Palace evades questions on Mamasapano hearing

Natashya Gutierrez

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Palace evades questions on Mamasapano hearing
'It may be inappropriate to give comments at this time because the testimonies given by individual resource persons need to be understood in proper context,' Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma says

MANILA, Philippines – In Malacañang, there have been no press briefings since the hearing on “Oplan Exodus” started, an operation that resulted in the death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos.

The Palace holds daily press briefings to address media questions, but Tuesday, February 10, marked the second day Malacañang failed to host one – coinciding with the second day of the Senate hearing on Mamasapano. This has raised a number of questions on the President’s decisions regarding the operation.

In a statement released also on Tuesday, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said it was not the right time to address such questions.

“It may be inappropriate to give comments at this time because the testimonies given by individual resource persons need to be understood in proper context. This is possible only after reading the complete transcript of the proceedings,” he said.

“It is also important to await the findings of the PNP-Board of Inquiry and other fact-finding bodies which are conducting similar inquiries,” he added, referring to the probe initiated by the Philippine National Police (PNP) on the incident.

While Coloma encouraged reporters to send questions via email, his responses did little to address them, with other questions being acknowledged but evaded.

Asked several times by various reporters why President Benigno Aquino III’s close friend and then-suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima was involved in the planning of the operation, Coloma only quoted Aquino. Aquino accepted Purisima’s resignation on Friday, February 6, almost two weeks since the deadly January 25 incident.

“On the involvement of General Purisima, the President had said in his 28 January 2015 open forum with the members of the media: ‘He was Chief PNP and he was the one reporting to me starting from roughly around May of last year [2014]. And on this (Mamasapano operation), I was talking directly to the SAF director, and… if at all, maybe with jargon, General Purisima was helping me to understand it,” Coloma said.

By quoting Aquino, Coloma did not acknowledge developments in the hearing, including former SAF Chief Getulio Napeñas’ testimony that Purisima was the “focal person” in the operations, since he was “constantly being asked by the President on the mission” – even when he was suspended.

Coloma did, however, say it was normal for Aquino to welcome guests to Bahay Pangarap, “where he also receives visitors and conducts meetings,” and where Napeñas said a meeting on Mamasapano took place.

He did not answer other questions like who else was present in that meeting or how many meetings on the operation the President engaged in.

On January 28, Aquino too avoided questions from media after his first national address following the incident. When asked by journalists several times to give a categorical yes or no on whether he gave the go-signal for the January 25 operations, Aquino evaded the question.

‘No law violated’

On January 25, some 392 SAF commandos entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to serve arrest warrants to top terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan,” and Abdul Basit Usman.

The operation resulted in a bloody clash between the MILF and SAF troopers leading to the death of a total of at least 68 people, including 44 SAF troopers.

The MILF blames this on the failure of the PNP-SAF team to coordinate with them, as provided for in its agreement with the government on operations in known MILF territories.

Asked if Aquino violated any laws when he consulted with Purisima on the operation, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda quoted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.  (READ: Aquino and the #SAF44 families)

“None, no law prohibits the President from exercising his discretion to get the views of a suspended official on a particular matter if this would raise the confidence level of the President’s executive decision-making, so long as the act does not involve the performance of official functions pertaining to the post from which the official concerned was suspended from,” he said.

Purisima has denied leading the operation.

When other controversial issues were raised – like whether Napeñas was taking the fall for the President, or why PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina was not the one consulted for the operation – Coloma again said it was not the right time to respond.

“The goal of the ongoing probe is to know the complete story or the whole truth on what happened in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. It is best that we wait for the report that will come out on the result of the investigation.” –

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.