Critics hit BOI cover-up

THE report of the Philippine National Police board of inquiry into the Mamasapano incident raised more questions on Saturday as critics deplored the supposed cover-up of President Benigno Aquino III’s direct responsibility for the January 25 operation that led to the death of 67 people.

At the same time, government lawyers, led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, scrambled to answer fundamental questions raised by the report with Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda issuing a late statement on Saturday evening warning of “hastily-made conclusions and opinions” in the report.

“It is very questionable why the BOI did not get President Aquino statements or testimony when there are a number of questions they should have raised,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who raised the following questions:

Did Aquino authorize the suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima to take command and control and supervise Special Action Force chief Getulio Napeñas on Oplan Exodus?

Why was Purisima reporting directly to Aquino when he was already suspended by the Ombudsman? Why was Napeñas reporting to Purisima and not to Aquino if Napenas was given “delegated authority” as claimed by Purisima?

What did Aquino and Purisima talk about when Napeñas left them during their January 9 meeting and why did Purisima order Napenas to tell Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP officer in charge Leonardo Espina when troops are already on site and that Purisima will tell Catapang?

Why did Aquino lie on national television about Purisimas’s involvement?

Why did Aquino allow US involvement in the operations? What is his legal basis for this when this is not covered by the VFA or EDCA?

“The report just confirms what we already know, like the presence of US personnel at the tactical command post and that Purisima was calling the shots,” Colmenares said. “But the report stops short on the accountability of President Aquino.”

Late Saturday morning, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, herself a lawyer, tried to answer some of the questions by saying that Aquino was well within his prerogatives when he dealt directly with Napeñas.

“Let’s just point out that based on the actual BOI report, it was stated that it was the prerogative of the President to talk or coordinate with any of his subordinates. So that’s one of the statements in the BOI report,” Valte said in Filipino during an interview on government radio station dzRB.

“It is also clear in the findings of the BOI that SAF commander Napeñas disobeyed the orders of President Aquino,” she added.

Yet, Valte could not explain why Purisima was issuing orders to Napeñas, who also reported to Purisima and not to Aquino.

A few hours later, De Lima issued a statement saying the BOI was based on the “wrong premise insofar as the role of the President as commander-in-chief of the PNP is concerned.”

“Based on a wrong premise, the BOI Report on the nature of the President’s role can only arrive at a wrong conclusion,” she said.

De Lima reiterated her earlier argument that Aquino the principle of command responsibility only applies to the military and not to the PNP, which is a civilian agency.

“In relation to the PNP, the President is the Chief Executive, in the same way that he acts as the Chief Executive to all the civilian agencies of the Executive bureaucracy,” she continued.

However, De Lima did not reply to the argument of legal experts, including former University of the Philippines law dean Pacifico Agabin, that Executive Order No. 226, issued by then President Fidel Ramos on February 17, 1995, instituted command responsibility in the PNP.

De Lima also did not mention that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, a treaty to which the Philippines is a signatory, also states that “the concept of command responsibility is applicable also to civilians, and that would include the police.”

A few more hours later, Lacierda said “we must, therefore, separate the facts from potentially hastily-made conclusions and opinions.”

“A case in point is the portion where the Board of Inquiry arrives at certain conclusions about the lines of authority in the Philippine National Police,” Lacierda said.

“The first and most basic fact is that the Philippine National Police is a civilian institution... As a civilian institution in the Executive Branch of government, the President, as Chief Executive, exercises full and absolute control and supervision over every official in that branch,” he said.

“However, the BOI subsequently contradicted itself when it suggested that the President should have followed the PNP chain of command. In invoking the chain of command rule, it is important to point out that this rule applies only within the PNP,” he added.

“But even setting aside this internal contradiction in the BOI report, one other fact should stand out. The President himself instructed the suspended Chief PNP, Alan Purisima to inform the OIC Chief PNP of the mission.

“The President therefore left nothing to chance. His direct orders to Purisima if obeyed, would have ensured that the OIC Chief PNP would not have been kept in the dark. However, the President was disobeyed by Purisima,” Lacierda said.

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