If you were in P-Noy’s shoes…
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - September 15, 2015 - 10:00am

If you are the President and Commander-in-chief, what would you have done differently that would not have compromised the government’s ongoing peace process with secessionist rebels and averted the infamous bloody encounter at Mamasapano in Maguindanao?

I would like to pose this question to all the presidential aspirants who would run in the coming May 2016 elections. It is crucial and interesting to hear how our potential future president and commander-in-chief would behave, think, and decide if ever thrust into such a situation.

This question is also still hounding, if not perhaps haunting President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III who last week opened old wounds when he casually revealed supposed “alternative version” of the Mamasapano incident.

We have not heard any particular statements from our present declared presidential candidates, namely, Vice President Jejomar Binay and former Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas II. A third declared candidate in 2016 elections, neophyte Senator Grace Poe will formally announce today she is also throwing her hat in the presidential race next year.

At the time the Mamasapano incident took place, Binay and Roxas were both still in the Aquino Cabinet. Poe, on the other hand, chairs the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs that immediately conducted legislative inquiry into the incident. After conducting several public hearings, Poe came out and released to the public the findings and recommendations of her Senate committee report that held President Aquino “accountable” for what went wrong with “Oplan Exodus,” which ended in bloody carnage at Mamasapano last January 25.

Oplan Exodus was the police operation to capture Malaysian terrorist bomber, Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was confirmed in hiding with local terrorist bomber Basit Usman in a remote town in Maguindanao. Marwan carried a $5-million reward on his head, dead or alive, in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “most wanted” list of international terrorists. Oplan Exodus was carried out by members of the elite trained officers and men from the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

At the battle site, the SAF operatives found themselves fighting with rebels identified with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) whose leaders are negotiating peace with the Aquino administration, along with other armed elements in the area. Marwan was supposedly killed while an injured Basit escaped and several MILF rebels and civilians were also killed.

And since there is an existing ceasefire between government forces and the MILF being monitored by Malaysian peace brokers, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) under the peace deal got sidetracked by the Mamasapano incident. Controversial as it is, the BBL and its approval by the 16th Congress got more complicated as direct offshoot of Mamasapano.

Naturally, as Cabinet officials, both Binay and Roxas kept their traps shut – being “alter ego” of the incumbent President. However, it later turned out Binay and Roxas were both out of the loop of the botched Oplan Exodus.

Except in the case of Binay, the Vice President was never in the loop as he was not a member of the Cabinet public order and national security cluster. But Roxas – as a Cluster member in his capacity as the Secretary of the DILG – supervised the PNP and all its attached units. As it came out in subsequent Senate and House legislative inquiries, Roxas was, however, never consulted about Oplan Exodus.

Per consistent admissions of all PNP officials involved before Senate and House public hearings, President Aquino gave the go-signal to suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima to launch Exodus in clandestine meetings at the firing range of Malacañang.

Obviously, President Aquino himself is still smarting over the aftermath of the series of the unfortunate events leading up to Mamasapano. For one, how can you get out of one’s mind the fact that more than 60 people, including the 44 SAF policemen, Moro rebels and civilians were killed in this firefight.

I don’t know if the President has a streak of sado-masochism. It’s been almost eight months ago since it happened. Up to now, grieving families and relatives of the slain SAF 44 are demanding justice for their loved ones.

Though knowing that being killed in the line of duty was a hazard of the police profession, the grieving families are unnecessarily reminded about how they lost their loved ones in the name of peace.

President Aquino clarified the other day his previous week’s statement that he was merely expressing a desire to get to the bottom of the truth with the recent information cropping up belatedly. Speaking with reporters while he was in Iloilo last Monday, P-Noy cited it is necessary to look into this “alternative truth” if the public really wants to know the whole truth.

The Ombudsman last July released its own findings on the Mamasapano incident and found probable cause or sufficient basis to proceed with its probe against Purisima, former PNP-SAF commander Director Getulio Napeñas and nine other police officers. President Aquino is not among the respondents in the charge sheet since he enjoys immunity while in office and could only be subject to impeachment proceedings.

Department of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima has not up to now come out with its own investigations into the criminal aspects of this case. Likewise, the House version of their report into the Mamasapano incident has not been made public except its chairman, Negros Occidental Rep.Jeffrey Ferrer disclosed yesterday they, too, absolved the President from any accountability. So what other alternative truth is P-Noy seeking?

So to our future President, what would you have done differently if you were in P-Noy’s shoes?

*      *      *

Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee and principal author of the proposed tax cut relief bill, and businessman Jesus Arranza, chairman of the Federation of Philippine Industries, are this week’s guests at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay at the Luneta Hotel in T.M .Kalaw St. Today’s discussions will dwell on tax reforms measures pending approval by the 16th Congress.

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