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Noy: I was fooled on Exodus

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - They defied his orders and fooled him, and it was “painful.”

An emotional President Aquino bared yesterday that relieved Special Action Force commander Director Getulio Napeñas and suspended Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima deceived him about the SAF’s operation to get two terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25.

Under clear skies and in the afternoon heat at the Palace grounds where a special prayer gathering was held for him, Aquino spoke at length for the first time yesterday about the events that led to the killing of a top terrorist but also the massacre of 44 SAF commandos.

At times angry and combative, Aquino lamented that there was a “lack of professionalism” on the part of Napeñas, even as he emphasized that he was communicating directly during the operation only with Purisima and not the SAF chief.

The President said he was made to believe that Operation Plan Exodus and its execution would be carried out efficiently based on the details presented to him, but this turned out to be “mission impossible.”

Aquino also disclosed that the first text message about Exodus was sent to him by Purisima at 5:45 a.m. on Jan. 25, but he did not get it right away because “I must admit, my cell phone was off.”

“The point is, he will be among those to be held accountable,” Aquino said, referring to Napeñas.

Acknowledging the flak he has received for Exodus, Aquino said if he were the one at fault, he would admit all responsibility. But he said the implementation of Exodus failed to match the fine PowerPoint report presented to him: “Ang ganda ng plano, kaya lang drawing pala ito.”

He said Napeñas might have engaged in some wishful thinking about the operation, but what was clear was that the SAF chief fooled him: “Siguro ‘yung pinaka-generous way of looking at it, maraming wishful thinking si Napeñas as opposed to reality. Pero maliwanag sa akin, binola niya ako.”

The President said he told the PNP leadership that if they deviated from his order, they should be ready with a justification or they would be fired.

Aquino used a saying: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” He said he did not intend to be fooled twice.

As Exodus unfolded, Aquino said, the “facts on the ground” changed but Napeñas bungled the response.

Aquino displayed pain and rage as he recounted some of the details of his communication with Purisima through text messages, and the times Napeñas could have coordinated the mission or aborted it but did not.

The President has been under fire for supposedly giving the go-signal for a risky mission that resulted in the deaths of 44 SAF members and imperiled peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“All the evidence will show – cell phone records, witnesses, et cetera – Napeñas made the decision, and he had so many decisions. It seems there were times he did not decide while there were times his decisions were a failure. But when he left me on Jan. 9, or thereabouts, what is coming out is that he did not have any intention to follow my order to coordinate,” Aquino said.

“Now, I wish I could say Napeñas was foolish, he did not know the area. The problem is that he was the regional safety battalion commander from 2007 to 2008. He knew the terrain; he knew the culture. He knows that he did not coordinate with the AFP. Let me add… how come the AFP did not know that there was this kind of operation?” Aquino asked.

He had said that he would wait for the results of the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI)’s investigation into the bloody incident rather than tell the public what he knew about the operation.

In private, he had discussed Exodus weeks ago with leaders and members of the House of Representatives as well as the participants at the prayer gathering at 3 p.m. yesterday led by Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus is Lord Movement.

But questions about Exodus were inevitable when those who attended the gathering were given the chance to ask during the “Presidential Hour” portion of the program.

“Now, what’s painful here, to be truthful about it, before I went to Zamboanga City (on Jan. 25), I received two text messages: one was from Director General Purisima wherein he said that the (military) artillery and the armor were already helping. Not ‘will help’ but what was stated there was that they were all ready to support (the SAF),” Aquino said.

In Napeñas’ text message to PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina at around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. on Jan. 25, Aquino said the relieved SAF commander told the acting police chief that they were able to get one of the high-value targets, Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan and that “extraction” was ongoing.

“Hindi ho ‘extraction is imminent’ or ‘extraction started’ – ‘extraction is ongoing.’ So I went back to these texts because I said, why is there no sense of urgency that what is happening is dangerous to the SAF 55 (55th Special Action Company)?’ ” Aquino said.

The President said as commander-in-chief, he assumed that with the “yes, sir” text messages to him, his subordinates were following his orders.

In 2013, Aquino said there was a similar incident that was properly coordinated and nobody was put at risk.

But on Jan. 25 when he arrived in Zamboanga City, the President said it became clear to him that almost nobody knew about Exodus and no one seemed to know the location of those who needed help.

The President said he specifically directed Napeñas to coordinate with the AFP chief of staff and the “PNP Director General” several days before the operation but was told that Napeñas would do it during “jump off.” Aquino said he did not allow this, and gave instructions that coordination should be made with the AFP chief of staff and PNP Director General. Napeñas replied, “yes, sir,” Aquino recalled.

On Jan. 25, Aquino said he opened his cell phone at around 7 a.m. About 7:30 a.m., Purisima informed him that Marwan had been neutralized but there was a firefight and the troops had to retreat.

At the end of their exchange, Aquino said Purisima informed him that 15 to 20 people engaged the SAF troopers. Aquino asked him why the police commandos had to retreat when there were 160 of them and supposedly supported by AFP and PNP units.

‘KSP’

The President lashed out at some critics yesterday for continuously hitting him without offering any alternative solutions to the country’s problems, describing them as “kulang sa pansin (KSP)” or craving attention.

Aquino said he would always be calm for the sake of the majority in the face of those who are sowing doubt and negativism.

“Sila ang tawagin na lang po nating KSP: mga kulang sa pansin, mga ‘kulang sa pag-iisip ng maayos,’ na naghahanap lamang ng mali, nguni’t wala namang nailalatag na risonable at alternatibong solusyon,” Aquino said.

He also slammed those who lack concern for others and want only chaos from which they will benefit, as well as those who lack faith in God: “Mayroon ding mga kulang sa pagkalinga sa kapwa, na nais lamang magkaroon ng kaguluhan kung saan sila mas makinabang. Siyempre, ang mga kulang sa pananampalataya, o ang mga ayaw kilalaning nariyan ang Panginoong handang umalalay at gumabay sa atin upang malampasan ang bawat suliranin.”

 

AQUINO DIRECTOR GENERAL EXODUS JAN NAPE PLUSMN PRESIDENT PURISIMA SAF
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