If Purisima was blameless, why did he quit?
MANILA, Philippines–If former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima did not call the shots in the mission to capture two high-value terrorists, why did he resign?
Some senators are baffled by Purisima’s explanation of his resignation amid widespread public anger over the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) operation to capture Jemaah Islamiyah bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino deputy Abdul Basit Usman in Maguindanao province that cost the lives of 44 police commandos on Jan. 25.
The commandos killed Marwan during an exchange of gunfire, but Usman managed to escape.
When he faces Senate investigators on Monday, Purisima should explain the apparent disconnect between his resignation and his statement that he had no direct role in the execution of “Oplan Exodus,” Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said on Saturday.
“If Purisima had nothing to do with the operation, why is he being made to suffer the consequences? Does he or does he not have a hand in the Jan. 25 incident?” Pimentel said in an interview.
“Did [he] or did [he] not have a hand [in the operation]? If he’s resigning over other incidents, that’s fine. But if it’s connected to the Mamasapano [incident], why?” he added, referring to the town in Maguindanao where the 12-hour gun battle between the SAF commandos and guerillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) took place.
Eighteen MILF guerrillas and four civilians were also killed in the gun battle.
Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III said he would demand answers during Monday’s hearing. “We will find out more in the hearing,” he said in a text message.
In announcing his acceptance of Purisima’s resignation on Friday night, President Aquino said the PNP chief contributed to the long planning of the mission to capture Marwan and Usman.
In TV interviews later Friday night, Purisima said that while he provided the intelligence information, he wasn’t in command of the operation.
He said directing the operation was the job of commanders on the ground.
Purisima said he volunteered to quit to give Aquino “leeway.” He did not elaborate.
The President, who has admitted having knowledge of the operation, has come under heavy criticism over the operation that led to the biggest single-day combat loss in recent memory for government security forces.
While seeking to calm public anger, Aquino did not say that it was he who gave the order for the operation to proceed.
Instead, Aquino blamed Director Getulio Napeñas, the sacked SAF commander, for the debacle, saying he should have known whether the plan was being executed correctly.
Purisima said Napeñas was on top of the operation. He denied telling Napeñas not to notify his superiors and the military about the operation. The plan, he said, called for notification after the operation had started.
“Things have to be clarified. Did he give the background and order, or just the background?” Sen. Grace Poe said over dzMM. “Of course, Purisima is trying to save himself, but let’s give him a chance to explain at Monday’s hearing.”
Purisima has confirmed his attendance at the inquiry called by the public order committee headed by Poe.
Pimentel and Poe said President Aquino should appoint a new PNP chief soon to lead the hunt for Usman.
“The new PNP chief should inspire the rank and file, in terms of integrity and honesty, and image of competence in police skills,” Pimentel said.
Appointing a new PNP chief would clearly define the chain of command, Poe said.
She said the hearing on Monday would seek to establish the facts: What really happened, who gave the orders for the operation, and what were the shortcomings in the planning.
Poe said she would also verify with police officials the reported involvement of the United States in the operation. She did not invite representatives from the US Embassy.
Invited to the hearing were Interior Secretary Mar Roxas; Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin; Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, acting chief of the PNP; Napeñas; chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer; and Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
All have confirmed that they are going to the hearing.
PO2 Christopher Lalan of the SAF, the lone survivor of the Mamasapano gun battle, was also invited. He has confirmed his attendance.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. was also invited, but had yet to confirm his attendance. The SAF operation was reportedly coordinated with Ochoa and the after-operation report was submitted to the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, which he heads.
Also likely to be tackled is the nagging question of why Marwan and Usman had managed to go in and out of MILF territory.
“What are they doing in MILF territory?” Senate President Franklin Drilon said in a telephone interview on Friday. “What has the MILF done so far to show their sincerity in pursuing the peace process?”
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