemented" and that "the US had significant participation" in the operation.
The committees’ findings and recommendations in the draft report are based on testimonies given under oath by 37 resource persons who attended the 5 public hearings and 5 executive sessions, as well as documents submitted, including the police Board of Inquiry report, the Aquino's public statements, and all applicable laws. – Rappler.com