Poe questions competence of security execs
MANILA, Philippines—Key security officials’ repeated claims that they could not recall informing President Benigno Aquino III about the Jan. 25 Maguindanao massacre raise questions about their competence, according to Sen. Grace Poe.
Poe, who chairs the Senate committee on public order that is taking the lead in the Senate investigation into the debacle, was incredulous at the officials’ failure to recall the exact moment when they passed on the information to the President.
“It’s not nice to see because they’re members of the security cluster who were with the President. If they behave that way, assuming they really didn’t know when they informed the President, or they did [so] at the last minute, isn’t that a sign of incompetence?” Poe told reporters in a phone-patch interview.
“Their job is to coordinate and if they fail to do it, then that’s being unable to perform what they were expected to do. If that’s the case, can they still do their job?” she asked.
Testifying at the Senate hearing last Thursday, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said they had been informed of the Mamasapano incident at different hours that day.
But while they were with the President who was in Zamboanga City to visit victims of an earlier car bomb explosion for most of that day, they did not approach Mr. Aquino to inform him of what was happening in Mamasapano.
Director General Alan Purisima, the resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) chief who, it emerged in the investigation, was the one who had knowledge of the operation from the beginning, clammed up when he was asked whether he had informed the President.
“Your honor, may I be given time to seek clearance from the President to answer the question?” he answered Poe’s question at the hearing.
While withdrawing from a village in Mamasapano after taking down Jemaah Islamiyah bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan’’ in his hideout, the SAF commandos found their escape route blocked and had to fight but were trapped in a 12-hour firefight with More rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Malacañang, for its part, bristled at observations that the President’s statement on the time he was informed of the operation contradicted the military generals’.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. advised the media to refrain from drawing conclusions based on anecdotes, and wait for the results of the investigations.
Coloma said the President had been forthcoming about his knowledge of the operation to capture Marwan and his Filipino deputy, Abdul Basit Usman, that killed 44 Special Action Force troopers, 18 Moro rebels and at least five civilians.
“There was no cover-up and concealment. It’s important that the whole truth come out,” he said when asked if the generals were covering up for the President.
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, told the senators on Thursday that he told the President what he knew of the incident during a briefing in Zamboanga at 5 p.m.
Addressing the SAF forces at Camp Bagong Diwa in the wee hours of Jan. 31, the President admitted that he was informed of the result of the operation against Marwan early morning that day.
Coloma clarified that the President’s statement and the general’s may not be referring to the same point.
“We don’t know yet if both were referring to the same specific point. From the reports, the official was asked: ‘What time did you inform the President?’ Whereas the other one is the President’s statement. I could sense you’re trying to draw conclusions from this,” he said.
“It may be better that instead of basing on anecdotal citation, we should get the whole picture, and avoid drawing conclusions since the investigations have yet to be completed, and all the statements gathered,” he said.
When reminded that the President made a factual admission about the time he was informed of the operation, Coloma said: “We’re not contradicting what has been said, witnessed and heard by our people. The issue at hand is that we’re drawing conclusions based on the testimonies. That’s why we’re suggesting that it may be premature to make such conclusions.”
Coloma said he had no information about who informed the President about the operation.
“Isn’t this part of the investigation by the Senate and House of Representatives? By the board of inquiry? Isn’t this part of the complete narrative—timelines, involvement of individuals and so on?” he said.
He declined to comment on Purisima’s statement of seeking prior clearance from the President on the question of whether he informed the President.
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