Former President Fidel V. Ramos celebrated his 87th birthday yesterday. It has been a long journey for him since graduating as the first postwar Filipino graduate of West Point in 1950 and the journey is not yet over. He still maintains a punishing pace that could put a man half his age to shame.
That seems to be the common trait of successful leaders. They want to continue working until they. Being a soldier, it is but natural for him to want to go with his boots on. Since retiring from the Presidency in 1998, FVR continues to travel the world over promoting the country for tourism and as a place to do business in.
It is generally acknowledged that he is the most prepared for the presidency among all post-Marcos Presidents. It is a pity that his enormous experience was hardly sought by succeeding presidents.
Mr. Ramos just arrived from a trip to Myanmar, if I am not mistaken, on a speaking engagement. Let me join his people and friends in wishing him a very Happy Birthday.
Whether he is the Commander-in-chief or Chief Executive as Secretary Leila De Lima keeps on saying, the fact is President Aquino is the bossman and the buck stops with him. The President has always exercised absolute power over the Philippine National Police. In many occasions, he referred to himself as “your Commander-in-Chief” in many PNP gatherings. The President appoints the Chief of the PNP like the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. He also approves the promotion of senior PNP officers together with their assignments. He cannot therefore be exercising all these powers only when convenient to him and deny the responsibility that goes with it when he gets himself into trouble.
Apart from Secretaries De Lima and Lacierda who are the only people still insisting that there is no such thing as chain of command in the PNP because it is a civilian organization, no responsible ally of the President has taken the cudgels for him using this argument. The two have become the laughing stock of a more perceptive public.
Now, the PNP Board of Inquiry Report and the draft of the Senate hearings report are out and have come up with basically the same conclusions. The BOI said that the President broke the chain of command while the Senate report said that the President bares the ultimate responsibility for what happened in Mamasapano.
The public already knows this. What it wants to know is how the two investigations treated the participation of the President in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus. Both reports however, did not come out with recommendations which is a big disappointment to many. No matter how one looks at both reports, the findings are a scathing indictment of the President. What the Palace wants to do now is to continue explaining to the people until the truth will come out.
Translation? No apology. What surprised me with the BOI report was the critical treatment it gave to the planning and execution of the operation. The report stated that the plan was a high-risk operation that was poorly planned and executed. Command and control during the operation was poor and at times chaotic. The route in and way out also was criticized. Because of these, the report went on to say that the operation was bound to fail. This is hindsight talking. It is easy to fight a battle that has already been fought.
Based from videos coming from Napeñas, a lot of work went into the planning, which included careful terrain analysis. This video coming from Napeñas showed that Marwan sometimes stayed in areas controlled by the MILF. Although Napeñas had a lot of inputs in the planning, the final plan had to be approved by higher authority in the persons of PNP Chief Purisima and President Aquino. The plan was never revised in spite of misgivings by President Aquino. Not much analysis on how the SAF elements that were engaged in the fighting conducted the battle. Much focus was on Napeñas.
Yet, the question of reinforcement will always remain to be the biggest question. The BOI report, although unable to question the Army officers, suggested that General Edmundo Pangilinan refused to authorize the firing of the artillery for fear of jeopardizing the peace process. General Noli Talino the then deputy of the SAF also said so. Now, I have been informed by a credible and reliable source that indeed, artillery support was withheld because this might affect the peace process. The lives of the 44 SAF who are still alive were therefore sacrificed for the peace process.
What I was not able to verify was whether this decision not to fire the artillery was solely the decision of Major General Pangilinan or was given by higher authority. Whether he was right to simply let those SAF elements still alive go down in battle in order to preserve the peace process, only time will tell. But it is extremely important to dig deeper into this to determine whether the decision was General Pangilinan’s alone or was an order coming from above. This episode will only be closed when the participation of all the principal actors are revealed to the public.
The people do not like to leave this unanswered question hanging. It has been suggested that the easiest way to close the book is for the President to face the nation and apologize. I could be wrong but I do not think that President Aquino will ever do this. Humility is not in his vocabulary. He will continue to circle the wagons and never admit to any error of judgment.