Aquino approves release of texts
President Benigno Aquino III is ready to provide the House of Representatives with a transcript of his exchange of text messages with Director General Alan Purisima, the resigned chief of the Philippine National Police, as Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were battling Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.
It is unclear, however, if Mr. Aquino is willing to appear in the House inquiry into the Mamasapano incident set on April 7 and 8.
In a statement, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Friday said that “the pursuit of justice must be defined by a strong commitment to the truth.”
“President Aquino has been unwavering in his support for seeking the truth regarding the Mamasapano incident, and encourages any action that would contribute to arriving at the truth at the soonest possible time,” Valte said.
The President agreed to release the transcript of his exchange of text messages with Purisima after receiving a request from the Senate.
The President gave his consent, coursed through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., as early as March 4.
“This is in keeping with upholding the dignity of the office and maintaining the principle of separation of powers and respect for a coequal branch of government,” Valte said.
“We therefore leave it to the responsible members of Congress to arrive at a methodology that will aid their investigation, bearing in mind that the inquiry should remain focused on its primary mission: To uncover the truth,” she said.
“In this manner, the process will not be abused by those who might be inclined to take advantage of the occasion to advance personal motives,” she added.
Valte told the Inquirer in a text message that her statement was a “statement of policy that the President supports the search for truth and points to his response to the Senate’s request as an example.”
Would Mr. Aquino testify in the inquiry?
Valte said Malacañang would leave it to the lawmakers to decide “how best to approach it [asking the President to provide his testimony] given that the President is the head of a separate and coequal branch.”
President Aquino has come under heavy public criticism over his handling of the Mamasapano incident, with 79 percent of Filipinos believing he has not fully explained the SAF mission, according to the results of the latest Pulse Asia survey released on Thursday.
The disclosure of the contents of the text messages between Mr. Aquino and Purisima could shed more light on the Mamasapano incident.
Senate investigators tried but failed to obtain a transcript of the exchange from telecommunication companies.
Early on Jan. 25, SAF commandos infiltrated Moro rebel-controlled Mamasapano to arrest Malaysian terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and Amin Baco, alias “Jihad,” and their Filipino associate, Basit Usman.
The commandos killed Marwan but Baco and Usman escaped and the commandos were ambushed by guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM) as they withdrew from the town.
Forty-four SAF commandos, 17 MILF rebels and three civilians were killed in the daylong gun battle.
The deaths of the commandos drew widespread public anger and threw into doubt the completion of the peace process between the government and the MILF.
Anger in Congress has also led to the suspension of discussions in the Senate and in the House on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would establish a new, autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao as provided for in the peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in March last year.
Congressional leaders, however, have relented and agreed to pass the autonomy law by June, before Congress adjourns.
The SAF operation, called “Oplan Exodus,” had US backing, Marwan being wanted by the United States, with a $6-million price on his head.
Chain of command
It became clear early on that Purisima, with the knowledge of President Aquino, was on top of Oplan Exodus despite his suspension on graft charges and this became clearer after PNP and Senate investigators found that Mr. Aquino approved the operation and that he, Purisima and the sacked SAF commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, kept the mission away from the military and from the PNP officer in charge, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, bypassing the PNP chain of command.
Mr. Aquino, however, has refused to take responsibility for Mamasapano, blaming the debacle instead on Napeñas, who, according to both PNP and Senate findings, took instructions from Purisima.
Napeñas admitted delaying information to the military and the MILF because he did not trust them. Previous missions coordinated with the military were compromised, he said.
Mr. Aquino has defended himself against criticism over Mamasapano in three public addresses, but the people, as shown by the March 1-7 Pulse Asia survey, believe he has not told them everything.
The survey also showed that 44 percent of Filipinos do not support the BBL, with disagreement with it greatest in Mindanao, at 62 percent.
The President made a public appearance yesterday at the launch of the new and modern Emilio Aguinaldo museum in Kawit, Cavite province.
But he did not give a speech nor was there a program for the event, which was attended by some 300 people.
Mr. Aquino led the flag-raising ceremony and laid a wreath at the tomb of Aguinaldo, president of the First Philippine Republic.
He also toured the museum with Ma. Serena Diokno, chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, a descendant of Aguinaldo, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., and the PNP’s Espina.
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