SENATOR Juan Ponce Ernile on Wednesday attacked President Benigno Aquino III for hiding behind others to shield himself from responsibility for the deaths of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano last year, but the Palace and its allies said he failed to produce new evidence as he promised.
In Wednesday’s resumption of the Senate investigation into the Mamasapano massacre, Enrile spelled out Aquino’s eight sins in the ill-fated Operation Exodus in which the Special Action Force commandos were killed by Muslim rebels.
Although the record showed that the President “actively and directly” participated in the planning and preparation for the operation, he evaded any responsibility and accountability and used his friend, former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima to shield him from blame.
By questioning those involved in the operation before the Senate committee on public order, Enrile concluded that the President had authorized and “compartmented” the operation, keeping knowledge of it only to himself and Purisima; and that he had full knowledge of what was going on during its execution.
Enrile said he also “wantonly” disregarded the command systems of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines by dealing with Purisima, who at the time was not an active part of the command system because he was suspended on corruption charges.
Finally, he said, President Aquino failed to issue any order or take any effective action as President of the republic “to prevent the barbaric slaying and slaughter of the PNP-SAF troopers.”
As proof of the President’s direct hand in Oplan Exodus, Enrile cited a briefing that Purisima and then SAF commander Getulio Napeñas gave Aquino in Bahay Pangarap on Jan. 9, 2015.
At one point in the hearing, Enrile read back text messages that the President had sent to Purisima, noting that he was more interested in the body of the terrorist Marwan and the fate of the other targets of the operation than in the safety of the police commandos. In fact, he said, none of the text messages Aquino sent asked about the men, Enrile said.
Enrile also expressed doubts over Purisima’s claim that the briefing was held merely to keep the President informed, and noted that it was Aquino who had suggested the SAF devote more commandos to the operation.
“If he was not involved, he had no role except to just listen and say nothing,” Enrile told Purisima as the former police chief was being questioned by Senator Nancy Binay.
When Purisima insisted that they were just keeping the President informed about an operation with high-value targets, Enrile blurted out: “Someone is lying here in front of us in the Senate! This is an insult to the institution.”
As the seven-hour session was drawing to a close, Enrile threw a question at the police and military generals in the Session Hall.
“Woud you act if there is no order and your President is the one commanding? My question to all of you is if a project was compartmented by the President, will you interfere if he has no order?” the 91-year-old senator asked.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, a close ally of the President, stood up and insisted that Aquino was never involved in planning Oplan Exodus.
“There is nothing in the testimony that the President [got involved] in the manner that is being presented,” Drilon said in the President’s defense.
He emphasized that from the very start, Napeñas had said that it was his plan and he executed it.
Asked if he thought the Senate committee on public order might change its report, Enrile said no, and that he merely focused the discussion on the President’s responsibility and accountability.
He said the “new matters” he wanted to bring up were the text messages between the President and Purisima.
Enrile rejected the President’s claim that he was misinformed.
“They have huge intelligence funds. Why did they not foresee that this could happen to their men in the field?”
Enrile said he was satisfied with the hearing because it focused attention on the President’s responsibility, something that was not done in the previous hearings.
Now it was up to the law enforcement officials to do their job, he added.
Committee chairman Senator Grace Poe said most of the points in the hearing were already included in her committee report and can be found in the transcripts of previous hearings and executive sessions.
She said she stood by her report, which found the President ultimately responsible for the Mamasapano massacre, and said those findings were bolstered by the additional testimony Wednesday.
She said the hearing focused on a chronological and clinical timeline of the incident and offered some new information on the US assistance that was given to the police.
Earlier, Enrile asked former police officials why the US military or the Central Intelligence Agency were involved in a purely police matter.
Napeñas said this was because the mission was to get Marwan, who was also wanted for the Bali bombings in which Americans were killed.
But Enrile said the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement does not cover the enforcement of criminal laws in the Philippines.
“This is something that the government must explain,” he said.
Administration Senator Teofisto Guingona III said Enrile’s “bombshell” was a dud, since no new matters or evidence were presented.
Guingona also considered a “waste of time” the seven-hour hearing where 24 resource persons were summoned.
Poe had already conducted five public hearings, spanning 23 hours and 39 minutes. The transcripts of these hearings alone total 1,098 pages. There were also five executive sessions, spending 15 hours and nine minutes, grilling witnesses behind closed doors.
During the previous hearings, a total of 37 persons testified.
Echoing the administration line, Guingona said the President’s actions were based only on the information given him by Purisima.
Asked why the President allowed the suspended police chief run the operation, Guingona said this was beside the point.
“The point here was that the President was provided the wrong information from morning until afternoon,” he said.
During the hearing, Guingona said there was no concern or alarm on the part of the President as he was told that only one trooper was wounded and that Marwan was already dead. The President was also informed that the government had 160 troopers against the 15-20 armed elements.
“The reality that happened on the ground was different from what the President knew,” Guingona told Poe’s committee.
“There was no reason for the President to be alarmed because we had 160 troopers as against the 15-20 armed elements. This is on top of the tanks and cannon,” said Guingona.
Also like Drilon, Guingona blamed Napeñas for misleading and confusing the President with wrong information.
Napeñas objected: “I did not mislead the President.”
During the hearing, the military official who flew the plane carrying the President to Zambonga City to monitor the operation testified he was directed by Aquino to alert all assets on the ground to support SAF troops.
Another presidential ally, Senator Antonio Trillanes said the hearing merely emphasized the liability of Napeñas
Purisima testified that hetold Napenas to inform the PNP hierarchy about the operation and seek coordination from the AFP, but he did not do so.
“Napenas also did not act to save the troopers who engaged the Muslim rebels in the firefight,” Trillanes said.
Trillanes also said there was nothing wrong in the President turning to the suspended police chief.
“He was suspended only from the PNP but the President did not suspend his friendship with Purisima,” he said.
At the hearing, AFP deputy chief of staff for operations Maj. Gen. Angelito de Leon showed photos of Napenas and Deputy Director Noli Taliño “smiling and looking at ease” at the height of the gunfight between the SAF commandos and Muslim rebels.
The SAF leaders were “detached from the reality of the SAF operation and unaware of the magnitude of SAF casualties,” he said. “The SAF commanders lacked a grasp of the gravity of the situation and had a walk-in-the park mindset.”
A slide in the AFP presentation showed the same photo with the text: “Blamed everyone but himself” – referring to Napeñas.
The camp of Liberal Party standard bearer Manuel Roxas II also dismissed Enrile’s effort to incriminate the President.
“Our question now is: where are the supposed bombshells that he’s repeatedly saying to the media these past few days,” Roxas’ spokesperson Rep. Barry Gutierrez said in a statement yesterday.
“There’s no new evidence that transpired even in the previous hearings, or in the previous reports. Even [Enrile’s] line of questioning is [forced],” he added.
The Palace defended the President against Enrile’s allegations.
“President Aquino had always acted responsibly and faced squarely all matters pertaining to the Mamasapano incident,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr., in a statement.
Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, meanwhile, urged the Senate committee that reopened the probe on the Mamasapano massacre in January last year “to serve justice without compromising national security interests.”
Romualdez said that one year after the tragic incident, the Senate probe should “once and for all lead to justice for the families of the victims and closure on a tragedy that has deeply divided the nation.”
The lawmaker said all new evidence, such as an alleged audio tape purporting to indicate a cover-up of the massacre to save the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, should be allowed to be presented “in the interest of justice”. With John Paolo Bencito and Sandy Araneta
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