MEMBERS of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force gave President Benigno Aquino III the cold shoulder Wednesday during turnover ceremonies for their new commander, Chief Supt. Moro Virgilio Lazo.
Just before the ceremony, Mr. Aquino met with survivors of the Mamasapano operation in which 44 SAF police commandos were killed. The meeting, which was set for 30 minutes, was extended to almost three hours.
When officer-in-charge Chief Supt. Noli Taliño finally acknowledged the President’s presence at the venue in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, the SAF troopers did not clap but merely watched as he entered the quadrangle.
In contrast, the policemen clapped enthusiastically in welcoming their new commander later in the ceremony.
Although a media advisory on Tuesday said Aquino was to speak during the ceremony, his address was removed from the official program Wednesday morning.
A podium with the presidential seal that was set up at the quadrangle was removed in the afternoon.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said there was nothing wrong about the change in plan.
“Please note the caution in every media advisory we issue, it is always subject to change,” Coloma said.
“The President already met and spoke with SAF officers before witnessing the turnover ceremony. He did not intend to deliver any speech at the turnover ceremony,” he added.
Aquino met last month with the widows of the SAF 44, but angered them when he scolded them for their impatience in seeking justice for their husbands.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, Lazo expressed gratitude for the President’s trust and confidence in appointing him as the new SAF commander. His predecessor, Getulio Napeñas, was sacked in the aftermath of the Mamasapano incident.
Lazo said that amid the problems and losses that the SAF suffered, he felt his troops were now stronger.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said Lazo, as a former SAF member, was qualified for the position since he was familiar with the system.
“The SAF is a unique and specialized unit. They are given the most crucial and dangerous missions, so you can’t put just anyone in charge because the troopers will wonder if he knows what he is ordering them to do,” Roxas said.
Roxas said that during their three-hour meeting, SAF troopers asked the President for increased hazard pay and additional rest days.
In response, Aquino ordered the PNP and the Presidential Management Staff to study the SAF troopers’ suggestions and submit their recommendations within 30 days, Roxas said.
During the meeting, the SAF troopers also emphasized to Aquino that they were able to neutralize suspected Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan during the Jan. 25 Mamasapano mission, a fact the President acknowledged.
“The SAF troopers told the President, ‘We got our man. We accomplished our mission. He replied that there was no question that they did,” Roxas said.
Roxas said Aquino has also started the vetting process for the next PNP chief, to replace resigned police chief Alan Purisima, who appeared to be calling the shots in the covert Mamasapano operation, despite being suspended.
Since the PNP can have only one four-star official—and Purisima quit only as PNP chief—Aquino is considering appointing a three-star officer such as Deputy Directgor General Leonardo Espina and directorial staff chief Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo Jr.
Both Espina and Garbo are members of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1981.
Lazo, the new SAF commander, was the former head of the Firearms and Explosives Office based in Camp Crame. He was also deputy regional director for operations of the Police Regional Office in Central Luzon.
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