Bello fears ‘zombie’ presidency due to Aquino’s ‘pigheadedness, blind loyalty’
MANILA, Philippines—A “zombie presidency” is in store for President Benigno Aquino III in the last 500 days of his term as a result of the fallout from the Mamasapano fiasco, according to his former ally, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello.
“What a wasted presidency! Destroyed by pigheadedness and blind loyalty to incompetent or corrupt subordinates,” Bello said when asked to describe the political import of the board of inquiry report showing the President broke the chain of command in the ill-fated Jan. 25 operation.
Bello, who renounced his ties last week with the majority coalition in outrage over what he considered a cover-up of the Mamasapano incident, said the Aquino government had been spiraling downward in the aftermath of “Oplan Exodus.”
“For the 500-plus days [of Aquino’s term] we will have zombie presidency, I fear,” he said.
“The high point of the administration was the passage of the reproductive health bill and the elections of May 2013. The beginning of the unraveling was when the President initially defended [the Priority Development Assistance Fund],” Bello said, referring to the defunct pork barrel system.
“The President entered negative territory with his stubborn defense of [the Disbursement Acceleration Program and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad], then went on a death spiral with Mamasapano,” he said.
But Mr. Aquino’s allies in the House of Representatives quickly came to his defense.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he expected that the BOI report would spawn a flurry of criticisms against the President with little to no effect.
“His opponents, critics and the KSP (“kulang sa pansin,” or attention grabbers) will continue to harass him. To no avail,” said Belmonte, vice chair of the ruling Liberal Party.
Another LP stalwart, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, said that the Mamasapano issue “will undoubtedly affect the Aquino administration in the last 500 days.”
“But I’m sure that many facets of good governance will show the sterling performance of President Aquino, particularly in the anticorruption campaign, improvement of the economy …” he said.
Released to the public on Friday, the BOI report concluded that Aquino had direct knowledge of the operation and opted to break the chain of command by allowing then police chief Alan Purisima, who had been under suspension at the time, to take charge.
Oplan Exodus was a top-secret operation to hunt down two international terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.
It succeeded in killing one of the targets, the Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, or “Marwan,” but at the cost of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, who died in a clash with fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) when they were withdrawing from the area.
Some 18 MILF men and five civilians were also killed in the incident that has triggered wide outrage.
The BOI recommended the filing of criminal or administrative cases against “relevant government officials, the MILF, and other individuals” found to have been liable in the incident.
Another critic, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, interim president of the United Nationalist Alliance party of Vice President Jejomar Binay, said the BOI report showed that the President deliberately hid the truth.
“This incident has proven that the President is no saint and ‘tuwid na daan (straight path)” is a self-righteous slogan to hide the anomalies of the administration,” he said.
He further noted that the President is immune from suit; thus, “the criminal liability of the President regarding this will only be known at the end of his term.”
Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, however, said he did not believe Aquino was liable at all even though he may have committed an error in judgment.
“I believe that he can tap anybody he trusts to help him in accomplishing things. It might be an error in judgment. However, I believe that General Purisima has deliberately manipulated situations to keep [Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and police officer in charge Leonardo Espina] out of the loop,” he said.
“He wants this mission to be a springboard for his return to the Philippine National Police. He used his friendship with the President to mislead the President and Gen. [Getulio] Napeñas,” he said.
Erice said it was best to let the law take its course. “Meanwhile we have to move on and continue with the reforms and economic policies that made us the second fastest growing economy in the world. Let not one incident hamper our gains,” he said.
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