‘Aquino absolved’ as SAF mission succeeds
Video by Cathy Miranda/INQUIRER.net
MANILA, Philippines–“It was mission accomplished,” said the father of one of the 44 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF) who were killed in an encounter with Moro rebels on Jan. 25 in Maguindanao province.
Former Army MSgt. Perlito Agabon said the death of his son PO2 Chump Agabon and of the others had become more meaningful in the wake of reports that top Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” had been confirmed dead by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The father’s statement is in sharp contrast to the sentiments of critics of President Aquino who are calling for his resignation for what they call was a botched police operation to arrest two international terrorists in Mamasapano town.
Asked about the controversy surrounding the encounter that led to the death of his son, Agabon said that he would continue to support President Aquino and that he had no ill feelings for the President.
“We all have our jobs to do. I fully understand the situation of President Aquino. Contrary to some reports, most of us families of the SAF 44 appreciate the support he extended to us,” he said.
Eighteen rebels and four civilians also died in Mamasapano.
President not liable
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said President Aquino could be absolved of any liability in the costly loss of commando lives. Suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima also cannot be held accountable because he did not plan the operation, Trillanes said.
Relieved SAF chief Getulio Napeñas could face administrative charges for lapses in the operation, the senator said. “If you’re the operational commander, the buck stops with you,” he said.
“Assuming the President gave the go signal, it was the right thing because Marwan was killed. So in my opinion, that absolves the President of any liability as far as this operation is concerned,” he said at the Kapihan sa Senado forum.
Trillanes also does not think the President knew the nitty-gritty of the operational plans.
“You don’t go to Malacañang bringing all the maps and everything. We’re not in a war-time scenario. So it’s either a no or no go because the President is presuming all the commanders below him know what to do,” he said.
Critics of Aquino have pointed out that during the US Special Forces mission to get Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top administration officials were watching the White House real-time operation on the ground transmitted to Washington.
In the House of Representatives, allies of Mr. Aquino also came to his defense amid calls for his resignation over the deaths of the commandos.
“His order for the [Philippine National Police] to arrest or neutralize Marwan was a lawful order. Why should he be faulted for giving a lawful order?” said Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento.
Chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) urged groups calling on the President to resign to consider the consequences of their demand.
“Who are they going to put in as replacement? It’s not the solution to the problem,” Iqbal said in an interview on Wednesday night.
In a statement, Representative Sarmiento said Aquino may have provided the “general guidance [that] became the basis of the operation,” but he had no direct hand in the planning and execution.
“It is therefore baseless and premature to hold him accountable for the tragic deaths” of the Special Action Force troops, who ran into fighters of the MILF and its splinter group after killing Marwan,” said Sarmiento, secretary general of the administration Liberal Party (LP).
The other target, Basit Usman, escaped.
The LP official said calls for the President’s resignation and claims that he can be charged in the International Criminal Court had “no legal or even moral ground because he obviously did not have any direct hand in the tactical aspect of the operation.”
Sarmiento noted that even Napeñas had admitted that he had no direct contact with the President in relation to the Marwan operation and only reported directly to Purisima.
Members of the Visayan bloc in the House of Representatives also rejected calls for Aquino’s resignation.
In a manifesto, the 34-member Visayan bloc led by Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas and Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez pledged support for the President, saying “accountability and criminal liability should only fall on those who planned and implemented the operation.”
“We honor the ‘Fallen 44’ who have shown extraordinary bravery and gallantry in the face of certain death. We are also one with the nation’s sentiment and call for justice. However, we remain steadfast in our position that President Aquino should neither resign nor be impeached, because of the Mamasapano case,” the manifesto read in part.
Trillanes said several groups were using the outrage over the killing of police commandos to destabilize the Aquino administration.
Trillanes said he had received information that political groups, leftist organizations and some belonging to the Church were among those taking advantage of the valid outrage to sow discontent with the government. They are hoping for a “social upheaval,” he said.
He said the groups were meeting, organizing people and were planning a series of activities in the coming days.
While the sentiments over the deaths of the SAF forces were valid, there was no reason to oust Mr. Aquino from his post, he said.
Despite his “shortcomings, character flaws and lapses,” the President is not a bad person, he said.
Col. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said soldiers and police personnel remained loyal to the Constitution and the chain of command.
“We appeal to all to be discerning and avoid fanning hate and division within our society,” Padilla said.
The MILF expressed concerns over the possible collapse of its peace talks with the government amid calls for Aquino’s resignation.
“We hope the problems we have now will not lead to the failure of our efforts to achieve the negotiated political solutions in Mindanao,” the MILF vice chair for political affairs, Ghadzali Jaafar, told the Inquirer on the phone Thursday morning.
“The government spent billions of money in 17 years of negotiations. Thousands of lives were lost in wars. Homes and mosques were burned. If we miss this chance in resolving the issues of the Bangsamoro people, it’s not only Mindanao that will be affected but the entire country,” he added.
Jaafar called on the public and lawmakers calling for Aquino’s resignation to stay calm. “Let’s not be emotional. We can be emotional too because we lost 18 lives. We respect their opinion but we have a problem in Mindanao. We agreed to address the solution. We are almost done so we need to talk and not be carried away by our emotions,” he said.
Jaafar defended Aquino, saying the MILF was impressed by his sincerity in resolving the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.–With reports from Cynthia D. Balana, DJ Yap; and Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas
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