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What should Aquino say?

/ 05:15 PM February 06, 2015

President Aquino is scheduled to speak on live nationwide television at 6:30 pm Friday, and official sources who requested anonymity said the President will make an announcement regarding Director General Alan Purisima, the chief of the Philippine National Police currently serving a six-month preventive suspension order.

What will Mr. Aquino say? Three points to consider.

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The sources say he will accept the resignation of Purisima, who despite his suspension has been identified as a key participant in, if not the officer in actual charge of, Oplan Wolverine, the operation which led to the death of 44 Special Action Force troopers in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

But a legal complication may shape the President’s language. Section 12 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act stipulates that “No public officer shall be allowed to resign or retire pending an investigation, criminal or administrative, or pending a prosecution against him, for any offense under this Act or under the provisions of the Revised Penal Code on bribery.”

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Purisima’s suspension stems from a finding of the Ombudsman that he had unlawfully awarded a multimillion-peso contract to an unqualified courier firm for the delivery of gun licenses, an act punishable under the anti-graft law. Strictly speaking then, Purisima cannot be allowed to resign or retire because the case is still pending. (He is also facing at least two plunder charges, but the plunder law allows a 20-year prescription period.)

If the sources’ information is accurate, and Purisima will be removed, how will the President couch his removal? Will the President make the suspension “permanent,” or give Purisima a new position to allow him to serve in government during the pendency of the case, or simply name his replacement? The language he will use will be worth watching.

But it is no secret that Purisima is a very close friend of the President’s, with Mr. Aquino publicly describing their friendship as “invaluable.” The bond was strengthened when Purisima served as commander of Palace security during the first Aquino administration, and helped fight off several coup attempts.

Will the President publicly pay tribute to that friendship yet again? The President’s record suggests that he will, but if public reaction to his speech of January 28 is any gauge, he will be treading a very fine line. If he simply says he regrets he has to remove his friend from his high office, perhaps criticism will be stayed. But if he spends several paragraphs praising Purisima, he would surely reap criticism from all over, for reading the situation wrongly, or for displaying a sense of misplaced proportion.

How the President will recognize his friendship with Purisima will be worth watching too.

Not least, what the President will say about Purisima’s role in Wolverine will be keenly watched. The operation succeeded at first, with the killing of the Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir, better known as Marwan, but ended catastrophically, with 44 SAF troopers killed in a clash with Moro Islamic Liberation Front regulars and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters rebels. (The MILF sustained 18 deaths of its own.)

How will the President explain Purisima’s removal, if he was not in fact part of the planning behind the operation? Will the President simply say that removal is justified because Purisima has become too controversial to run the PNP? Again, judging from public reaction to his speech of January 28 and his eulogy of January 30, this option would be roundly criticized for its evasiveness. But if the President will go beyond the idea of too-controversial-to-lead, how will Purisima’s participation in Wolverine reflect on the President’s own role in the plan? Purisima could have taken part only because the President allowed it.

For these reasons, the explanation the President will offer to justify Purisima’s removal is also worth closely watching.—JN

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TAGS: Alan Purisima, Mamasapano, President Aquino, saf44
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