Friday, February 6, 2015

As Filipinos mourn, danger ahead

Back in October, this column cautioned that President Benigno Aquino 3rd may face multiple crises till early 2015, from another supertyphoon or commuter train disaster to a terrorist attack during Pope Francis’s visit. Then his chronic crisis mismanagement would spawn more debacles for his rule.
Now it’s crisis time. And like past or continuing brouhahas — the vanishing of more than 2,000 cargo containers in 2011, escalating crime under Aquino, his illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program, the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and National Bilibid Prisons (NBP) troubles, and the almost year-long ports congestion — the January 25 massacre of 44 crack troopers of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, was largely self-inflicted by the national leadership.
The Chief Executive abetted and never investigated record smuggling, including drugs and guns spawning the unprecedented crime wave. He also usurped the Legislative’s budget powers, allowed the MRT’s shoddy and anomalous maintenance contract, never punished erring prison chiefs, and ignored Manila’s shipping squeeze for months.
Now, Aquino has presided over the deadliest mission in Philippine law enforcement, letting a suspended PNP chief send some 400 elite troops into rebel territory without telling the army, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), ceasefire monitors, and even the acting top cop as well as his own close ally, Secretary Mar Roxas, who oversees the police. And as Aquino did in other fiascos, he is again trying to avoid accountability.
With friendly bosses at top media, the administration had contained fallout in the past. Most Filipinos know or care little about the five-fold leap in contraband, the doubled crime incidence since 2010 (concealed until last June by PNP data fraud), the MRT’s crony maintenance contract, and the willful and culpable spending of tens of billions of pesos on unbudgeted DAP outlays.
Plus the many Bilibid scandals over the years, for which no one has been punished, thanks to Malacañang’s unrelenting and unrepentant coddling of associates and allies, from accused jueteng payola bagman Rico Puno and Aquino’s first NBP director Ernesto Diokno, to DAP architect Secretary Florencio Abad and suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima.
Now, Aquino again wants to get off the hook in the second Maguindanao massacre.
Not this time.
Truth and justice for the SAF
If the PNP Board of Inquiry reports that relieved SAF Commander Getulio Napeñas was solely responsible for the botched Mamasapano mission, it would have as much credibility as the 1983-84 Agrava Board’s minority report on the Aquino Assassination.
That dissenting view pinned the airport killing of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., the President’s father, on then Aviation Security Command head Luther Custodio. The majority report implicated then Armed Forces Chief Fabian Ver, a trusted relative of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
If pro-Aquino media foists a whitewash on Filipinos, its credibility would shrink like those of Marcos-controlled papers and networks, which lost ground to truth-telling news outfits.
Even if sychophant pressmen do fool a chunk of the public, they would never convince the most crucial audience, on whom the administration depends for power, stability, and law and order: the officers, men and women of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
If SAF chief Napeñas sticks to the script and takes the fall, that won’t fool PNP brass and rank and file. Those in the know have already been telling, texting, emailing and messaging colleagues about who ran the show that ended tragically in Mamasapano, and what Aquino was doing in Zamboanga that bloody Sunday.
Nor would the military be fooled. They saw a similar moro-moro in 2011 after separatist rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan, killed 19 Army Scout Rangers trying to arrest Dan Laksaw “Ustaz” Asnawi, head of the MILF’s 114th Base Command on the island. He escaped in 2009 after being detained for the 2007 killing of 23 Marines, including 14 beheaded, also in Al-Barka.
In 2011 as now, lack of coordination with insurgents was blamed. MILF and other enemy forces exceeding 300 fighters joined the ambush. President Aquino criticized not the Front, but his own officers on the ground, and the Army’s top Basilan man, Colonel Arthur Ang, was relieved. The Commander-in-Chief promised “all-out justice,” but Asnawi and other perpetrators have not been reported captured.
Bye bye BBL?
If the SAF killers also go scot-free, then both the PNP and the AFP would harbor strong misgivings not only toward Malacañang, but also over the envisioned Bangsamoro region expected to fall under MILF domination.
Many fear the new entity would make it even harder to go after terrorists and outlaws hiding there. Even more nightmarish, Bangsamoro could use its enlarged resources to build up its armed might, then secede, as the MILF has always wanted. That would create a hostile power right in the country, which could assert rebel claims on huge tracts of Mindanao and Palawan.
Would such sentiments and fears among the uniformed services undermine the President? With the PNP now aggrieved, its deep and extensive knowledge of all manner of shenanigans under Aquino, including jueteng payoffs and other illicit schemes, could lead to embarrassing, even destabilizing exposes.
Lawmakers could delay and dilute the Bangsamoro Basic Law to placate security forces and angry citizens, and to avoid being tarred as traitors in next year’s elections. (Commentary on the BBL and the peace agreement in light of the Mamasapano massacre will be published on Thursday.)
If the bill and the pact are greatly watered down, MILF chiefs, having staked their leadership on the peace deal, could unleash their forces, if only to avoid losing clout to extremist factions, and to enhance the Front’s battlefield position.
Time for prayers, Mr. President. Lots of prayers.

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