Cover-up seen in report delay

The Board of Inquiry investigating the Jan. 25 Mamasapano massacre sought a three-day extension to its Monday deadline to submit its report, amid criticisms that a whitewash was in the offing.

“We would like to assure the families of [the 44 slain members of the Special Action Force] that this extension has nothing to do with a cover-up or whitewash. We just want to be very objective,” board chairman Director Benjamin Magalong said.

But lawmakers decried the delay in the release of the police board report, and saw it as a part of a cover-up.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said the President should be held accountable for the death of the 44 commandos.

“The search for truth, accountability and justice is now in suspended animation as the Palace and its operators are still fine-tuning their script to cover up the principal culpability of President Benigno Aquino and his US masters,” Zarate said.

“But President Benigno Simeon Aquino and his cabal should be forewarned not to underestimate the people’s will to uncover the truth behind Mamasapano. Any attempt by the board of inquiry to ‘yellow-wash’ the truth will surely be met with massive protests by the people,” Zarate added.

1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said “the repeated delay in the submission of the board’s report will certainly put the report under a shadow of doubt.”

“It will be construed to hide rather bring out the truth. In short, a coverup,” Bello added.

But House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said the idea of a cover-up was “ridiculous with so many simultaneous investigations by different parties.”

House Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao said the release of the board of inquiry report should not be rushed.

But Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan said the board needed the time to doctor or edit the report to deflect responsibility away from Malacañang.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which conducted its own investigation of the incident, has submitted its findings to the Malaysian government which is brokering peace talks between the rebels and the Philippine government, drawing the ire of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who demanded a full copy of the report as well.

Former police intelligence director Rodolfo Mendoza on Monday urged Magalong to exercise his authority and subpoena the records of the MILF.

Mendoza also said obtaining the records from the telecommunications companies would unearth the truth about allegations that the President asked the Armed Forces to stand down when it could have come to the aid of the beleaguered SAF commandos.

Meanwhile, growing suspicions of a government whitewash, President Aquino again defended his decisions Monday, blaming the ground commander of the Mamasapano operation in which 44 police commandos were killed but saying nothing about the key role played by his friend and resigned police chief.

“If only I knew that that was his plan, I would have disapproved it,” Aquino said, referring to sacked Special Action Force commander Getulio Napeñas.

Aquino was speaking to some 300 members of various born-again Christian groups who “beseeched” him to finish his term, in stark contrast to Catholic bishops who have urged him to step down.

“What should have been a successful mission became mission impossible,” Aquino added, blaming Napenas Jr. for fooling him about the status of Operation Exodus, which aimed to capture or kill wanted terrorists hiding in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25.

Aquino said he was “given the wrong information by the people who knew most what was happening,” but he did not mention his close friend, resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima, who was serving a suspension at the time of the operation.

Aquino also insisted that he did nothing wrong during the planning and implementation of the covert operation that resulted in the death of 60 people, including the 44 police commandos.

“If I were the one at fault, why wouldn’t I take responsibility?” Aquino asked.

“Napeñas had a lot of wishful thinking as opposed to reality. It is clear to me: He fooled me,” Aquino said in Filipino.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” he added, vowing he would not allow the same mistake to be made again.

Aquino said Napeñas disobeyed his order to properly coordinate with the Army several days before the operation, adding that he personally told Napeñas during a briefing on Jan. 9 that 160 commandos would not be enough for the operation.

Aquino said there were also two opportunities for Napeñas to abort the mission, but he did not.

Napenas’ also split up the SAF platoons to protect the way points for the 55th Special Action Company when they were already being surrounded by hundreds of armed fighters.

“There were 318 troops who could have helped the 55th Special Action Company. Instead of helping, they were ordered to go to the way points. He pushed through with the plan when the conditions had changed,” Aquino said.

The President said when Napeñas presented the mission during a briefing, he was impressed at how thorough the plan was to capture the two most wanted terrorists, Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan and the foreign-trained Filipino bomb maker Abdul Bassit Usman.

“It was a great Powerpoint presentation, but it was all for show,” Aquino said.

The President cited at least five errors that Napeñas committed.

First, he said, Napeñas failed to obey his order to coordinate with the Armed Forces, so that it could move the necessary equipment, including artillery, armored vehicles and aircraft to support the mission.

But Napeñas told him he would coordinate with the Armed Forces only when the police commandos were already in place so that the operation would be secure.

Aquino said Napeñas also deployed his soldiers as late as 5:30 a.m., when their night-vision goggles would no longer work, and when most of the Muslims would be awake for morning prayers.

In the original plan, Napeñas should have deployed his people at 2:30 a.m., the President said.

“I wish I could say that Napeñas was stupid, and that he didn’t know the terrain. But he was the regional public safety battalion commander from 2007 to 2008. He knew very well the terrain; he knew the culture,” the President said.

The President also said that Napeñas failed to abort the mission even though he was late in deploying his forces.

“Why didn’t he abort the mission? I don’t know,” Aquino said.

“Napeñas made all the decisions and they were all wrong. He had no intention to follow my orders,” he added.

Napeñas was relieved after the operation went south. Purisima, who told Napeñas to keep the PNP OIC in the dark until the mission was under way and who said he would take care of coordinating with the Armed Forces, later resigned.

The Mamasapano clash occurred despite a peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in March last year.

The MILF claimed it was acting in self defense, but autopsy reports showed that many of the SAF commandos were killed at close range, indicating they were already wounded when they were shot.

Despite his public statements on the Mamasapano operation, the President has not offered any information to the police board of inquiry tasked with investigating the case.

Magalong, who heads the board, said the President has not signified his intention to provide information about the operation.

“We have expressed our intention [to get his statement] but we have not received any feedback,” Magalong said.

All other parties involved, including top PNP and Armed Forces officials, have already been interviewed by the board and submitted their statements, he added.

He said they cannot impose any deadline for the President, however.

Also on Monday, Senator Grace Poe said Purisima could be hiding something when he declined to allow the telecommunications company to submit to the Senate a record of his conversations with the President on Jan. 25.

“From the way he has been acting, I’m sure [he’s hiding something],” said Poe when sought for comment on Puisima’s refusal to issue a waiver for the cell phone records.

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