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Why Mamasapano makes President Aquino impeachable

/ 12:03 AM April 23, 2015

The novelist George Orwell once wrote: To see what is in front of one’s nose requires a constant struggle. This aptly describes the reaction of the political allies of President Aquino to the Philippine National Police board of inquiry (BOI) report on the Mamasapano debacle.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, for example, says the report proves that President Aquino could not be held responsible for what happened at Mamasapano. He misses the forest for the trees.

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It may appear that the report does not impute any fault to the President, but it establishes beyond reasonable doubt the extent of his involvement in the operations. He gave the go-signal for the execution of the plan, established a chain of command that passed from the PNP chief to the ground commander, provided specific inputs such as increasing the number of operatives to be involved in the mission, and continued to receive updates from the PNP chief until the day of the operation.

Nothing wrong, it seems, at first blush. President Aquno, after all, is the president and commander in chief, and even if, as observed by the report, he did not follow the usual chain of command in the service, it was his prerogative to deal directly with any of his subordinates.

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The problem is, he dealt with the PNP chief who, at the time, was already suspended from office by a lawful order of the Ombudsman. As the report said, the PNP chief could not form part of the chain of command; he could not involve himself in the operation without violating the suspension order. Under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code—the performance of any act pertaining to a person in authority without being lawfully entitled to do so is a penal offense. Which brings us to the gaping question: What is the liability of a superior who allows this official to usurp authority?

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the President may have committed an impeachable offense. Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution considers betrayal of public trust as a ground for removal of a president. In his oath of office, the President has sworn to execute the laws of the republic, and the people trusted him to do so. Did he not violate that trust when he allowed a suspended PNP chief, contrary to law, to direct an official mission?

Fearing a possible backlash, Malacañang looked for a scapegoat. This may be the reason for its insistence that the President had specifically ordered the ground commander to coordinate with the PNP officer in charge, at the time the lawful head of the service. But this hardly explains why the President himself did not bring the OIC into the loop. The evidence gathered by the BOI shows that he continued dealing with the suspended chief even after allegedly ordering a coordination.

Two years ago, we impeached a chief justice for failing to include a few assets in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. Nothing more. Today, we see a chief executive consenting to a prohibited act that resulted in what some call an error of such enormity as to be unacceptable in any organized society.

—MARIO GUARIÑA III, former associate justice of the Court of Appeals, Parañaque City

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TAGS: BOI report, George Orwell, Mamasapano, President Aquino
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