Philippine President Aquino 'hurt' by inquiry report

Philippine President Aquino 'hurt' by inquiry report
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.

MANILA, Philippines-President Aquino was "hurt" by the conclusion of the Philippine National Police board of inquiry (BOI) holding him liable for the tragic outcome of the police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.

This was disclosed on Wednesday by Director Benjamin Magalong, the BOI head and chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), a day after he was summoned by Aquino to Malacañang.

Speaking with reporters at Camp Crame, Magalong stressed that the President did not pressure him to amend the board's 128-page "Mamasapano Report" which the PNP made public on Friday.

Also present at the meeting were Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, PNP Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and fellow BOI member, Chief Supt. John Sosito.

"We were called to the meeting to clarify some issues which were not included in the (BOI) conclusion. There were several things that needed to be clarified," Magalong said in a chance interview.

Asked how the President felt about the findings of the board, he said: "Of course he was hurt by the report. You can see that he was hurt."

"If I were the President, I would have felt the same if I read the report," he added. "But his demeanour that time was very calm and very cordial. The atmosphere during our discussion was very good and it went on smoothly."

Describing the meeting as "very free flowing and no holds barred," Magalong said he was able to ask some questions to Aquino which the board had wanted to address during their monthlong investigation into the bungled police mission, which cost the lives of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos.

The daring police operation to take down Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan," and two other "high-value targets" also put the government's peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in peril.

Magalong seemed to backpedal from the board's finding that the President broke the PNP chain of command by directly talking to resigned PNP Director General Alan Purisima in carrying out the counterterrorism mission.

He maintained that the BOI did not fault Aquino for breaking the chain of command in the 150,000-strong police organisation.

He said the board's conclusion was purely "factual" as it mentioned that the President "exercised his prerogative" in dealing with Purisima, who was then serving his six-month suspension from the Office of the Ombudsman.

"We did not say that [the President] violated the chain of command and to be honest… this was one of the contentious issues during our discussion," Magalong said.

"It was very factual when we said that the President exercised his prerogative and that we have an established chain of command which was bypassed," he said.

Magalong said he also told the President that "we never mentioned there that you violated the chain of command, but you exercised your prerogative to deal with Napeñas.

"Our conclusions were just a statement of facts," he said. "The established chain of command in the PNP was bypassed, but we did not mention any liability of the President because he just exercised his prerogative."

Magalong also disclosed that the President had instructed Purisima to inform Espina about "Oplan Exodus."

In fact, he said the President even asked Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado if the military's air assets were ready when he flew to Zamboanga City on Jan. 25.

"The President mentioned it (coordination) spontaneously to Delgado. But he was surprised (to realise what the President meant) when they arrived in Zamboanga City. It only shows that the President assumed that there was coordination," he said.

During their meeting, Magalong said the President also asked him why he was not given a chance to speak with the members of the BOI.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte confirmed the meeting took place to thank the board members for their efforts.

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