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No saying sorry, Palace insists on Mamasapano

THE Palace said Monday there is no need for President Benigno Aquino III to apologize for the Mamasapano debacle that left 44 police commandos dead.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said while there were lapses in the operation, Aquino’s involvement was purely on the policy side of the mission to neutralize international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

Big gun. Members of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division fire a 105mm
howitzer into a rebel encampment somewhere in Maguindanao province
last weekend. The military is fighting suspected coddlers of alleged
Islamist bomb-maker Basit Usman. MARK NAVALES
Lacierda said the Palace does not agree with the call of Senator Sergio Osmeña III for the President to say “I am sorry” over the fiasco in Mamasapano.

“The President deals on the policy level. What is the policy on that? We fight terrorism. We promote peace. We make sure that we alleviate poverty. I think there is nothing irregular and in fact, it should be a policy for our country to fight terrorism,” he said.

“On the operational level, however, we’ve seen lapses in the operation and for that particular instance, there is the board of inquiry and the Senate to go through the details of the operation itself,” he added.

Pressed for a categorical answer, Lacierda offered an analogy.

“The categorical answer is that the President deals with the policy level. Let me give you an example: the policy is to promote public infrastructure. If for instance, a bridge collapsed and the construction workers died as a result of the collapse of the bridge... The President does not involve himself in the building of bridges or in the operation of neutralizing a terrorist,” he said.

Lacierda said it is up to the police board of inquiry to find out whether the President’s decision to involve then suspended Philippine National Police chief Dir. Gen. Alan Purisima in the planning and execution of the operation against Marwan contributed to the death of the Special Action Force troopers.

Sacked SAF head Dir. Getulio Napeñas ealier said the President knew of the “time on target” operation where the military would only be informed once the police commandos already arrived in Mamasapano, and in the process even Cabinet members were kept in the dark about the mission.

“Obviously, we’re talking here in hindsight. The briefing, the operational plan, one has to discuss who crafted the operational plan. We would assume that there was some vetting on that,” Lacierda said.

“We’re all spitballing here. We’re all talking hindsight where everything is 20/20. We don’t know what really happened prior to those situations before that. So that’s the role of the BOI to look into that. It’s so easy for us to say, with benefit of hindsight, why did the President do this or why did Napeñas not do this, or why did Purisima not do that?” Lacierda added.

Osmeña, who served as Aquino’s campaign manager in the 2010 presidential elections, described Aquino as a “super-hard-headed” person who listens only to his friends.

“Unfortunately, you (Aquino) have to prove you’re innocent because you are already guilty as far as the Filipino people is concerned,” Osmeña said.

In the House of Representatives, lawmakers supported Osmeña’s call for Aquino to apologize for the fiasco.

Reps. Jonathan de la Cruz of Abakada party-list, Silvestre Bello III of 1-BAP party-list and Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list said President Aquino should have offered such a “gesture of humility” to placate public anger over the incident.

“That should have been done from the very start,” De la Cruz said, adding that Aquino should have done what the late US President John F. Kennedy did in the immediate aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in 1961, which was to accept full responsibility.

Bello, a member of the House minority bloc and former peace negotiator, said the call of Osmeña was “understandable.”

“In a few months d president shall bcome a lameduck. Expect a reallignment of political forces and you will witness the politicians previously identified with [former president Gloria Arroyo] who migrated to a greener pasture [President Aquino], migrating again,” Bello said.

But Palace ally, Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal, a House deputy majority leader, said the President has done enough to acknowledge fault.

“I have a problem with people presuming to know more..., telling the President what he should and should not do. I have a problem with the non-stop blame game, but we cannot blame all these so-called experts for weighing in,” Banal said. “The President has already acknowledged enough.”

On the other hand, former Tarlac governor Margarita Cojuangco said saying sorry would not bring back the 44 police commandos who died in Mamasapano.

Cojuangco, wife of President Aquino’s uncle, former Tarlac congressman Jose Cojuangco, said even an apology would not calm down an angry public. She said the President should resign instead.

Archbishop Oscar Cruz agreed.

“How do you say sorry to the children who were left fatherless, to the parents whose sons all lost their lives?” he said. “It would appear that they were betrayed. So how can you say sorry for that?”

In the same public forum, Cruz said he considered Mamasapano a turning point in the incompetence of the President.

“You could see in this shameful episode in the history of the Philippines that the commander-in-chief did not act as a commander,” Cruz said, recalling that the President wasn’t around when eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in a hostage taking in Luneta in 2010.

“He only appeared when everybody had been killed and the bus already burned. He went there with his enigmatic smile,” said Cruz.

He added that resigning would be “a heroic act.”

Senator Grace Poe, on the other hand, said the President should be heard first.

“What’s clear here was that there was lack of coordination.... But in saying that he should be apologizing, he is the only one who can volunteer to do that,” she said.

Poe declined to say if the President was liable for the ill-fated operation.

She said those who executed the operation, particularly Purisima and Napeñas, did not plan well.

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