Monday, February 9, 2015

No peace without justice

By Val G. Abelgas
SAF-Aquino-necrological-services.2IN HIS desire to gain global recognition and a pat on the back from the United States, President Aquino committed the biggest mistake in his forgettable reign in Malacanang. He gave the go-signal to an obviously poorly planned covert operation that resulted in the death of 44 members of the elite Special Action Forces (SAF) of the Philippine National Police and 20 civilians caught in a bloody encounter between the SAF and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Aquino admitted at least three things about the botched police operation – that he was informed of the operation beforehand, that he was consulted by suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, and that he kept out of the loop Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, acting PNP chief Deputy Director General Gerardo Espina, the military and just about everybody else.
His first reaction was to relieve the SAF head, Getulio Napenas. It was the right thing to do Napenas being the officer directly responsible for the botched operation, but he stopped short of firing Purisima, condemning the MILF attack, and apologizing, as commander-in-chief, for the poorly executed operation. In the first place, he shouldn’t have allowed Purisima to personally direct the operation because the latter was on suspension and had no authority to act as such. Secondly, as the highest ranking official with knowledge of the operation, he should have made sure the policemen had enough ammunition and had an operational exit plan.
“It was a tragedy in the making,” according to an unidentified police general.
“The President was aware of the Marwan covert operations. Purisima reported directly to him. In fact, the President went to Zamboanga prior to the troop’s jump off to Mamasapano in Maguindanao so that he would be in the vicinity when Malaysian terrorist Zulkipli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino Basit Usman, both bomb experts linked to the Jemaah Islamiya terror cell, are captured,” the general told Manila Standard.
“The President was there as he expected the turnover of Marwan to the Philippine government. The President would be present during the presentation of Marwan. Such was the solid plan,” he said.
Aquino went to Zamboanga on the pretext of comforting the relatives of the victims of the Zamboanga bus explosion, but apparently he was there to take the credit for an operation that he expected to be successful against known terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Basit Usman.
The President took time out to visit faraway Zamboanga, but failed to pay tribute to the slain policemen at nearby Villamor Air Base because he had to be at the opening of a car manufacturing plant in Laguna. Well, the President has not been known for sensitivity after all.
And instead of dressing down his friend Purisima for the operational blunders, Aquino had the temerity to say that he would not compel Purisima to speak out on the incident.
Neither did Aquino make mention of the role of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, whom he entrusted to coordinate with Purisima despite his lack of experience in law enforcement or the military.
Worse, Aquino had no comment on why he did not authorize reinforcement from the military to rescue the trapped policemen, who ran out of ammunition after 10 hours of fighting with the rebels. The President reportedly did not want to violate the ceasefire and jeopardize the peace agreement. At the expense of the policemen that he had allowed to get into MILF territory?
On the day after the botched operation, Aquino blamed the SAF for lack of coordination but was quiet about it in subsequent speeches. Why? Because it became clear that he had knowledge of the entire operation, including not coordinating with the MILF.
There is apparently a move to cover up the botched operation because Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said there was no need for a truth commission because a PNP board of inquiry has been formed to investigate the incident and the MILF is conducting its own investigation.
It is highly doubtful if the board of inquiry, composed of police generals, would come up with a negative report against their superiors Aquino and Purisima. Neither can we expect the MILF to put the blame on their fighters or put in jeopardy the creation of a Bangsamoro entity.
There are just too many questions that need to be answered and only an independent and full-time probe body with a strong authority from both Malacanang and Congress can ferret out the truth.
For example, why were Roxas and the PNP and AFP hierarchy kept out the loop? Why were the MILF and the BIFF in the same vicinity where the fugitive terrorists were? Wasn’t the BIFF supposed to be a breakaway faction of the MILF? Why did Aquino allow the policemen to enter territory knowing fully well that coordination must be made with the MILF under the ceasefire agreement? Why did Aquino allow a suspended PNP official to take operational control of the operation? Are reports true that the SAF forces indiscriminately fired at the area where the terrorists were believed trapped resulting in the death of 20 civilians, and prompting the MILF to fire at the policemen as they retreated? What was the role of the US Marines in the operations? Why didn’t the remaining 300 SAF men who were not in the immediate area of the clash come to the rescue of their comrades immediately? Why didn’t the soldiers who were in the vicinity and who heard the gunshots not respond immediately? Why did Aquino not authorize reinforcement? Was it correct to stand down because there was a ceasefire even though it was clear government troops were in danger?
Meanwhile, Aquino faces the ire of the people and policemen felt betrayed by their leader, and coup rumors have again surfaced. Angry lawmakers are crying impeachment again. The President cannot hope to make this issue die down without revealing the truth about the botched operation.
In the meantime that an independent truth commission are looking for answers to these and many other questions, it would do well for the government to suspend further action on the peace negotiations and for Congress to delay deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Aquino wants to forge a peace agreement before his term ends. We all want peace, but one that is based on mutual respect, sovereignty, fairness and justice. Otherwise it would be a shaky peace, one that is bound to fail at the slightest provocation from either side.
Let us not sacrifice truth and justice for an uneasy peace.

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