PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III felt “betrayed and lied to” by then-suspended Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima during the Mamasapano operation that cost the lives of 44 police commandos, according to congressmen who summoned to meet with Aquino on Monday.
“The President told us he really felt betrayed and lied to by Purisima on the Mamasapano covert operation,” Cagayan Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said on Tuesday.
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II confirmed President Aquino’s admission during a meeting in Malacanang between the President and some 25 party leaders and party whips.
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop specifically asked Aquino if he felt he had been misinformed by Purisima.
“The President answered, I think I was not only misled. I was told lies,” Zamora quoted Aquino as saying. “I still remember the words [of Aquino]: ‘I had been lied to.’”
Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop corroborated Zamora’s claim.
“I asked him: Do you think you were fed inaccurate information regarding this police operation? The President was candid enough to respond: I think they were lies,” said Acop, a former official of the Philippine National Police.
But even with the admission, Aquino assured the lawmakers, led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., that the government will go after and file charges against MILF commanders who took part in the Mamasapano massacre, even if the MILF does not surrender them.
Even Cabinet officials who attended the Senate probe on the Mamasapano incident on Tuesday tagged Purisima as being primarily responsible for the operation in which 44 police commandos were killed, even though Purisima received direct orders from President Benigno Aquino III.
In Tuesday’s fifth and last Senate hearing on the Mamasapano debacle, both Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said it was Purisima who was liable for the botched operation in an area controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Fighters (BIFF) on Jan. 25.
Purisima himself said the responsibility and accountability for Operation Exodus fell on his shoulders, but insisted he had delegated his authority to SAF director Getulio Napeñas, who was sacked after the debacle.
Gazmin told the Senate panel he considered Purisima to be the head of the covert police operation to capture or kill international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb maker Basit Usman.
Roxas, who along with Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina, was kept in the dark about the operation, said Purisima and Napeñas were calling the shots.
Roxas added that whether Purisima’s words to Napeñas to keep Operation Exodus secret from him and Espina should be seen as “advice” or an order, there was an “overt effort” to keep them out of the loop.
Purisima confirmed he failed to inform Espina about the Mamasapano operation before its was launched.
“I informed Police Deputy Director Espina on the morning of Jan. 25. I confirmed that the order was given to me by the President,” he told the Senate public order committee chaired by Senator Grace Poe.
Senate President Franklin Drilon then asked him: “The order was given to you by the President, but you only informed him (Espina) after the operation was already launched and in fact, there was already a firefight between troops and Marwan at 4 a.m.?”
Purisima said yes.
Only Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said there was confusion over who was in charge of the Mamasapano operation.
“There is still a lot of confusion as to who really initiated the order to launch this... and I would rather have the PNP decide on who was the one who decided this operation,” said Catapang.
In the Senate hearing on Monday, Purisima said he informed Aquino that military reinforcements—mechanized and artillery support--were already supporting SAF troopers in Mamasapano even though this was not the actual situation on the ground.
When Senator Loren Legarda asked Napeñas if the 44 deaths could have been avoided with better coordination with the military, the sacked SAF commander said they could have done better.
Both Napenas and PA 6th Infantry Division Commander Edmundo Pangilinan turned emotional when Poe asked the relieved SAF commander if he would acknowledge any possible assistance given to them by the AFP.
Napeñas said he was thankful to the brigade and division commanders for their help in rescuing the SAF’s 84th Seaborne Company, but blamed the military for the lack of artillery support, even though they were provided with the coordinates and told that there were civilians had already fled the area.
A visibly exasperated Pangilinan blurted out that he could not accept Napeñas thanking them and then blaming them for the death of the SAF troopers.
“I am thankful they recognized our small help as it lessened the pain we felt. But I cannot accept that they thanked us, but still, we are blamed for the deaths. And that’s hurting me,” he said. “But how about our feelings... the feelings of those who helped? That’s painful for me. I don’t want to be emotional here,” he said.
“Just the same, thank you sir for recognizing that very little effort that you think is very little. But for me, we [exerted] all efforts to help you in spite of your not coordinating with us. That’s what in my heart and mind,” Pangilinan added.
The last day of the hearing also saw tension between Roxas and Senator Nancy Binay and a heated debate between Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and MILF chief negotiator Mohaquer Iqbal.
Before asking her question, Binay told Roxas, “You are under oath, please kindly tell the truth.”
Binay said she felt Roxas was giving her the runaround when he questioned him on Feb. 12.
“Just a gentle reminder, last hearing when I asked you if you informed the President, you were not able to answer then yesterday (Tuesday), you mentioned that you texted the President at 8 a.m. You are under oath so please kindly tell the truth,” she said.
She then prodded Roxas about the reply of the President to his text message about the ongoing clash in Mamasapano.
Roxas shot back: “If I may, I have been and always will tell the truth. I did not at any time commit what you’re implying in your statement, madam senator.”
He then went on to answer Binay’s question by saying the President simply answered “Thank you” to his text.
Cayetano blew his top when Iqbal labeled as criminals people who uploaded a video showing Moro rebels finishing off wounded SAF trooper PO1 Joseph Sagonoy, shooting his twice in the head to make sure he was dead.
Sagonoy was one of the 35 men of the 55th SAF Company killed in Mamasapano.
Iqbal said the uploaders of the video, one of whom recently surrendered to the authorities, were guilty of “spreading darkness.”
But Cayetano snapped: “That’s not a crime. The video was the truth.”
Iqbal blurted out: “It’s creating intrigues!”
Cayetano then asked Iqbal if he would consider members of the media “criminals” for uploading their videos.
Cayetano, who was the first to withdraw his authorship of Bangsamoro Basic Law after the Mamasapano massacre, questioned the MILF’s readiness to implement the law when it does not recognize democracy.
“You’re saying those who uploaded were criminals. Then how can you say that the BBL and the MILF are ready for democracy if you’ll call criminals those who uploaded the video according to your belief?”
Iqbal then asked if the uploaders were authorized to upload the video.
“Yes sir, under the Philippine Constitution, freedom of speech, anyone can be a journalist on the Internet. If I was mauled and it will cause shame on the Senate, anyone can upload that Alan Cayetano was beaten up,” Cayetano said.
“Even if the impact creates intrigues among the people?” Iqbal asked.
Cayetano who appeared angrier, answered, “Yes sir, especially if it’s the truth!”
Before the resumption of the public hearing, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, head of the Western Mindanao Command; Pangilinan and Napeñas Jr. testified during the more than two hours in executive session.
Aside from Poe, others present at the executive session were Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay, Francis Escudero, Gregorio Honasan II, Ralph Recto, Antonio Trillanes IV, and acting Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III.
Nonetheless, Rodriguez, chairman of the House special adhoc committee on BBL, announced marathon hearings on BBL will resume March 3 or 4.
He said a new timetable for the passage of the BBL in the committee level would approve the measure before March 18, when Congress goes on a Lenten break.
Gonzales insisted the President did not put pressure on the House leadership to have the BBL hearings resumed or to pass the bill to beat the one-year transition deadline.
“There was no pressure from President Aquino to pass the BBL. He merely reminded us of the timeline,” Gonzales said.
The timetable that Congress needs to beat for the implementation of the BBL includes the one-year transition period, the plebiscite and the election to parliament of those that will compose and head the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.
In certifying the Palace-proposed BBL as urgent, the President made it clear to Congress that the Bangsamoro must be set up before he ends his term on June 30, 2016.
Rodriguez said the 75-member panel would transmit the BBL to the plenary for debate on May 4, when Congress resumes its sessions.
Marathon plenary debate would be held for two weeks to enable Congress to transmit the measure to the Senate, he added.
Rodriguez admitted it would be difficult to get the votes for BBL is this would be put to a vote at this point, but said the draft law had to be approved so it could be transmitted to the Senate.
Rodriguez said the House and Senate contingents will also have to meet to reconcile the two versions and ratify the BBL before end of May and transmit the bill to Malacanang for President’s signature by June.
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.