MANILA - He had always defended and stood by Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima, but this time, President Aquino appeared to have drawn the line following what he felt was a betrayal by his close friend who disobeyed his orders.
"If ever I [was at] fault here, it was [because I trusted] these people. Why did I fail to detect that they were misleading me?" the President said on Saturday night.
He was referring to Purisima, then the suspended PNP chief, and the sacked Special Action Force (SAF) commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, who both briefed him on Jan. 9 about the police operation to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan."
While the operation successfully took down Marwan, who top security officials said had been recruiting for the Middle East jihadist group Islamic State (IS), it ended in disaster for the SAF, with 44 commandos getting killed in an ambush by Moro rebels.
Seventeen guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the government in March last year, and three civilians were also killed in the fighting that lasted 12 hours.
His handling of the debacle has mired Aquino in the deepest political crisis of his presidency, with critics calling for his resignation and, according to the most recent Pulse Asia survey, 79 percent of Filipinos not believing he had said everything he knew about the Mamasapano debacle.
The deaths of the SAF commandos have drawn widespread public anger and thrown into doubt the completion of the peace process with the MILF.
The scandal that broke following the disclosure that he took part in the planning and execution of the SAF mission forced Purisima to resign as PNP chief.
When Aquino accepted Purisima's resignation on Feb. 6, he said in a speech that he did so with a heavy heart as he praised his friend.
Espina should know
On Saturday, the President stressed that knowing full well Purisima was suspended, his only directive to him was to coordinate with the PNP officer in charge, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.
Aquino said he stressed this to Purisima because on Jan. 8, at a meeting for the visit of Pope Francis, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia informed him that Espina was "not in the loop" in the hunt for Marwan, his compatriot Amin Baco and their Filipino associate Basit Usman.
The President said he wondered why, but he did not pursue an answer during the meeting.
By sheer coincidence, however, Purisima sent him a text message that day to inform him that Napeñas wanted to brief him about the counterterrorism operation.
Aquino said he told Purisima he was free to meet Napeñas on Jan. 9, after he arrived from an official trip to Romblon province.
Because he already knew that Espina was out of the loop, Aquino said he emphasized to Purisima the need to inform the PNP officer in charge.