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Analysis

Aquino browbeats BOI head

From whatever angle President Aquino’s numerous explanations of his accountability for the Jan. 25 massacre of 44 Philippine National Police commandos in Mamasapano may be viewed, his credibility has sunk to rock-bottom depth, and now appears to be irreparable.

Since the massacre, the President has appeared no less than three times, in press conferences, using all media facilities at the command of Malacañang. Despite the efforts, the latest survey by Pulse Asia, conducted in the first week of March, shows that 79 percent of Filipinos deemed “insufficient” all the explanations.

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The survey results delivered the warning that the more the President struggles to explain the Mamasapano debacle, and the more he defies the public clamor to take responsibility for the slaughter, the deeper he sinks in the quicksand trap he has created for himself.

Before a gathering of evangelical leaders on March 9, the President shirked responsibility for the massacre and blamed other officials in the PNP. He claimed that he was given wrong information by “people who knew most of what was happening.”

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In particular, he poured most of the blame for the fiasco on Director Getulio Napeñas, who was later sacked as commander of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF), which was dispatched to arrest “high-value” terrorists who were given sanctuary by the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in areas it controlled in Maguindanao province. The President claimed Napeñas had given him conflicting reports on the Mamasapano mission.

Popularity eroded

It is clear from the survey that the President’s popularity was severely eroded by the Mamasapano episode, but the blame-shifting approach has failed to arrest the steep drop of his ratings. The results appear more damaging to the administration when these are considered together with other findings of the same survey.

The survey also showed that Mr. Aquino’s approval ratings dropped 21 percentage points from 59 percent in November last year to 38 percent. His trust rating plunged 20 points from 56 percent to 36 percent—the lowest since 2010—warning of a possible free fall of his popularity in the last 500 days of his presidency.

The survey results cannot be reversed by brushing aside the finding that only 10 percent of respondents deemed as sufficient all his explanations so far. Clueless Malacañang spokespersons have claimed that the President was “listening to the sentiments of his bosses (the people).”

“The President understands that this is part of the deep emotions of the whole country, saddened and angered by the loss of lives of our SAF troopers,” a Palace spokesperson said when asked about the survey results. “So, our President is aware of the sentiments of our citizens.”

But 79 percent said with a resounding “not enough” to the President’s explanation of the bungled antiterrorist operation of Jan. 25 in Maguindanao. What the respondents did not say but were boiling inside to express was that they have had enough of the worthless rubbish purveyed by Palace mouthpieces as explanation of the debacle of “Oplan Exodus” that led to the armed clashes between the SAF and guerrilla forces allied with the MILF, resulting in the massacre of the 44 lawmen.

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The administration fanned further the flames of public anger when the President called to the Palace last week, Director Benjamin Magalong, head of the PNP board of inquiry (BOI), which made a report that the President broke the PNP chain of command when he dealt directly with then SAF commander Napeñas and then suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima instead of communicating with Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, the PNP officer in charge.

The President summoned Magalong last week to seek clarifications on the findings and conclusions in the 128-page BOI report, which according to press reports, offended Mr. Aquino. The meeting gave rise to reports and perceptions that the President summoned Magalong in an effort to browbeat him to tone down its findings on the issue over the PNP chain of command.

After the meeting, Magalong said the BOI found that the President “could not be held accountable” for the disastrous SAF operation because he was “not part of the (PNP) chain of command.” He said the BOI absolved the President from any liability, contrary to press reports. He also went out of his way to douse “speculation” that he had backtracked from the position of the BOI report.

According to Magalong, “I stand by our word that we will not change our conclusions and findings in the BOI report. The meeting with the President does not at all affect the report and the investigation we did on the Mamasapano incident.”

On the issue of the President’s liability for breaking the PNP chain of command, Magalong sounded, after the Malacañang meeting, less resolute than the language of the BOI report. His resolve faces tough tests under presidential pressure and tampering. He has to prove he has strong spine to resist such pressures.

On the contentious issue of chain of command, Magalong cited the PNP Manual on Fundamental Doctrine, saying that the sitting PNP chief is considered the highest position in the police organization’s “established” chain of command.

“The President is not part of the chain of command of the Philippine National Police,” Magalong said. “If you read the 2013 fundamental doctrine, the chain of command is very clear. It starts with the PNP chief. The President is not part of it. So, what’s his liability? None. We just stated the fact that the President exercised his prerogative, which is true. But he bypassed the chain of command. He dealt directly with Napeñas.”

So, what purpose did Malacañang serve to hold the President not liable for the debacle? All it did was to provide the President loopholes to escape accountability for the debacle. The Palace meeting proved to be a whitewash or a cover-up for the President to look for more scapegoats.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Benjamin Magalong, BOI report, mamasapano clash, Mamasapano massacre, Police, probe report, SAF commandos
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