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Noynoy Aquino on the Mamasapano Clash: 5 Key Points in His Latest Statement

Let’s face it: None of it makes him look good.
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano
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Mamasapano is the one ghost from Noynoy Aquino's presidential past that will continue to haunt him—possibly for the rest of his life.

It's been two years since the ill-fated encounter in Maguindanao, which left 44 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) dead and so many questions are still left unanswered.

Under Oplan Exodus, the SAF troopers were tasked to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias "Marwan" and Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman. Both men had bounties on their heads placed by the U.S. government: $5 million for Marwan and $1 million for Usman.

The operation turned bloody when members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said they had to fight back because the PNP-SAF had breached their territory. They alleged that they had not been informed about the operation to get Marwan and Usman. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) also got involved in the clash, which lasted 11 hours. The MILF lost 18 of their fighters, while the BIFF lost five. Reports also say at least four civilians died in the crossfire.

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Since then, both the government and the MILF have done probes on the Mamasapano encounter to determine what went wrong. The clash hampered the Bangsamoro peace deal.

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What further complicated matters was the fact that then-President Aquino was said to have included then-PNP chief  Director General Alan Purisima in the planning of Oplan Exodus. At that time, Purisima had been suspended by the Ombudsman in connection with a supposed anomalous contract the PNP entered into with a courier service in 2011.

Aquino said that he had been also been in touch with then-SAF director Getulio Napeñas in the planning of Oplan Exodus.

In the aftermath of the botched operation, then-Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) chief Mar Roxas and acting PNP chief Deputy Director Leonardo Espina said they were both unaware of Oplan Exodus. 

Napeñas later revealed, "Sinabihan ako mismo ni Director General Purisima na sabihan mo si General Espina kapag nandoon na. As to Secretary Roxas, hindi ako puwedeng dumiretso sa kanya because that would be a violation of our chain of command (General Purisima himself told me to inform General Espina about the operation only when we were already in the area. As for Secretary Roxas, I could not go directly to him since that would be a violation of our chain of command)." 

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Now, Napeñas' allegation alone already shows that the Mamasapano mission was already problematic from the get-go. For all the emphasis on respecting the "chain of command," it seemed that Purisima remained a driving force of the mission. Napeñas was eventually blamed for the failure of the operation, but the public perception is that he is a scapegoat.

(Speaking of public perception, it really didn't help that Aquino skipped the arrival honors at the Villamor Airbase for the slain SAF troopers. He chose to attend the Mitsubishi plant inauguration on that same day.) 

The findings of the Senate probe on the Mamasapano clash likewise points out the shortcomings of Aquino and Purisima. It also inferred that the U.S. government was somehow involved in the mission.

Among all the issues raised against Aquino, Mamasapano is, perhaps, the mother of all his nightmares. Bring it up and people might as well forget all those tuwid-na-daan (straight path) gains. Mamasapano is Aquino's dead end.

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The call to reopen the Mamasapano case has prompted Aquino to once again defend himself against his critics. We picked out five things from the three-page statement released on Thursday, January 26,  that may just further inflame the rage of those who already don't like him much to begin with. These are the points that are sure to spark many more debates about the fiasco.

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Aquino's original statement is in Filipino, so we've provided translations.

1| He blames Napeñas for the Mamasapano tragedy—while pointing out that the latter also owes him for his past promotion.

His words: "Kung may kasalanan po ako bilang Pangulo nung panahong iyon, ito po: ni minsan, hindi pumasok sa isip kong magagawa ni Napeñas na magsinungaling sa Pangulo ng Pilipinas. Pinagkatiwalaan ko ang isang two-star police officer, na ako pa mismo ang nag-promote. Naniwala akong itong graduate ng PMA ay tatalima sa values ng paaralan na 'Courage, Integrity, Loyalty.'"

Translation: "If I had a fault as President at that time, it would be this: I never ever thought that Napeñas would lie to the President of the Philippines. I trusted a two-star police officer whom I myself had promoted. I believed that this [Philippine Military Academy] graduate would adhere to the school’s values of 'Courage, Integrity, Loyalty.'"

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2| The US government was not involved in the mission.

His words: "Bago pa man ang panahon ko, tumutulong na ang Estados Unidos sa ating mga operasyon. Ang sa akin, Pilipino ang mga kausap ko. Pilipino ang nagbibigay-ulat sa akin, at Pilipino ang nagsagawa ng misyon. Ultimong asset na nakalapit kina Marwan, asset ng ating gobyerno."

Translation: "Even before my administration, the United States has been helping in our operations. For my part, I talked to Filipinos. Filipinos reported to me and Filipinos undertook the mission. Even the asset that came close to Marwan was an asset of our government."

3| He has no idea where the reward money for Usman and Marwan went.

His words: "Hindi po natin masabi, dahil hindi naman po natin reward ito. Sa totoo lang ho, hindi na rin tayo nakialam sa reward."

Translation: "We can't say, because it is not our reward. In fact, we did not even bother with the said reward."

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4| There is no mention of Purisima, it's as if he wasn't involved in the Mamasapano mission at all.

His words: ...

Translation: ...

5| If everyone had listened to him, then everything would be OK.

His words: "Kaya inutusan ko si Napeñas na kailangan niyang makipag-coordinate sa AFP para maihanda ang mechanized units, artillery, eroplano, tao, at iba pang assets na kailangan para hindi mangyari ang pintakasi*. Sagot ni Mr. Napeñas: 'Yes, sir.' Matapos ang imbestigasyon, lumabas na wala palang 160 ang Seaborne. Higit 70 lang ang bilang nila at 54 sa kanila ang operators.

Dagdag pa ni Napeñas, mangyayari ang coordination kapag moving na raw sila. Tumanggi ako dito; sabi ko, kailangang may sapat at supisyenteng araw para maiposisyon ang lahat ng assets. Ang sagot na naman niya: 'Yes, sir.'

Alam na po natin ang nangyari: Ang atas para mag-coordinate na dapat “days before,” naging “time after target,” gaya ng sinabi na rin ng Senate Committee Report. Dahil walang coordination, ang AFP nagkandarapa, dahil yung mga detalyeng dapat alam nila, gaya ng sino ang tutulungan at saan, saka pa lang nila inaalam.

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Hindi ko maiwasang isipin: Kung sinunod lang ang lohikal at legal kong utos, hindi mangyayari ang trahedya sa Mamasapano."

 

Translation: "I ordered Napeñas to coordinate with to AFP in order to prepare mechanized units, artillery, planes, troops and other assets needed to avoid pintakasi. He said, 'Yes, sir.' After the investigation, it was discovered there was less than 160 deployed member of [SAF's 84th Special Action Company (SAC) or Seaborne]. There were only 70 of them, 54 of whom were operators.

Napeñas had added that the coordination would be done when they were already moving. I didn't agree to this; I said there needs to be enough time and a sufficient number of days to ensure that all the assets are in position. He said: 'Yes, sir.'

We already know what happened: The order for them to coordinate 'days before' became 'time after target,' as stated in the Senate Committee Report. Because there was no ccordination, the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] had to scramble, because the details they should have known, like who to help and where, they knew found out when the encounter was already happening.

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I can't help but think: If my logical and legal orders were followed, the tragedy in Mamasapano would not have happened."

-

Bottom line: Aquino is not saying anything new about what he did or failed to do in connection with the Mamasapano clash. To answer all those people who insist that he should be held accountable for it, the former commander-in-chief seems to have borrowed the catchy refrain from a not-quite-so-old song: "It wasn't me."

*At the Senate inquiry on the Mamasapano incident last year, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman was asked by Senator Teofisto Guingona III to explain the concept of pintakasi. ABS-CBN News quoted as saying that the word pintakasi means collective effort. "Kung halimbawa, development ang pag-uusapan, i-a-apply yung word, pintakasi means bayanihan. Pero pagdating sa giyera, parang pinagtutulung-tulungan. So halimbawa, may papasok sa isang community, parang stranger, talagang kukuyugin siya at pagtutulung-tulungan (If you apply the word in terms of development, it refers to the 'bayanihan spirit.' However, in tims of war, it would mean several forces uniting against one common enemy. So, for example, a stranger is in the community, that stranger will be targeted)," he said. As such, Hataman noted that members of both the MILF and the breakaway BIFF were involved in the gunbattle against the SAF troopers. 

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