Facing his darkest moment as President, Aquino turns 55 today

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino turns 55 Sunday facing his darkest moment as President and commander in chief two weeks after the bloody clash in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, that claimed the lives of 44 police commandos and at least 18 Moro rebels and four civilians.

But Aquino will spend his birthday nonetheless-"simply" with his family.

"Whether in times good or bad, the President has always celebrated his birthday simply and with his family. I see no reason why the President would deviate," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said over the government-run Radyo ng Bayan.

Lacierda said the President's aides have always prayed for the President's health and leadership, and "to bring about significant improvements in the lives of everyone."

"We pray for peace, for wisdom for the President. We pray that he will continue to be guided and most especially, we ask the Filipino people to always pray for him. One of the things that we've always asked-and I've always asked privately to those friends of ours, not only to our friends from the religious sector-is to always pray for the President because it means a lot to him," Lacierda said.


The Mamasapano carnage ironically happened on Jan. 25, the birthday of Aquino's mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.

It was also exactly a year since the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reached a peace deal after it signed the normalization annex of the blueprint for the peace agreement.

Elite police commandos were able to take down Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan," in his hideout in Mamasapano, but 44 police troopers ended up dead following a fierce firefight with Marwan's men, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and MILF fighters.

The government and the MILF are observing a ceasefire but the Special Action Force leadership chose not to coordinate the Mamasapano operation, saying they did not trust both the military and the Moro guerrillas.

Command responsibility

In a national address on Friday, his second since the Mamasapano tragedy, the President claimed responsibility for the bloody encounter, saying he holds himself accountable for the fate of his men in the field.

Aquino also said he would carry the tragedy for the rest of his days.

To recover from this setback in his presidency, Prof. Ananda Almase of the National Defence College of the Philippines told the Inquirer that Aquino should let his "supreme voice" as the country's leader be heard.

"One of the constitutional functions of the President aside from being the chief of state, commander in chief and chief legislator is to serve as the voice of the people. This latter function is coursed through his presidential addresses not only in Congress to set the policy agenda of the executive but also in times of emergency or uncertainty when a supreme voice of a leader must be heard," Almase said.

Almase said the President's national address last Friday did not only come late, it also "fell short of sensitizing growing sentiments of the public as a result of the government's policy of inaction and conspicuous exclusion of the MILF in that complex web of accountabilities."

"The voice of the people was much stronger at a time of the President's reticence," Almase said.

The Mamasapano incident is arguably the worst security nightmare Aquino faced as commander in chief.

While 25 soldiers and police were killed in the Zamboanga siege by a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front in 2013, the government's response was considered a success because security forces were able to rescue over 200 hostages.

Aquino had then personally overseen the urban combat that took place in the city.