The prayer meeting in Malacañang provided President Aquino the chance to present the detailed results of his own “investigation” on Mamasapano. His conclusion: That the death of the 44 SAF personnel was all the fault of Police Director Getulio Napeñas.
That so-called prayer meeting was in fact a gathering of the faithful in an attempt to shore up the deteriorating political fortunes of the President. The effort failed because although the assembly was choreographed well, the President once again strayed from the script. Instead, he meandered to the point of belittling, insulting and questioning the professionalism of Napeñas in a vain attempt to wash his hands of any responsibility. That was below the belt. He even used terms like situational awareness to elaborate on his analysis. This is from a man who has never commanded a squad in combat in all his life.
With all due respect to the President, he is hardly competent to conduct a professional investigation on the Mamasapano encounter. He should have left this to the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry whose objectivity is now compromised by his “findings”. Who will now believe in the fairness and objectivity of the BOI report? Can the current membership of the BOI who are all active serving PNP officers afford to contradict the findings of their boss, the President?
I hope for the sake of the integrity of the PNP as an institution that they would be equal to this difficult challenge. In the Presidents’ denunciations of Napeñas, he was more talkative and animated than usual. Whether he realized it or, not however, his being more verbose also debunked his accusations against his chosen scapegoat, Napeñas. He said that he was continuously fooled by Napeñas. In the five days of Senate hearings, Napeñas was the only resource person who came out as honest and forthright. He tried to answer all questions frankly and honestly. He did not put the blame on others in order to save himself.
In the President’s own words, the communications between him and Napeñas were through Purisima. It was not therefore possible for Napeñas to have lied repeatedly to him. On the contrary, as Police Supt. Raymond Train said in his statement submitted to the BOI, he and Napeñas insisted to the President that they were not in favor of informing the Army about the operation before it was launched because of the danger of comprising it. If the President was adamant about prior coordination, he should have overruled Purisima and Napeñas. He did not. At the very least, he knew that the Purisima and Napeñas were against providing the Army with advanced info. If this decision was wrong, then he shares the blame.
He also said that Napeñas could have aborted the operation. The President is in no position to question whether the operation should have been aborted or not. This decision should have come from the tactical commander, Police Supt. Raymond Train. The river crossing took a lot longer than originally planned but in the professional appreciation of Train, he believed that even with fewer men, the mission could still be accomplished and did not recommend to Napeñas that the mission be aborted. And to remind the public once again, the mission was accomplished. It was not what the President termed as mission impossible.
It was during the withdrawal phase when the SAF encountered elements from the BIFF and MILF that the situation developed differently. Should the President blame this on Napeñas? Most certainly not. Anything could happen in combat operations. The unexpected can happen regardless of who is in command.
It is during this phase that there are certainly legitimate questions to be asked. One is why the rest of the SAF consisting of 300 men or more together with part of Army reinforcing elements were unable to penetrate and provide more help to the besieged SAF elements. The other question is why no aggressive effort was made to provide artillery or air support. It seems that initiative was totally absent from many senior officials on January 25.
The latter question is important because of the lingering impression in the minds of the public that there seems to have been an order to limit the reinforcement effort so as not to endanger the peace process. This also meant sacrificing the lives of the SAF personnel.
The President mocked Napeñas for not having what he termed as situational awareness. But he also committed many glaring shortcomings. Since he knew all about the operation, why did he not direct and supervise the Army to provide aggressive reinforcements? What were his exact orders to the Army? The President in his diatribe was selective in what he said and did not say.
Many questions remain unanswered. Foremost of these questions is why the President continued to use Purisima as his point man after the Ombudsman suspended him. Why did he not insist on prior coordination if he felt strongly about it when even his friend Purisima joined Napeñas and Train in saying that the Army be informed only when the mission was under way? He did not also say why he completely omitted mentioning Purisima when he already said that Purisima lied to him. His performance last Monday simply compounded his problems. Now, his communication people are again trying to correct the mistake. This is too late. What the President must do now is to submit his own sworn statement as regards his participation or submit himself for questioning so that once and for all, the public will know exactly the extent of his participation. Let them be the judge instead of him being so petty on Napeñas.