Telcos ordered to produce Aquino-Purisima text messages
MANILA, Philippines–Senate President Franklin Drilon has signed a subpoena to telecommunication companies to provide transcripts of text exchanges between President Aquino and former Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima on Jan. 25 as a police counterterrorism operation in Maguindanao province was turning into a bloodbath.
Another senator insisted that the President come clean on why he used an “ill-defined” chain of command in the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) operation to capture Jemaah Islamiyah bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino lieutenant, Basit Usman.
But Malacañang on Monday sidestepped questions about Aquino’s dealing with Purisima, who was suspended over allegations of graft, on the SAF operation that cost the lives of 44 elite police commandos.
Text messages between Aquino and Purisima released by Malacañang last week showed the President was getting information from the suspended PNP chief, not from an officer within the official PNP or Armed Forces of the Philippines chain of command.
It was unclear, however, whether the Palace released all of the text messages between Aquino and Purisima.
The Senate, which is investigating the Mamasapano tragedy, wants to see all the text messages, and has decided to get them from the telecommunication companies.
“Yes, I signed it [on Friday morning],” Drilon said in a telephone interview Monday, referring to the subpoena.
But Drilon did not name the telecommunications companies subpoenaed to produce the transcripts.
Aquino has come under heavy public criticism for his refusal to accept responsibility for the SAF operation that ended in a clash between the police commandos and guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The policemen killed Marwan during the operation, but lost 44 companions when they were set upon by the BIFF, MILF and other armed groups as they withdrew from Mamasapano.
Eighteen MILF guerrillas and five civilians were also killed in the daylong gun battle.
Usman, a bomb maker for the BIFF, escaped. He is now being hunted by the military, which launched an operation against the BIFF last week.
The Senate has wrapped up its inquiry into the Mamasapano carnage. It is awaiting the report of the PNP board of inquiry that also looked into the clash.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the lead investigating committee on public order, requested the subpoena for the telecommunications companies.
“Considering that the exchanges between Purisima and the President were exclusive between them only … the committee deemed it best to validate the same with the issuance of the subpoena to the telcos,” Poe said in a text message.
Besides, Purisima claimed during a hearing in the Senate that his phone did not show the time stamp of the text messages from the President, Poe added.
Sen. Loren Legarda asked the investigative committees to subpoena the text messages from the telecommunications companies even after Purisima submitted transcripts of his SMS exchanges with the President.
For the record
Purisima read into the record his exchanges with the President from 5:45 a.m. on Jan. 25 when he informed the President about the killing of Marwan to 6:20 p.m. when he texted Aquino about the heavy casualties suffered by the SAF.
In between, Aquino inquired if the authorities were back to square one with the escape of Usman, and made clear the terrorist “should not get away.”
After Aquino texted at around 10:16 a.m., it was only Purisima who sent messages at around 11:38 a.m. and 6:20 p.m.
Poe said the text messages would be part of the committee report.
Purisima, the sacked SAF commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, and the PNP Intelligence Group head, Senior Supt. Fernando Mendez, briefed the President on the operation in Aquino’s residence within the Palace grounds on Jan. 9.
While admitting that he approved the operation, Purisima said he delegated control and supervision to Napeñas after he was suspended in December last year.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the local government committee, insisted that the President come clean on why he chose to talk with Purisima instead of the PNP officer in charge, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, about the SAF operation.
“We don’t know if he erred or not. What we want to know is what he did and why he did it. Why did he institute or use or create this informal, ill-defined chain of command that caused all the problems? That caused the problem of miscoordination between the AFP and the PNP,” Marcos told reporters.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda was asked whether Aquino had anything to apologize for over the Mamasapano tragedy.
“How does one answer that? You want a categorical answer? The categorical answer is the President deals at the policy level,” Lacierda replied.
He said the President did not “micromanage” the SAF operation to get Marwan and Usman.
On Sunday, Sen. Serge Osmeña III, an ally of Aquino, said the President had “lost the trust of the majority of the Filipino people” and should apologize.
“This President has been super-hardheaded and he only listens to his friends,” Osmeña said, noting that Aquino dealt with Purisima instead of Espina or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas on the SAF operation.
Lacierda said the President instructed Purisima to “coordinate” the operation with other government agencies, but “those instructions were not carried out.”
But why involve Purisima in the first place?
Lacierda did not answer the question, saying instead, “The fault there is were the instructions carried out?”
Lacierda also could not say why the President got information about the progress of the SAF operation from Purisima and not from an officer within the chain of command.