MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III said he only consulted his good friend and former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima on “jargon” on the Mamasapano operation, but latest testimonies from the Senate hearing directly contradicted his statements.
On Monday, February 23, Purisima himself admitted to senators – who are probing an operation against top terrorists that led to the death of 44 elite cops – that it was him who informed the President of what was happening on the ground. This was despite his suspension by the Ombudsman at the time over graft charges.
In a series of text messages between Purisima and Aquino, which was presented to the Senate, it became clear that Purisima was the link between the President and the Special Action Force (SAF) command in the early hours of the clash on January 25.
At 5:45 am on the day of the clash, Purisima texted Aquino: “Sir, good morning. For info, SAF elements implemented Oplan against high value targets. As of now, results indicate that Marwan was killed and one SAF trooper wounded. The body of Marwan was left behind but pictures were taken. The troopers are not in withdrawal phase and progress report to follow.”
What followed were text messages between the two throughout the day, including detailed updates on the operation – a conversation that continued until 6:20 pm.
The revelation is in direct contradiction with what the President said in front of the nation during his first televised national address after the incident.
Asked what Purisima’s role in the operation was, Aquino said Purisima was no longer involved after his supension, and was just there to explain details to him.
“If at all, baka ‘yung jargon tinutulungan ako ni General Purisima to understand it. But he was involved ‘yung up to the point in time, directly, that he was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman. Tapos after that, if at all, ‘yung siya ang very knowledgeable about the whole thing; ipinapaliwanag sa akin ‘yung intricacies of what the plan being presented to me was,” he said.
(If at all, maybe just jargon – General Purisima was helping me to understand it. But he was involved up to the point in time, directly, that he was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman. Then after that, if at all, he was very knowledgeable about the whole thing; he was explaining the intricacies of what the plan being presented to me was.)
The text messages showed, however, that Purisima was more involved than the President originally admitted. Aside from the messages, sacked SAF Director Getulio Napeñas also admitted in the same hearing that he was taking direct orders from Purisima.
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, whose mandate includes overseeing the PNP, and PNP Officer-in-Charge Leonardo Espina were kept out of the loop during the operation.
In the wee hours of January 25, some 392 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos entered Mamasapano town, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to serve arrest warrants to top terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman.
The operation resulted in a bloody clash between SAF troopers and rebel forces that claimed at least 65 lives, including 44 SAF troopers. The MILF blames this on the SAF team’s failure to coordinate with them, as provided in its agreement with the government on operations in known MILF territories.
A Senate investigation is ongoing to determine who was responsible for the operation, and what went wrong.
Asked about the contradiction, Malacañang said Aquino was only referring to his meeting with Purisima about the operation, on January 9, when he said he was talking to the police chief about jargon. Pushed further as to why it was Purisima and not Napeñas informing the President during the operation, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said it was best to ask Napeñas.
“That’s a good question to ask the Senate. You should ask Napeñas, why was he informing Purisima, right? That’s a question, I think, that has been asked time and time again in the Senate. So that should be answered by Napeñas,” he said.
Earlier, Malacañang defended the President, saying Aquino has been nothing but truthful in all his statements following the incident.
“In every chance, the President has expressed his sentiments and what he knows in a way that is in accordance with the principle of truth and the principle of good governance on the straight and narrow path. The President has not deviated from these principles,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said last week.
This is not the first time contradictions surfaced between statements made by the President and those said in a Senate hearing.
Last week, when asked who informed the President of what was happening in Mamasapano and when, the members of the Cabinet security cluster and other top security officials – including Roxas, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang Jr, and Espina – were silent. They also said it was not discussed as a group until 5pm.
But Aquino himself told SAF commandos days after the incident that he knew of what was happening early in the morning – which was proven true by Purisima.
Based on Purisima’s testimony Monday, it was clear that the President and his senior commanders already knew what was happening in Mamasapano when they landed in Zamboanga City around 10 am on January 25.
Asked about this contradiction last week, Malacañang denied the Cabinet was covering up for the President. It also asked the public not to make conclusions based only on testimonies.
“There is no cover-up. It is important for the truth to come out,” Coloma said on February 13.
He added: “We are not contradicting any statements that have been said or have been witnessed or heard by the public. All we’re saying is forming conclusions based on testimonies – and that’s all we’re suggesting – is that perhaps it’s not the right time to make those conclusions.” – Rappler.com