Philippine President Aquino seeks understanding on Mamasapano debacle

Philippine President Aquino seeks understanding on Mamasapano debacle
President Benigno Aquino III.

MANILA, Philippines-No apologies.

Instead, President Aquino will seek the people's understanding over the Mamasapano debacle, saying he was kept in the dark while the Jan. 25 police operation to take down the international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan," was going terribly wrong, the Inquirer learned on Monday.

The President's explanation on the slaughter of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Maguindanao province will highlight his speech at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) graduation ceremonies on Thursday, Malacañang sources said.

"It's a carefully worded speech. He will ask for 'pangunawa,' not 'paumanhin.' Pangunawa means understanding, while paumanhin means apology," one of the sources said.

While Marwan was killed in the SAF raid, the ensuing gun battle with forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) also left 17 MILF fighters and three civilians dead, in addition to the commando fatalities.

Lawmakers, former President Fidel V. Ramos, Catholic bishops and the families of the slain SAF troopers have demanded that Aquino apologise for the carnage.

The word "pangunawa" will figure prominently in the President's speech, which he will deliver in Filipino, the Palace sources said.

Purisima on his own

"The President will ask for understanding that he failed to discover right away that he was being taken for a ride and he would ask for understanding that he thought of giving the families of the SAF 44 privacy when [the bodies] arrived at Villamor [Air Base], that he should have been there," one source said.

The source added that Aquino would also assure the public that he would not protect former PNP Director General Alan Purisima because his close friend and former bodyguard would have to face the consequences of his actions.

Another source said that the President would also ask for the people's understanding if he might have offended their feelings with his statements following the Mamasapano debacle.

Wait for speech

On Saturday, President Aquino was asked by reporters if he would apologise for the Mamasapano incident.

"Maybe, we could just wait for my speech because I think I might be able to phrase it clearly, exactly what my sentiments are, [what] my feelings were," Aquino said.

The President admitted that he was still "coming to terms with a lot of things" since the Mamasapano bloodbath.

He said that Purisima, a longtime friend, had let him down after the police official failed to follow his orders to coordinate "Oplan: Exodus"-the mission to get Marwan-with Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, the PNP officer in charge.

Aquino said National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia told him that Espina was "out of the loop" in the operation to hunt down Marwan and the other wanted terrorists who were hiding in Mindanao.

'I'm not God'

Asked how he felt that he was being blamed for the Mamasapano debacle, Aquino told the Inquirer that again, his answer would be "better said in the speech that I would be delivering in the PNPA."

But he did say, "At the end of the day, I am the chief executive. Everything that this government does, it appears that it's my own making."

"But let me just say: I never claimed to be God. I am not saying that I can read the minds of all those I talk to. I cannot watch what the 1.6 million members of the bureaucracy are doing 24/7. Those who we discover to be corrupt, we run after them and we get evidence against them and we make them accountable," he said.

Aquino said he believed that he issued lawful orders to Purisima and sacked SAF commander Director Getulio Napeñas, "following the concept of presumption of regularity."

Common sense

The President also said that he did not have reason to doubt Purisima and Napeñas when they presented to him the plan to take down Marwan, Filipino terrorist Basit Usman and Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco alias "Jihad."

"I expected them to carry out my orders not because I just wanted to give them orders but because those were the right orders and they needed to be ordered," President Aquino said.

"For the life of me, I never thought somebody like Napeñas would blatantly disregard an order. And for that matter, for Alan Purisima, at least he should have had the moral suasion," he added.

"So let us go back from the start: why did it happen? I try to put myself in their shoes. Why would I do everything that I did (in Mamasapano) that were really against exercising common sense?"

 

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