Friday, March 20, 2015

Humility in leadership

The Senate lived up to its promise to be non-sparing with President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III with their committee report on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident. Sen. Grace Poe, as the lead chairperson of the joint Senate committees that looked into the incident, released to the public their own findings and recommendations as contained in a 129-page report yesterday.
As of press time, Poe said the final committee report was still being routed to all 24 senators either to concur (and add  their own comments) or vote against it. So far, ten have signed. Poe targets 13 senators to constitute a majority vote.
The Senate committee report on the Mamasapano incident followed the submission last week of the findings of the Board of Inquiry (BOI) created by the Philippine National Police (PNP) to look into the “tactical” aspects of the case. Both were one in concluding there was a break in the chain of command, which no less than President Aquino committed.
This was after suspended PNP director general Alan Purisima confirmed before the senators that he directly reported to the President before and during the Mamasapano incident wherein 44 members of the PNP’s Special Action Force were killed in action while carrying out Oplan Exodus. Relieved SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas testified he and Purisima met with the President at Malacañang grounds several times to discuss the details of Oplan Exodus.
Oplan Exodus was the blueprint for the SAF operation to capture three terrorist targets hiding in Mamasapano in Maguindanao. A known stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the SAF operations turned into an alleged “mis-encounter” with Muslim rebels and its renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other private armed groups in the area.  
Due to alleged lack of proper coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the mission of Oplan Exodus turned bloody costly for the SAF troopers. After a belated ceasefire and military rescue, 44 of the 392 SAF troopers were “massacred” as declared in the Senate committee report.
The Senate did not only validate the BOI report which defenders of Mr. Aquino vehemently disputed. It also virtually upheld the BOI report on its take on the commander-in-chief principle as enshrined in the country’s 1987 Constitution.
The Palace defenders took the line espoused during the Senate hearings by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in asserting that the President cannot be held accountable for breaking the chain of command because the PNP does not operate in a military set up.  
The DOJ Secretary cited a jurisprudence to support the argument the Constitution explicitly provided for a “civilian organization” for the country’s police force. Therefore, De Lima said the commander-in-chief principle could not be applied to President Aquino, who approved the carrying out of Oplan Exodus.
Retired police and military generals believed De Lima rendered a seriously flawed legal opinion on Article VII, Section 18 of the Constitution. This particular provision spelled out one of the powers of the President as the head of the executive department.
To wit, Section 18: “The President shall be the commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.”
De Lima first rendered this legal opinion during one of the five public hearings conducted by the Senate on the Mamasapano incident. The DOJ secretary’s opinion was elicited by one of the senators allied with Mr.  Aquino after it was coming out early on during the Senate public hearings there was apparent break in the chain of command.
Interviewed by ABS-CBN News Channel before the Senate came out with its report yesterday, former senator Panfilo Lacson agreed with the BOI finding that President Aquino broke the PNP chain of command on the botched police operation. Lacson concurred with the BOI report that President Aquino enjoys the prerogative or discretion to bypass the chain of command and deal directly with junior or subordinate commanders.
Contrary to De Lima’s contention, Lacson says the President is the commander-in-chief of all the “armed forces,” including the PNP. Precisely, he pointed out, the “armed forces” as written in the Constitution were not in capital letters to mean all armed forces. Himself PNP director general during the shortened term of former President Joseph Estrada, Lacson regarded the President as their commander-in-chief.
Lacson’s view is shared not only by many of his fellow former police officials, but even by their military counterparts.
Lacson belongs to Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1971. A number of PMA graduates joined the PNP and many of them later became PNP chiefs later like him.
As far as they are concerned, the retired AFP generals told me over the weekend, the President is the commander-in-chief also of the police and not just by the military. In fact, they contended, the President can even call upon security guards in his power as commander-in-chief. They all belong to the same PMA Class but I won’t mention which year because some of them are still in government service. I just happened to attend an occasion that became an impromptu reunion of sorts for them.
These former police and military generals may not be lawyers, but even ordinary mortals like us may have the same opinion.
President, Aquino took responsibility for the botched SAF operations in his previous address to the nation. Aquino officials are “overdoing” their staunch defense of presidential lapses on the Mamasapano incident and this is not helping the President.
President Aquino may still be enjoying two-digit popularity rating — though it plummeted almost to half —  after the Mamasapano incident. But this does not make him an infallible leader.
If the Senate committee report could be summed up briefly, the buck stops at the President. A little humility of Mr. Aquino’s leadership at this stage of his remaining 15 months in office could perhaps restore his moral high ground.
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