We thought Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile had the goods on President Aquino. On Monday, he took to the Senate floor to make a declaration.
“I would like to make it on record that I have evidence: one, that the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, was actively and directly involved in the planning and preparations of Oplan Exodus; two, that on the day of the actual operations, he was monitoring the operations while he was on his plane going to Zamboanga City; and three, that while the operations were going on, and Special Action Force troopers were being slaughtered, he did not do anything at all to save them.”
On Wednesday, the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs resumed its inquiry into the Mamasapano tragedy which had claimed the lives of 44 SAF troopers, three civilians, and 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels. The resumption was upon the express request of Enrile, who missed last year’s hearings because he was in detention at a police hospital on plunder charges. The committee chair, Sen. Grace Poe, with the backing of committee members, gave Enrile ample time to present his evidence; hours after directing sometimes leading questions to various witnesses called to the Senate, Enrile ended up proving nothing much, and certainly nothing new.
He treated the SAF commander who planned Oplan Exodus (Getulio Napeñas) like a friendly witness, and threw questions at the former Philippine National Police chief (Alan Purisima) who was involved in the decision-making, and the retired and active military officers who had some knowledge of the unfolding nightmare in the cornfields of Mamasapano, Maguindanao (including former Armed Forces chief of staff Gregorio Catapang), as though they were hostile ones. He offered a framework specifying the eight responsibilities of the President, from asserting that Mr. Aquino “actively and directly participated” in the planning of the operation to accusing him of having deliberately “compartmented” the decision-making to charging that he did nothing to prevent the “slaughter” of the SAF troopers. He repeatedly sneered at Purisima’s attempts to elaborate on his answers and also repeatedly scolded the military representatives present for failing, in his view, to come immediately to the rescue of the SAF troopers.
But at the end of some seven hours of testimony, Poe closed the proceedings with the correct summary: After all the hue and cry, Enrile had offered nothing new.
The opposition senator, who has served in public office almost continuously since the 1960s, admitted as much. “There will be no changes in the findings. I just focused on the role, responsibility and accountability of the President in the debacle,” he said.
In truth, what Enrile did was to claim the SAF officers’ version of events as his own. We should have expected this; after all, he said he met some SAF survivors while he was in hospital detention. It was then that he resolved to move for a reopening of the Senate inquiry. What gave it all away was something truly telling: He gave short shrift to the military’s contrasting version—a remarkable attitude, given his long service at the Ministry, and then the Department, of National Defense.
The military had the least involvement in the Mamasapano tragedy, precisely because Napeñas and the SAF saw the Army as “compromised.” And when the time came for the SAF to seek support and reinforcements from the AFP, the requests were fragmentary and incomplete. It was only at the end of a very long day that the SAF command post in Maguindanao was able to provide the Army the information it needed to use its artillery.
And yet despite being kept in the dark, and despite the SAF’s maddening lack of professionalism (such as the use of a Google map instead of a tactical one), the Army was still able to send help. But instead of recognizing the AFP’s assistance, Enrile repeatedly took it to task.
He must have thought that 44 dead troopers constituted proof that the SAF version of events was correct. He was wrong. In the long Mindanao conflict, the AFP has shed more blood, made greater sacrifices, than even the PNP’s elite unit. But the number of dead, or even the manner of dying, had nothing to do with the truth. The truth was, the SAF planning for the Mamasapano operation was criminally inadequate. That Enrile had nothing to say about this lapse is proof—that he had been biased from the start.
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