Friday, March 6, 2015

SAF’s wounds

The wounds have not yet healed. And it looks like they’re not going to any time soon.
President Noynoy Aquino got a collective cold shoulder when he once again visited the headquarters of the PNP’s Special Action Force in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig, yesterday. At the camp’s quadrangle, where the SAF troops were assembled when Aquino arrived for the turnover ceremonies for the new commander of the elite police commando unit, there was no applause – only stony silence.
And Aquino was apparently so spooked by the reception he got that he cancelled a speech that he was supposed to make before the SAF officers and men. The simple ceremony only had Aquino and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas witness the handover of the command from officer-in-charge Chief Superintendent Noli Talino to the new SAF head, the unfortunately named Chief Superintendent Moro Lazo.
A podium that had been set up for the speech, complete with the presidential seal, went unused. The official Malacanang schedule of the President’s activities, which had noted that Aquino was going to talk to the assembled policemen, was edited at the last minute to remove the speech from the day’s activities.
But Aquino did go into a closed-door conference inside the headquarters building with the survivors of the Jan. 25 massacre, as well as the widows and other relatives of the 44 SAF commandos killed in Mamasapano. The meeting took all of three hours; no details of the meeting, except those divulged by official sources like Roxas and Lazo, were immediately made available.
Malacanang has apparently clamped down hard on the slain soldiers’ relatives, who have refused to divulge details of their talk with the President. After being burned by revelations of what Aquino and the widows discussed the last time they met in Camp Crame – during which Aquino supposedly told them that they’re “even” now because his father was also killed in 1983 – none of the previously forthcoming relatives have spoken out.
I’m told that the palace has warned the widows and the other relatives that the benefits they’re supposed to receive would be placed in jeopardy if they talked to media again. Roxas and Lazo said the President talked to the survivors and the Fallen 44’s relatives about requests for additional hazard pay and more leave credits for the commandos; the two said the President listened to the requests and promised to work to grant them.
I doubt very much that it took all of three hours for the matter of more pay and benefits for SAF members to be taken up with the President. For now, though, the versions of Roxas and Lazo are all that we have.
What’s obvious, though, is that Aquino will have to work harder to regain the trust of the SAF’s officers and men – and of all men and women in uniform, for that matter. It will take more than occasional visits and promises of aid and benefits, I believe, for Aquino to bring back the respect of the troops for their Commander-in-Chief.
On the other hand, I think Aquino must take the initiative to repair his relations with soldiers and policemen by directly addressing their concerns in public, not in the hush-hush closed-door sessions that he loves to conduct. Had the President spoken to the SAF members as he had originally planned, I think he would have shown that he was willing to lead and to accept responsibility for what happened in Mamasapano.
Of course, Aquino and his officials have long maintained that the President is not responsible in any way for the carnage in Mamasapano. But if that were really the case, then he really should have no problems facing the SAF.
The silent treatment that Aquino got at Camp Bagong Diwa yesterday is indicative of how deeply the ranks of the SAF feels about what happened to their slain comrades-in-arms. If Aquino really wants to heal the wounds of Mamasapano, he would confront the situation like a real leader of men trained to follow orders that could very well result in their deaths.
If he doesn’t, Aquino may very well regret it. He has clearly lost the trust of the SAF – and it’s only a small step from that mistrust to defection to the ranks of those who would want Aquino removed from the picture entirely.
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As for Roxas, I really admire his devotion to a President who kept him out of the loop even if he was in the direct chain of command in Mamasapano as the civilian head of the PNP. The fact that Roxas was never told by Aquino about the events of that fateful day as they were unfolding, even if they were together almost the entire time, must only make it more painful to Roxas to be left out – even if he shows no sign of losing his affection for his feckless and distrustful boss.
I guess Roxas is really so desperate for Aquino to repay his loyalty with an endorsement in next year’s elections that he will not even whimper in protest at being so ill-used. Never mind if Aquino’s own relatives – the latest being his cousin Rep. Mark Cojuangco, son of Danding Cojuangco (the head of the Nationalist People’s Coalition) – have declared their support this early for Vice President Jejomar Binay.

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