MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Breaking his self-imposed one-year rule before speaking out, former president Benigno Aquino III responded to the tirades of President Rodrigo Duterte over the botched Mamasapano operation. (READ: Inside Mamasapano: When the bullets ran out)
“Nangako po akong manahimik ng isang taon. Pero nitong Martes, nagsalita si Pangulong Duterte. Sa pakiwari ko: Tama lang po na tumugon ako,” Aquino said in a statement on Thursday, January 26.
(I promised to keep quiet for a year. But on Tuesday, President Duterte spoke about this. In my opinion, it is just right to respond to his statements.)
Aquino said the ill-fated operation that killed elite police members from the Special Acton Forces (SAF) was not his fault, as he insisted former SAF director Getulio Napeñas lied to him and failed to follow his orders. (READ: Two years after Mamasapano: What has happened to the case?)
“Sa pagtatapos, kung may kasalanan po ako bilang Pangulo nung panahong iyon, ito po: ni minsan, hindi pumasok sa isip kong magagawa ni Napeñas na magsinungaling sa Pangulo ng Pilipinas,” Aquino said.
(In the end, if there is one fault I had as President at that time, it is this: not once did it enter my mind that Napeñas would lie to the President of the Philipppines.)
“Pinagkatiwalaan ko ang isang two-star police officer, na ako pa mismo ang nagpromote. Naniwala akong itong graduate ng PMA [Philippine Military Academy] ay tatalima sa values ng paaralan na ‘Courage, Integrity, Loyalty,’” he added.
(I trusted a two-star police officer whom I personally promoted. I believed that this PMA graduate will follow the school’s values of Courage, Integrity, Loyalty.)
This was contrary to the findings of the Philippine National Police-Board of Inquiry and a Senate investigation, which both said Aquino was responsible for the operation. (READ: President Aquino and the ghosts of Mamasapano)
The BOI said Aquino “bypassed the chain of command” when he allowed the participation of then suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus. (READ: Complaint on Mamasapano vs Aquino not forgotten – Morales)
Aquino answered point by point the accusations of Duterte. He recounted his orders to Napeñas to ensure the support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines before the operation, which the latter did not follow, the President alleged. (READ: Aquino: Napeñas ‘tricked me’ on Mamasapano)
Aquino also stood by his earlier claims that Napeñas lied to him when he said that there would be 160 seaborne operatives to combat at least 3,000 armed opponents. Post-operation investigation, however, showed there were only 54 operators out of the 70 members who joined the police operation.
“Alam na po natin ang nangyari: Ang atas para mag-coordinate na dapat “days before”, naging “time after target,” gaya ng sinabi na rin ng Senate Committee Report. Dahil walang coordination, ang AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines], nagkandarapa, dahil yung mga detalyeng dapat alam nila, gaya ng sino ang tutulungan at saan, saka pa lang nila inaalam,” Aquino said.
(We know what happened: the order to coordinate which was supposedly ‘days before,’ became ‘time after target,’ like what the Senate Committee Report said. BEcause there was no coordination, the AFP scrambled, because the details they should have known, like who to help and where, they knew of only later on.)
“Hindi ko maiwasang isipin: Kung sinunod lang ang lohikal at legal kong utos, hindi mangyayari ang trahedya sa Mamasapano,” he added.
(I can’t help but think: If my logical and legal orders were followed, the tragedy in Mamasapano would not have happened.)
No US involvement
Amid Duterte’s accusation of US involvement, Aquino maintained he never talked to the United States before and during the operation.
He pointed out that the US has long been assisting the Philippines on the “equipment and hardware,” which are the sources of intelligence information.
“Bago pa man ang panahon ko, tumutulong na ang Estados Unidos sa ating mga operasyon. Ang sa akin, Pilipino ang mga kausap ko. Pilipino ang nagbibigay-ulat sa akin, at Pilipino ang nagsagawa ng misyon. Ultimong asset na nakalapit kina Marwan, asset ng ating gobyerno,” he said.
(Even before my time, the United States has been helping in our operations. On my end, I talked to Filipinos. Filipinos reported to me, and Filipinos undertook the mission. Even the asset that came close to Marwan was an asset of our government.)
The BOI report said there were no armed US troops in the area but there were 6 Americans at the tactical command post during the operation providing “real-time information.”
Responding to Duterte’s question on who got the $5 million-reward, Aquino said he does not know where it went: “Hindi po natin masabi, dahil hindi naman po natin reward ito. Sa totoo lang ho, hindi na rin tayo nakialam sa reward.” (We can’t tell, because it is not our reward. In fact, we did not even bother with the said reward.)
In his speech before the families of the 44 slain heroes, Duterte recalled his meeting with then-president Aquino in Zamboanga City on the day of the operation.
Then a mayor, Duterte said he had been invited by Aquino to a meeting at the Edwin Andrews Airbase, as he was incidentally in the city.
Duterte told the victims’ families that Aquino was going “back and forth” with “unexplainable” facial expressions.
Duterte said he was pissed by one of the reactions of Aquino in the command conference on the Mamasapano clash.
“Umupo ka tapos sinabi mo sa general, ‘Kung ikaw ang nandoon ano ba ang dapat gawin?’ You know Mr. President, I will not characterize your behavior, but you have noticed that I just stood and I said, ‘Mr. President, medyo hilong-hilo pa ako sa byahe, can I beg the indulgence to leave?’” Duterte said in a speech in Malacañang.
(You sat down and told a general, ‘If you were there what would you have done?’ You know Mr. President, I will not characterize your behavior, but you have noticed that I just stood and said, ‘Mr. President, I’m still dizzy from traveling, can I beg the indulgence to leave?’)
“Bakit? Patay na tapos may tanungin ka na isang general na anong dapat mong gawin kung nandoon ka? I’m really sorry to say, I’d be honest and you can criticize me for this — this is a democracy and you can also — I was really pissed off. Sinenyasan ko si Bong [Go] sabi ko umalis tayo dito.”
(Why? There were casualties already, then you would still ask a general what he would have done if he were there? I’m eally sorry to say, I’d be honest and you can criticize me for this — this is a democracy and you can also — I was really pissed off. I signaled Bong Go, told him, let’s leave.)
But Aquino denied this, explaining the context of his statement.
“Nung nasa Zamboanga kami, sinabihan akong pagabi na; mahihirapan nang mag-link up ang mga tropa; at bukas na lang itutuloy ang pagsaklolo sa kanila. Doon ako sumagot: “Kung ikaw ang nandoon, okay ba sa iyo yan? Buong araw na silang nakikipagbakbakan; malamang wala na silang bala. Gamitin ninyo lahat ng assets. Ituloy ito at i- rescue sila. Ang minimum na ireport ninyo sa akin, na-resupply sila. Inatasan ko ang mga opisyal ng AFP at PNP na gawin ang lahat para sa objective nilang mailigtas ang SAF,” Aquino said.
(When we were in Zamboanga, I was told around early evening: it would be hard to link up with the troops and we’ll resume the rescue operations in the morning. I then answered ‘If you were there, would it be okay for you? They have been fighting the whole day; by this time they would have spent all their bullets. Use all assets. Continue and rescue them. The minimum that you should report to me is that they have been resupplied. I told AFP and PNP officials to do everything to save the SAF.)
He also dismissed Duterte’s criticism questioning him for entering into an operation “which really placed in jeopardy the lives because at the end of the day, [Aquino] would have decided not to send [troops] anymore.”
“Mali po ang premise na papapasukin ko sila at bahala na sila sa buhay nila. May mga testigo, kung saan idiniin kong dapat makipag-coordinate ang PNP sa AFP, at ang koordinasyon, dapat ilang araw bago ipatupad ang operasyon,” Aquino said.
(It is a wrong premise that I’ll let them enter and leave them alone. There are witnesses who can tell I emphasized the coordination between the PNP and the AFP, and that the coordination shuld be done days before the operation.)
“Delikado sina Marwan at Usman—gumagawa sila ng mga IED na makakapinsala ng napakaraming Pilipino. Si Marwan mismo, sangkot sa Bali bombing nung 2002. Kung nangyari ang mga inutos ko na koordinasyon, kung naihanda sana ang lahat ng tulong na maaaring ibigay ng AFP para sa SAF, hindi dapat malalagay sa peligro ang buhay ng ating mga pulis,” Aquino added, referring to the 2 terrorists targetted by the operation. (READ: Final conclusion: SAF killed Marwan – Aquino)
(Marwan and Usman are dangerous – they were making IEDs that could kill many Filipinos. Marwan himself was involved in the 2002 Bali bombing. If my orders to coordinate, if they were able to prepare in advance AFP support for the SAF, the lives of our policemen would not have been put in danger.) – Rappler.com