Napeñas to Aquino: Own up to debacle
Getulio Napeñas, the former commander of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF), on Thursday said former President Benigno Aquino III should accept responsibility for the deaths of 44 SAF commandos in a daylong gun battle with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, three years ago.
Napeñas, speaking on the third anniversary of the Mamasapano massacre, said his biggest regret in the past three years was following Aquino’s order to send SAF commandos to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, in Mamasapano on Jan. 25, 2015.
The commandos killed Marwan in the operation called Oplan Exodus, but lost 44 of their own when they were ambushed by fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as they pulled out.
“I hope Aquino will face his responsibility and not do what he did after the clash, which was evade questions,” Napeñas told reporters at the ceremony commemorating the bravery of the SAF 44 at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
It was the first time he was invited to the commemoration of the Mamasapano massacre.
Napeñas chided his former Commander in Chief for what he called “intentional ploy” to throw him under the bus.
“They (Aquino and former PNP chief Alan Purisima) isolated me because they [wanted] to make it appear that I [was] a fool and at fault for everything,” Napeñas said.
“[Aquino gave] the order. We followed him . . . When problems arose, he distanced himself. And when it was over, I was dismissed and had all my benefits taken away,” he said.
“The whole Aquino administration made me look incompetent, my colleagues were incompetent,” he added.
Aquino fired back, accusing Napeñas of incompetence.
“He made himself look incompetent, because he actually performed incompetently,” Aquino said.
The former President maintained that it was Napeñas, the ground commander in Oplan Exodus, who should be blamed for the deaths of the police commandos.
“If I was at fault, it was because I trusted that my people would carry out the decision I had made,” he said.
Aquino said he kept on telling Napeñas to coordinate the mission with the military so that the SAF could get reinforcements, but Napeñas did not do it.
Napeñas expressed confidence that the courts would not find malice and intent to harm the SAF 44, at least on his part.
Sen. Grace Poe, whose committee investigated the Mamasapano massacre and found Aquino accountable, issued a statement on Thursday bewailing the slow progress in the prosecution of the officials behind the debacle.
Poe urged pursuit of “this unfinished business because the reparation we can offer is to create a peaceful and progressive society that guarantees Mamasapano will not happen again.”
The same social and political conditions that triggered the clash in Mamasapano exist today, Poe said.
Sen. Richard Gordon also issued a statement blasting Aquino for refusing to take responsibility for Mamasapano.
“While people are crying out for justice for the SAF 44, it is blatant that President Benigno Aquino III is still skirting responsibility for sending them to their deaths by passing the blame to other people,” Gordon said.
“Ultimately, President Aquino was responsible for Oplan Exodus,” he said.
Aquino allowed Purisima to handle Oplan Exodus despite Purisima’s suspension on graft charges.
The operation was kept from the acting PNP chief at the time, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, and the military to prevent leakage of information that could alert Marwan.
Graft and usurpation of authority charges have been filed in the Office of the Ombudsman against Aquino and Purisima, but also against Napeñas, whose failure to coordinate the mission with the military left the SAF commandos without artillery cover.
The Ombudsman has dropped the charge of reckless imprudence against Aquino, but the Office of the Solicitor General is seeking a reversal of the decision. —WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO
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