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Roxas on the brink of resigning?

At a meeting in Malacañang last week, President Bengino Aquino III asked Director Benjamin Magalong, head of the Philippine National Police board of inquiry, why he was not interviewed by the BOI regarding his role in Oplan Exodus, a covert police operation to arrest wanted terrorists given sanctuary by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The President summoned Magalong to the Palace to seek clarifications in the report of the BOI, which examined his accountability for authorizing the mission that led to the Jan. 25 massacre of 44 Special Action Force commandos by guerrillas identified with the MILF. The BOI found, among other things, that the President broke the PNP chain of command by directly talking to then suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima in the implementation of the counter-terrorism mission. This finding offended the President, who thought the BOI held him responsible for the Mamasapano bloodbath for authorizing Oplan Exodus, and it drove Magalong to clarify that the BOI did not fault Mr. Aquino for breaking the PNP chain of command. Magalong explained that the BOI conclusion was purely “factual” as it stated that the President merely “exercised his prerogative” in dealing with Purisima, who was then serving a six-month suspension ordered by the Office of the Ombudsman.

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“We did not say that [the President] violated the chain of command. It was very factual when we said that the President exercised his prerogative and that we have established a chain of command which was bypassed… Our conclusions were just statements of facts,” Magalong pointed out, adding: “We did not mention any liability of the President because he just exercised his prerogative.”

So much for the hairsplitting over the chain of command and accountability of the President for the massacre. It’s time to ask: What’s the whole point in this semantical exercise that has turned into a whitewash of the President’s role in the decision to go ahead with Oplan Exodus?

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In one of its findings, which has aroused public curiosity, the BOI dragged into the picture—made confusing by various explanations—the innocuous role of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, whose department has jurisdiction over the PNP.

Our attention was caught by the finding that the since resigned PNP chief, Purisima, instructed then SAF commander Getulio Napeñas not to inform Roxas and the PNP OIC, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, about Oplan Exodus. It was an instruction that, according to the BOI report, “violated the PNP chain of command” because it was issued by Purisima despite his suspension by the Ombudsman, which removed him from the top authority in the PNP.

The President allowed Purisima’s participation in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus despite the suspension order. This break in the PNP chain of command betrayed the deep mistrust among administration officials in managing critical security issues such as the smoldering Moro insurgency led by the MILF. Why is Roxas being left out in the planning and execution of decisions on the most critical security issue confronting Mr. Aquino’s administration since his election to the presidency in 2010?

Is Roxas still part of this administration? Keeping him in the dark on critical issues undermines his authority in using the resources and power of his office in managing the challenge presented by the MILF and its equally unruly guerrilla cohorts.

The apparent withdrawal of trust by the Aquino administration from its key allies in the Cabinet has frayed the political coalition that underpins the Liberal Party’s control of Congress. It must not be forgotten that the LP does not owe loyalty to Mr. Aquino. It was not organized by him as a political vehicle for his administration. It was founded by President Manuel Roxas, the first president of the Philippine Republic, in 1946, in the great split of the Nacionalista Party.

In marginalizing Mar Roxas, Mr. Aquino is laying the ground for the destruction of the LP. Worse, he is also humiliating Roxas, and this is causing disgruntlement among loyal LP members and also pushing Roxas to the brink of resigning from the Cabinet. Roxas may not be the most charismatic member of the LP and is not among the leading contenders for the presidency in the opinion surveys, but he does not deserve to be downgraded by his supposed ally in the administration. He does not need Mr. Aquino’s sponsorship to be a credible contender in the 2016 election. Mr. Aquino is his worst liability in the 2016 race.

The President has so far been withholding his endorsement of Roxas as the LP’s official candidate in 2016. He has to guard against pushing Roxas to the wall.

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Roxas’ breakaway could damage the chances of Mr. Aquino putting in office a successor administration that would perpetuate the legacy of his own. Roxas’ resignation could trigger a mass Cabinet withdrawal that would cripple Mr. Aquino’s administration before he steps down.

In January 2001, following the abortion of the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada on corruption charges, Roxas was one of the senior Cabinet members (he was trade secretary) who resigned from the Cabinet. The others were Economic Planning Secretary Philip Medalla,

Finance Secretary Jose Pardo, and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno. Their resignation triggered a mass exit from the Cabinet that led to the collapse of the Estrada administration, which was dealt the final death blow by People Power 2.

Roxas can trigger an avalanche of mass exits by declaring his irrevocable resignation.

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TAGS: Bengino Aquino III, Benjamin Magalong, board of inquiry, Mamasapano, Mar Roxas, Philippine National Police, resignation
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