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Palace disputes chain of command findings

Philstar.com/File

MANILA, Philippines — President Aquino did not violate the chain of command of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the planning and execution of Operation Plan Exodus as the police force is a civilian organization and he “exercises full and absolute control and supervision” over every police official.

Malacañang, through spokesman Edwin Lacierda, made the clarification last night to dispute the conclusion made by the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) that the President broke the chain of command when he dealt directly with then Special Action Force (SAF) commander Director Getulio Napeñas and allowed then suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima to take part in Oplan Exodus that targeted high value terrorists.

In a statement, Lacierda also claimed the BOI “introduced innuendos and resorted to speculations to reach some of its conclusions” without asking the President to clarify matters.

“The first and most basic fact is that the Philippine
National Police is a civilian institution, established to replace the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP),” he said.

“The President as Chief Executive cannot be subordinated to an internal process within the PNP when he has control and supervision over all its members, regardless of rank,” Lacierda explained.

“The BOI itself recognized this in its report when it acknowledged that it was the President’s prerogative to issue direct orders to the Special Action Force (SAF) head,” he added.

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“However, the BOI subsequently contradicted itself when it suggested that the President should have followed the PNP chain of command. In invoking the chain of command rule, it is important to point out that this rule applies only within the PNP,” Lacierda pointed out.

He said it was clear that the President himself instructed Purisima, then under suspension, to inform PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director Leonardo Espina about the Mamasapano mission.

Purisima, who has since resigned, disobeyed the President, according to Lacierda.

“The President therefore left nothing to chance. His direct orders to Purisima, if obeyed, would have ensured that the OIC Chief PNP would not have been kept in the dark,” the presidential spokesman said.

“These points are basic to a proper appreciation of the roles officials were expected to play in Mamasapano and the severity of the consequences of decisions made by those officials who disobeyed the President,” he pointed out.

‘Hastily made conclusions’

Lacierda lauded the BOI report as “thorough in scope and independent in nature,” but stressed the need for them to “separate the facts from potentially hastily-made conclusions and opinions.”

“The narration of facts was exhaustive and provides a sober basis for understanding what transpired. In gathering the facts, the BOI should have allowed the facts to speak for themselves,” he said.

He lamented, however, that the BOI failed to get the side of the President on contentious issues. “The President would have answered any questions they may have had. But no official request was made. Instead, it introduced innuendos and resorted to speculations to reach some of its conclusions,” Lacierda argued.

This, he said, was “more unfortunate” because the head of the BOI, Director Benjamin Magalong, together with other senior PNP officials, was present in a meeting with the President where the official had the opportunity to ask the President questions.

No PNP CoC

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also rebuffed the BOI’s conclusion that President Aquino broke the chain of command of the PNP, saying the President was not the commander-in-chief of the PNP in the first place.

She said that while the BOI effort was laudable, the report prepared by the body was flawed because the facts were wrong.

“Based on a wrong premise, the BOI report on the nature of the President’s role can only arrive at a wrong conclusion,” De Lima said in a statement.

“While the President has the prerogative to deal directly with any of his subordinates, the act of dealing with Napeñas instead of OIC-PNP Espina bypassed the established PNP Chain of Command,” the BOI report read.

“Comprehensive as the BOI Mamasapano Report wishes to be, it starts on the wrong premise insofar as the role of the President as commander-in-chief of the PNP is concerned,” De Lima pointed out.

“As early as 23 years ago, the Supreme Court already declared in Carpio v. Executive Secretary (G.R. No. 96409; February 14, 1992) that the President is not the commander-in-chief of the PNP,” she said.

“He is not the PNP commander-in-chief because under the 1987 Constitution, the PNP is no longer part of the Armed Forces. The President is only commander-in-chief in relation to the armed forces. The PNP, being a civilian agency, is not part of the armed forces,” De Lima maintained.

“In relation to the PNP, the President is the Chief Executive, in the same way that he acts as the Chief Executive to all the civilian agencies of the Executive bureaucracy,” she added.

“The PNP’s mistaken 28-year tradition of treating itself as part of the armed forces and the President as its commander-in-chief can never ripen into a statutory provision or legal principle, most especially since the Supreme Court has already declared the contrary as early as 23 years ago,” she said.

The justice secretary opined that the board should have instead “confronted this misplaced military culture and tradition within the PNP – as underpinned by its most basic belief that it is still part of the armed forces – head on.”

She said the PNP is not the Armed Forces of the Philippines that has a singular and unitary line of command from the commander-in-chief to the lowliest private. De Lima said the PNP has several lines of command and authority that include not only the President or the PNP Chief, but also the National Police Commission (Napolcom) and the governors and mayors of provinces, cities and municipalities.

“Notwithstanding the failure of the PNP Manual to reflect the President’s proper constitutional role as Chief Executive in the PNP command structure, the PNP Manual can neither limit nor bind the President’s plenary control and supervision over the PNP as its Chief Executive,” she said.

“In this sense, the PNP BOI cannot assume to impose upon the President his role and corresponding accountabilities as commander-in-chief of the PNP, without itself understanding the very nature of the PNP as a civilian agency that should relate to the President as its Chief Executive,” she said.

Criminal liability

In an earlierinterview over dzRB, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the DOJ is studying possible criminal liability of those involved in the Mamasapano encounter, including Purisima.

In its report released Thursday, the BOI recommended further investigation “where the facts of this report indicate possible violations of existing laws and regulations.”

“The investigation of the DOJ is going into criminal liability,” Valte said.

She said the DOJ and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) – which is under DOJ – has already requested for an official copy of the BOI report from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

“So it is safe to assume that the contents of the BOI report will form part of the investigation of these agencies,” she added.

The BOI report said Purisima violated the preventive suspension order issued by the Office of the Ombudsman when he participated in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus, as well as Special Order No. 9851 dated Dec.16, 2014 issued by Espina, directing him and other suspended PNP officers to “cease and desists from performing the duties and functions of their respective offices during the pendency of the case until its termination.”

Valte also said President Aquino has not ordered an investigation into why some police officials can’t seem to trust the military with sensitive information.

Napeñas earlier said he opted not to tell the military about Oplan Exodus during its planning stage as the latter might have already been “compromised.”

The BOI report said the alleged loose handling by some military men of sensitive information might be due to “intermarriages” between them and villagers.

“There is no order from the President to look into it... I also remember that exchange. The President said ‘but then you coordinate with the one who can make the movement happen.’ And if I remember correctly, it was said, I think this is during the Senate hearing, the Oplan Exodus itself in the planning also mentioned that there had to be coordination with the 6th ID (Infantry Division),” Valte said. – Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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