Poe: Noy made a mistake but intention was good

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino made a “mistake” in dealing directly with suspended police chief Director General Alan Purisima and sacked Special Action Force (SAF) commander Director Getulio Napeñas, but it was not “a premeditated issue” and thus may not warrant the filing of criminal charges, according to Sen. Grace Poe.

Aquino may have been “ultimately responsible” for the Mamasapano debacle, but his actions were unintentional, Poe told ANC television yesterday

Poe led the Senate joint panel that investigated the Jan. 25 clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that led to the slaughter of 44 SAF commandos. The findings were released the other day.

“Who would want that many lives lost? The intention was good, to neutralize two terrorists,” she said, noting that the two fugitives were responsible for killing hundreds of people and injuring more.

“As the commander-in-chief, you have to take a lot of risks because of the good that you would like to achieve in the end… Motivations or intentions are important in considering whether it’s credible enough to merit a criminal offense with the President,” said Poe.

“He can be sued for almost anything. It can be a nuisance suit… You cannot really file a criminal charge, unless you know it was intentional. Because of that everybody will feel, they don’t want anymore to exert any form of leadership,” she said.

Poe clarified that while she said the President was ultimately responsible for the mission, she did not mean he was ultimately responsible for the deaths.

“The mission will include everything that happened. As they say that in our country if there are media killings, press freedom is jeopardized; it will always point to the President. Even if let’s say a local issue, especially this, because he gave a ‘go’ to the mission,” she said.

In the 129-page report, the Senate said the President must bear responsibility for “giving assent to and failing to prevent the unlawful exercise of official functions” by Purisima in connection with Oplan Exodus.

It is “beyond doubt” that the President was “fully aware” that Purisima was preventively suspended by the Ombudsman on Dec. 4. 2014, it said.

“I know he’s a very sincere person. That’s why I can say that you make mistakes and in any operation you can make a mistake, but what leaves that doubt in our minds is because he coordinated with the suspended PNP chief, who happens to be suspended for corruption,” Poe said.

Poe said that while the President has the prerogative to talk to any of his subordinates, he broke the chain of command when he dealt with Purisima and Napeñas.

“If you went through the proper chain of command, somebody would have done the scrutinizing of the operation,” she said. “If it was (Deputy Director General Leonardo) Espina, he would have been more focused than hands-on... If you’re a suspended PNP chief, you cannot let your people know that you’re actively engaged in the situation,” she added.

Beyond saying sorry

Asked if the President should heed calls for him to apologize, Poe said asking forgiveness must go beyond saying sorry.

“Perhaps for the political aspect, some say it’s too late in the game and but if you say sorry… well, GMA (former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) said sorry. Did it help her? It didn’t,” she said.

Arroyo apologized to the people over her “lapse in judgment” for calling then election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano at the height of the 2004 elections.

“It’s always best to ask for forgiveness if you feel that you made a mistake. And again, asking for forgiveness is not just saying the words I’m sorry, it is also offering what you need to do,” she said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, for his part, warned the President against falling into the trap of saying sorry over the incident.

“Yang pag so-sorry kalokohan po yan (that’s baloney),” he said at a regular forum at the Senate. “It’s a trap.”

“Apology is given sincerely. You cannot demand apology. If you insist on getting it, it loses its value,” Trillanes added.

Difficult decision

Poe admitted that coming out with a hard-hitting report was “probably the most difficult thing” that she has had to do in her political life.

She maintained her high regard for Aquino, whom she described as a “good person” and “very honest.”

“I consider him a friend, this is very difficult, plus you’re investigating institutions: the PNP, the AFP, and then you also have other groups like the MILF or even a foreign entity,” Poe said. “You also don’t want to deface institutions.”

House to resume probe

Meanwhile, leaders of the House of Representatives during a meeting on Wednesday night agreed to resume their investigation into the Mamasapano incident and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by the House ad hoc committee, chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

“The joint committee hearing on the Mamasapano will resume on April 7-8 and the BBL deliberations will resume on April 27 to 30,” Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said.

At least 120 congressmen signed a petition asking Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to allow the House probe to continue.

The House committees on public order and peace, reconciliation and national unity stopped their investigation after one hearing after it turned raucous and unruly.

Rodriguez said House leaders also agreed that the ad hoc panel vote on the BBL would be held on may 11 or 12, shortly after the resumption of session.

Faulty planning

The planning of the PNP-SAF for its Jan. 25 mission to catch three suspected terrorists in Maguindanao province was faulty, former senator Panfilo Lacson said yesterday.

In a television interview, Lacson said the admission of Napeñas that he expected to lose at least 10 of his men in Mamasapano town showed that “mission planning was defective.”

“They should have gone back to the drawing board to eliminate that assumption because the welfare of your men is as important as accomplishing your mission,” he said.

But Lacson, a former PNP chief, agreed with Napeñas that SAF had partly accomplished its mission.

“Yes, they got their principal target. In that sense, they accomplished their mission, though the price was too high. But their two other targets got away,” he said.

SAF troopers killed suspected Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan. Another suspected Malaysian terrorist, identified as Amin Baco, alias Jihad, and Marwan’s Filipino deputy Basit Usman, escaped.

SAF commandos lost 44 men in ensuing clashes with guerrillas belonging to the MILF and its breakaway faction, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Napeñas’ lawyer Vitaliano Aguirre has disputed findings by the Senate and the PNP Board of Inquiry that SAF had faulty and insufficient mission planning, failing even to carefully study the terrain in their target area.

He produced a video footage showing the terrain in Mamasapano and SAF’s three targets, identifying them one after the other as Marwan, Usman and Baco.

He said the video is proof that SAF did its job prior to executing its mission.

It also belies the claim of Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao, that there were civilians in SAF’s target area, prompting him to withhold artillery fire support, Aguirre said.

He said the footage clearly shows that the area is just a vast cornfield with only two huts where the three suspected terrorists were hiding.

Lacson said he doubted whether the time-on-target concept of coordination would work in a big operation like the SAF raid in Mamasapano, which would have required support from the AFP.

“We used it in some missions to rescue kidnap-for-ransom victims. We informed the local police commanders when we were already in their areas freeing the victims from their kidnappers,” he said. – With Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero


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