PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Monday praised the heroism of the 44 Special Action Force commandos killed by Muslim rebels a year ago in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, but blamed other police officials for not doing their jobs.
Aquino, who approved the covert mission to neutralize two high-profile terrorists, ignored allegations that he did nothing to save the commandos while they were being slaughtered, in his speech to mark the first anniversary of the Jan. 25 Mamasapno massacre.
Instead, he blamed others in the Philippine National Police for the debacle.
“We appeal to Congress: review the PNP Law; specify the provisions that hinder the immediate imposition of penalties against leaders who fail in their responsibilities. We do not want a repeat of this tragedy just because they do not want to follow the policies. It is not right to continue a system where one would carry a bigger responsibility just because others fail to do so,” Aquino said.
Aquino also lashed out at opportunists that he said were exploiting the deaths of SAF elite troopers.
“There are those who would try to take advantage of the controversy in your [PNP] ranks in order to create disunity; they might use the tragedy for their own agenda,” Aquino said.
Aquino also vowed to bring justice to the slain commandos.
“Just like yourselves, I have been impatient [about] the slow system of justice.... As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied,” Aquino said in award ceremonies for the SAF 44 in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
“You can expect, together with the support given to the families of the SAF 44, we will thoroughly do our best efforts to obtain justice,” he said.
At the ceremonies, the Medal of Valor—the highest distinction given to uniformed personnel of the PNP—was given to the families of Police Chief Inspector Gednat Garambas Tabdi and Police Officer 2 Romeo Cumanoy Cempron, two of the SAF 44.
Tabdi was the Team Leader of the 84th Special Action Company of SAF. Tabdi led his team to accomplish its mission despite his wounds.
Cempron was the lead gunner of the 55th Special Action Company. When his fellow commandos were being killed, he sacrificed himself as a human shield so that PO2 Christopher Lalan could move to safety.
Also awarded the PNP Distinguished Conduct Medal were 47 other SAF troopers, including the five survivors of the Mamasapano encounter. Twenty-five other survivors received special promotions.
In a statement, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., said Aquino met with families of the SAF troopers from 11 a.m. into the afternoon.
Coloma said they discussed the implementation of various forms of assistance extended by the government such as housing, education, employment and livelihood assistance.
“The President has instructed concerned government officials to exert all efforts to extend the needed assistance to the families,” Coloma said.
Coloma said this was the third time that the President has met with the families.
He added that some 85 percent of the benefits have already been given to the SAF families.
Codenamed “Oplan Exodus”, the covert operation last year dispatched 300 SAF troopers to Mamasapano to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir alias Marwan and two other terrorists.
The operation was led by then SAF commander retired police director Getulio Napeñas and cloaked in secrecy.
The SAF troopers were able to kill Marwan but were ambushed while withdrawing. Forty-four of them died when no help came from Armed Forces soldiers nearby.
A police general who was privy to the activities of the board of inquiry formed to investigate the incident said Aquino ordered Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, to stand down for fear that their involvement would endanger the government’s peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The Senate is scheduled to reopen its investigation into the Mamasapano debacle on Wednesday, Jan. 27, after Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile claimed that he has evidence that will expose the President’s liability.
Earlier, retired PNP chief superintendent Diosdado Valeroso said he had in his possession a digital audio recording of a conversation between a high-ranking government official and a legislator that occurred a day or two after the clash, showing that there was an attempt to cover up what happened so that the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the lynchpin in the government’s peace pact with the MILF, would be passed in Congress.
Reacting to this allegation, Coloma said Valeroso should present his evidence during the Senate hearing.
The Justice Department has closed its preliminary investigation into criminal charges against 90 people charged for the bloody Mamasapano encounter, but no cases have been filed against them.
Newly appointed acting Justice Secretary Emmanuel Caparas said all the talk about new evidence was “speculative” at this point.
“Let us wait. I don’t know what additional evidence that is. Let us just wait,” Caparas told reporters, when asked about the new evidence that Enrile will present during the reopening of the Mamasapano probe in the Senate.
Enrile vowed to show proof that President Aquino “actively and directly involved himself in the planning and preparation of Oplan Exodus.”
Caparas also denied allegations that the Justice Department is delaying its resolution of the Mamasapano case, which has been submitted for resolution by a panel of prosecutors following preliminary investigation.
Although it has been a year since the death of the SAF 44, Caparas said they are not sitting on the Mamasapano case, and assured the public that a resolution will be out soon.
“You are talking about many witnesses, you are talking about several defendants, and when you put that all together, ...an investigation like that can take a very long time,” Caparas said.
A total of 90 respondents belonging to the MILF, its rival Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and local private armed groups have been charged before the DoJ for the complex crime of direct assault with murder for the death of the 35 of the 44 SAF members belonging to the 55th company.
But the fact-finding team failed to gather evidence that would point to those responsible for the killing of the other nine members of the 84th company.
State prosecutor Alexander Suarez, one of the members of the five-man preliminary investigation panel, earlier said only four out of the 90 respondents responded to the subpoenas they issued.
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.