Speaker rules out impeachment of Aquino over Mamasapano debacle
MANILA, Philippines—This early, the House of Representatives leadership is assured that President Benigno Aquino III is safe from any impeachment proceeding despite his involvement in the botched Mamasapano operation that left 67 persons dead in a 12-hour gun battle.
In an ambush interview on Tuesday, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the chamber would entertain any impeachment complaint that may be filed after two reports came out pinning Aquino’s hand in the debacle.
“Certainly, anybody can file an impeachment complaint if it is duly endorsed … It will be accepted and entertained by the proper bodies on the basis of all the evidence,” Belmonte said.
The police board of inquiry report found that Aquino broke the chain of command when he authorized close friend suspended police chief Alan Purisima instead of acting police chief Leonardo Espina. Meanwhile, the Senate report on its investigation led by Sen. Grace Poe said Aquino was “ultimately” responsible” for the operation.
Meanwhile, both reports said Purisima “usurped” authority or official functions and violated the suspension order, and that the police chief provided “inaccurate” information to the President at the height of the operation.
Belmonte said the President’s role based on the two reports is not tantamount to an impeachable offense of betrayal of public trust.
“As evinced from the two reports I have read, I don’t believe such an effort will get to first base in this chamber,” Belmonte said.
Lapse in judgment
He said the only fault that can be pinned on Aquino was a lapse in judgment of authorizing a suspended police official on the operation.
But even then, authorizing Purisima despite his suspension on graft raps seems the commonsensical thing to do because the “Oplan Exodus” meant to take down the high-profile terrorists in Mamasapano town was crafted under his watch, Belmonte said.
“From a common sense point of view he is the most logical person to talk to. The operation was planned mostly under his supervision,” Belmonte said of Purisima, who has resigned as police chief.
“My view is that he (Aquino) did not commit an impeachable offense. The only thing that can be faulted on him is the fact that he continued to act through Purisima … It’s a fault of judgement at best,” he said.
Aquino has consistently washed his hands off the debacle and instead pinned the blame on sacked Special Action Force (SAF) Commander Getulio Napeñas for failing to follow his orders in coordinating with the military about the antiterror raid.
The coordination to ensure reinforcement may have saved the lives of 44 SAF commandos, 18 Moro fighters and five civilians killed in the crossfire that botched the operation meant to take down notorious terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and Basit Usman, the two reports said.
Asked if the President should have apologized and admitted responsibility, Belmonte said Aquino could have explained himself more to save himself from the backlash on the public perception that he was putting the blame on others.
“I think the President should do a little bit more talking than what he’s done so far. The BOI report and the Senate report should prod him to elaborate more …” Belmonte said.
President Aquino, the chair of the Liberal Party where Belmonte is also vice chair, also suffered his biggest slump in trust and approval ratings in a Pulse Asia survey in the aftermath of the Mamasapano debacle.
READ: Pulse Asia: Aquino trust, approval ratings at their lowest after Mamasapano incident
Belmonte said Aquino has enough time to recover from the dip in approval and trust ratings.
“Generally speaking, this is the lowest point since he took over. These are of course obviously the outcome of the Mamasapano. As we see the President flexing his muscles in leadership, I believe that in the cases of other popularity ratings, I think he has more sufficient time to recover …” Belmonte said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.