MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the public to pray and all government offices and military installations to lower the Philippine flag to half-staff today in a national day of mourning for 44 police commandos massacred in Maguindanao.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the President himself would lead the necrological service to be attended by the members of the family of the slain Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, members of the Cabinet and other government officials, as well as officers and personnel of the Philippine National Police.
Mr. Aquino issued Proclamation No. 953 declaring Jan. 30 as a day of national mourning.
Coloma denied insinuations that Mr. Aquino on Thursday chose to attend a car factory launching of Mitsubishi Philippines in Laguna instead of receiving the bodies of fallen SAFs.
"There is no such thing as choosing over something," Coloma said in a news briefing. "It was not really in his schedule. What we have is a national day of mourning (Friday) in which President Aquino will lead the necrological or memorial service at Camp Bagong Diwa in honour of the country's heroes, and those slain along with the PNP-SAF," Coloma said in a briefing.
Coloma told critics that the President had shown by words and action his compassion with the bereaved families and his recognition of the PNP-SAF. "If there are other views, we respect their views," Coloma said.
Coloma appealed for more understanding of any shortcoming or mistakes made in the operation.
"Let us understand that the fight against terrorism is complicated (and) we cannot just go through an after-event analysis," he said. "We can run through different scenarios on how it should have unfolded, but let us understand that those who sacrificed their lives for that delicate operation did that for the country."
Coloma said that the President had ordered the grant of maximum benefits to the relatives of the slain commandos through the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
He said these benefits were in the form of financial benefits and assistance packages to be given directly to the relatives.
"Our aim here is to ensure that the help gets to them. We are not preoccupied with image concerns," said Coloma.
Mr. Aquino is to meet with the dependents of slain SAF troopers at Moral and Spiritual Formation Center in Camp Bagong Diwa on Thursday.
The President will offer prayers and present "Medalya ng Katapangan" (Medal of Valor) to the slain SAF men, Malacañang said.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the event Mr. Aquino attended in Sta. Rosa town, Laguna province, had been pre-scheduled.
"It was a Mitsubishi event. It was pre-scheduled. But I would not put it side by side and say one was more important than the other," Valte said.
She also said: "It wasn't a matter of picking one over the other."
"It (the arrival of the slain SAF troops at Villamor) never was a part of his itinerary," Valte said.
"While we are doing the planning for it, we took it into account his schedule as well as the best time for him to be there and we felt that it was really the necrological service," she added.
Earlier, a lawmaker assailed Mr. Aquino's absence from the ceremonial honors for the slain SAF com mandos, saying it spoke volumes about his "cold, unfeeling heart."
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said Mr. Aquino's decision to attend the opening of a car factory in Laguna showed "how little he cares for the uniformed personnel who died in an encounter that he himself green-lighted."