Philippine economy

Enrile: I’ll prove Aquino did nothing to save SAF

Bea Cupin
Enrile: I’ll prove Aquino did nothing to save SAF
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile singles out President Benigno Aquino III and what he apparently failed to do during the controversial police operation

MANILA, Philippines – It all boils down to the President.

A week before the Senate is set to re-open its probe into a controversial police operation, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile said he has “evidence” of President Benigno Aquino III’s involvement – or apparent lack thereof – in “Oplan Exodus,” from when it was planned to its actual implementation.

Speaking before the Senate plenary on Monday, January 16, Enrile said Aquino was “actively and directly” involved in the planning of the operation, was “monitoring the operation” real-time en route to Zamboanga, and “didn’t do anything” to save elite police troopers caught in fierce gun battles with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao.

“I’m going to prove this evidence in that hearing,” said Enrile, referring to the scheduled re-opening of the probe into the Mamasapano clash on January 27, two days after the one-year mark of the 2015 operation.

The Mamasapano clash, the bloodiest one-day operation in Philippine National Police (PNP) history and the biggest crisis to hit the Aquino administration, was triggered by a Special Action Force (SAF) operation targeting terrorists wanted by both the Philippines and the United States.

More than 60 Filipinos died in the clashes that following the operation, including at least 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and 3 civilians. The clash also prompted several lawmakers to change their position on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the result of peace negotiations between the Aquino government and the MILF.

When the clash happened in Mamasapano, Aquino and several key Cabinet if officials were in Zamboanga City to check on the security situation following a car bomb blast. Previous hearings had established that Aquino was already informed of the clashes in Mamasapano as early as 5:45 am, through a text message from then PNP chief Alan Purisima. 

Aquino’s involvement prior to the actual operation is pretty clear as well. Purisima and then SAF chief Getulio Napeñas briefed the President at his official residence, Bahay Pangarap. Text messages exchanged between Aquino and Purisima on January 25 itself showed the depth of Aquino’s knowledge of the operation. 

The Senate committee had wrapped up its probe mid-2015 but Enrile moved to re-open it, citing personal knowledge and “new evidence.” Enrile was detained at the PNP General Hospital for his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam when the Mamasapano probe began.

Several reports, including the Senate’s draft committee report, have either fully or partly pinned the blame on Aquino for the carnage in Mamasapano. The Senate sub committee said the President was “ultimately responsible” while the PNP’s Board of Inquiry pointed out that Aquino “bypassed” the PNP’s chain-of-command and failed to guide the SAF chief then of the mission’s implications on peace process in Muslim Mindanao.

But Aquino’s political allies and administration officials have sought to downplay the extent of the President’s involvement. The Ombudsman, in its motu propio probe, cleared the President of any criminal liability while charging more than 10 police officials for their actions connected to the operation.

Enrile, in media interviews, said he would be zooming in on Aquino’s involvement in the controversial operation, implying that the President lacked in his response to the crisis.

Critics, administration allies in particular, have cried foul over the re-opening of the probe, saying it’s politics – and much-needed media attention – that are motivating senators. (READ: Political foes ‘taking advantage’ of Mamasapano probe – Aquino)

Several members of the Senate are also candidates in the coming 2016 elections, including committee chairman Senator Grace Poe and her running mate Senator Francis Escudero. (READ: LP to 2016 bets: Hands off Mamasapano probe)

At least 4 other senators are also seeking the vice presidency: Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes IV, Gregorio Honasan, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The chief of the SAF during the operation, retired police director Getulio Napeñas, is running for a senate seat under the party of opposition standard-bearer Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II, who was kept in the dark until after the body count rose, is the standard-bearer of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) of which Aquino is chairman.

But the senators involved in the hearing insist that the truth, and not politics, is their primary reason for wanting to re-open the investigation. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.