Mamasapano prober retires without promotion
Regrets he’d had a few, but he did what he had to do, and stood tall because he did it his way.
Like “Ol’ Blue Eyes” in “My Way,” that’s how Benjamin Magalong summed up 38 years of service during which he went against two sitting Presidents, getting jailed in the first incident and in the other regarded as resulting in being denied what could have been the crowning glory of a career as the best Philippine National Police chief the country never had.
On Thursday, Magalong stepped aside upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 as PNP director—a rank equivalent to a two-star general in the Armed Forces of the Philippines—and was given honors during a ceremony at Camp Crame.
Contingents of forces he had led, including the Special Action Force (SAF) and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), were among those that marched past the stand in a fitting tribute to their former commander.
Echoing a feeling of some in the 160,000-strong organization, PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa said in remarks to the troops he would have been glad to work under Magalong as his chief.
Dela Rosa was with President Duterte’s delegation in Cambodia. His address was read by Deputy Director General Francisco Uyami, who led retirement honors for Magalong.
“It’s as if I lost my right wing,” Dela Rosa said. “I’ll no longer have a big brother who will support me when I’m being opposed by hard-headed upper class (officers).”
“I [am] flattered,” Magalong responded. “But I can’t do anything about it now. What’s good is that I have lots of ups and downs. I was way, way down but I managed to rise again. At least now I feel good that I’m retiring on a high note.”
Magalong was among SAF officers detained in 2006 following a supposed military-led uprising against then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who placed the country under a state of emergency amid mounting antigovernment protests.
After the rebellion charge was dismissed, Magalong served at the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Quezon City and Cordillera police. He was promoted successively as head of the PNP directorates for community relations, intelligence and detection management, and deputy chief of operations.
As chief of the CIDG, Magalong led the board of inquiry that investigated the January 2015 clash between government forces and Moro guerrillas in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, which led to the deaths of 44 SAF commandos who were sent to the area to arrest suspected terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.
Magalong’s report recommended the investigation for possible criminal and administrative liability of then President Benigno Aquino III, then PNP Chief Alan Purisima and the then SAF commander, Chief Supt. Getulio Napeñas.
The report said Aquino allowed the participation of Purisima, who was then suspended on corruption charges, in what is now known as the “Mamasapano massacre,” bypassing in the process the chain of command. Napeñas was held accountable basically for incompetence, resulting in heavy losses for the SAF.
In April, the Office of the Ombudsman found Purisima and Napeñas criminally liable for graft and usurpation of authority for carrying out the Mamasapano raid without the approval of the then PNP officer in charge, Leonardo Espina.
In July, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption filed in the Ombudsman multiple murder charges against Aquino. No action has been taken so far against the former President, who called the case “absurd.”
During a House of Representatives investigation in September, Magalong recounted how he planned an operation in 2014 at the maximum security compound of New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City following intelligence reports that the drug lords imprisoned there were running a multibillion-peso narcotics business.
Magalong said he coordinated the raid, dubbed “Oplan Cronus,” with then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, but De Lima went ahead at the last minute with her own raid without the CIDG in December that year.
The congressional inquiry heard testimony from convicted inmates that they helped raise money for De Lima’s senatorial campaign in May in exchange for protection in turning the national penitentiary into a “Little Las Vegas.”
De Lima has denied wrongdoing.
“I am proud to have humbly and loyally served in the PNP. It was an honor to serve you and a privilege to have served beside you,” Magalong said in his speech on Thursday.
The PNP deputy chief for operations was given a plaque from the PNP command group, recognizing his “invaluable contributions in building a credible and reliable PNP.”
Magalong advised the next PNP leaders to “make humility in the service the norm, not the exception” and to “be humble public servants.”
He said that while he did not set out to be a leader, he “aspired to make a difference” when called to be one.
The police official described “genuine leaders” as those ready to give up their perks and privileges for the sake of transparency and accountability; willing to give up their career, ambitions and aspirations in pursuit of truth; and know when to give up.
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.