THE PEN| The buck stops with the President

THE MUCH-anticipated results of the independent investigations conducted by the Philippine National Police’s Board of Inquiry (BOI) and the Senate Committee on Public Order on the Mamasapano encounter are unanimous in their conclusion: the buck stops with President Benigno Aquino.

Senator Grace Poe, who presented to media the draft report of the joint Senate committee report on the Mamasapano incident, said that “Any leader, particularly when there are mistakes, should own up to it. The buck stops with him.”

For most political observers, this was a foregone conclusion and therefore seemed anti-climactic. In fact, critics of the Chief Executive had already pinned the blame on him soon after initial reports of the botched operation began to surface. And even some of the President’s close allies believed that as the nation’s Commander-In-Chief, he was primarily responsible for what transpired during that fateful day due to the doctrine of “command responsibility.”

The facts gathered during the PNP and senate inquiries bear witness to their fateful conclusion. That the president had intimate knowledge of Oplan Exodus which was designed to capture Zulkifli Bin Hir (alias Marwan) and Basit Usman – from the time the plan was presented to him by sacked SAF Chief Getulio Napeñas at Bahay Pangarap last January, to its actual execution which ultimately led to the tragic death of the 44 SAF commandos, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and five civilians.

Although the President was forthright in saying that he was aware of the SAF’s mission to get Marwan and Usman, a major question on the minds of Filipinos was what was exactly the Chief Executive’s role in Oplan Exodus being the Commander-in-Chief? Was he just the recipient of scant information provided to him by Gen. Napeñas, or was he himself calling the shots? Answering this all-important question had helped set the tone of the PNP and Senate investigations.

Both inquiries were able to firmly establish that Gen. Napeñas was directly coordinating and receiving instructions from PNP Director General Allan Purisima, who at that time, was already on preventive suspension by the Office of the Ombusdsman due to corruption charges. This is actually where the President’s debacle began, as he for sure knew that Gen. Purisima was no longer discharging his official functions due to the suspension order issued against him.

Clearly, Gen. Purisima still enjoyed the trust and confidence of the President. But by allowing the suspended PNP chief to be actively involved in Oplan Exodus, the President had already broken the so-called “chain of command.” In the first place, why was the Chief Executive coordinating with Gen. Purisima and not PNP Officer in Charge Leandro Espina and Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas who were both kept in the dark during the plan’s conceptualization and implementation?

One is therefore made to believe that there could have been a crisis in confidence not only within the President’s cabinet but also extended to the PNP hierarchy before and during the failed SAF operation. This would not have been a contentious issue had the operation been a resounding success (read: zero to minor casualties; successful extraction of Marwan and Usman). But with the huge death toll, Malacañang needs to shed light on its selective involvement of certain officials in Oplan Exodus.

This is not to say that involving Gen. Espina and Sec. Roxas in the planning and executive stages would have guaranteed a higher level of success of the critical SAF mission, but doing so would have prevented, or least cushioned, the massive political backlash that the botched operation has unleashed upon the Aquino Administration.

More importantly, it was the right thing to do for the President in order to demonstrate that Malacañang’s decision-making process was built on consensus and not based merely on the opinion of a privileged few who were within the Chief Executive’s inner circle.

Thus, the PNP and Senate investigations have not only highlighted the amount of influence Gen. Purisima wielded upon the President and whose opinion mattered the most among his trusted lieutenants, but also brought to the fore the Chief Executive’s current mindset before, during and after the failed police operation.

As we know, the President has practically absolved himself of any wrongdoing when he came out with a public statement on national TV pinning the blame entirely on Gen. Napeñas for the Mamasapano encounter, who, according to the Chief Executive, “misinformed” and “fooled” him. And further aggravating the President’s disclaimer was his decision to downplay the involvement of Gen. Purisima, who was in reality, highly involved in the scheme of things.

Many expected President Aquino to finally own up to the failed operations, despite the political repercussions this would create for him and his administration. Doing so would demonstrate the Chief Executive’s strength of character and his willingness to take the flak for his actions. Being a President doesn’t exclude one from making critical errors in judgment as Senator Poe said, something that President Aquino may be familiar by now.

By owning up to Mamasapano encounter, the President would also help bring closure to the families of the fallen SAF commandos. This may not ease the pain of the widows, children and relatives of the slain troopers, but will enable them to move forward and restore their confidence in the national government.

Former President Fidel Ramos, who also faced a series of political crises during his term, has called on President Aquino to be humble enough and apologize to the Filipino for the bungled police operations. By doing this, Ramos said that this would relieve the pressure from President Aquino, just like what happened when former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo apologized to the nation at the height of the “Hello Garci” controversy.

“Saying ‘I am sorry’ humbly and sincerely would probably do 90 percent of the job,” Ramos said.

At this point, we are not sure whether the President will finally take responsibility for what transpired in Mamasapano. Doing so would be a double-edged sword; it could give his detractors more ammunition and further embolden their calls for his resignation or impeachment. On the other hand, an apology from the President can help defuse the growing political tension that has gripped the country and bring the GRP-MILF peace process back on track.

The ball is now in the hands of the President. And all he has to do is say sorry.

Posted in Opinion