Aquino urged: Explain ‘ill-defined chain of command’

Ayee Macaraig
Aquino urged: Explain ‘ill-defined chain of command’
Two senators say President Benigno Aquino III has the responsibility to explain to the public why he 'created his own chain of command' in the police force, which led to the Mamasapano tragedy

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate already finished its hearings on the Mamasapano clash, but senators say one question remains: why did President Benigno Aquino III violate the chain of command in the police force?

Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Grace Poe urged Aquino to explain why he “created his own chain of command” in the police force by talking to his close friend, then suspended police chief Alan Purisima, and Special Action Force (SAF) commander Getulio Napeñas while keeping the acting police chief in the dark. 

Marcos said that violating the chain of command was the “root cause” of the lack of coordination between the police and the military, blamed as a factor in the death of 44 elite cops in the January 25 encounter with Moro rebels.  

“We don’t know if he made a mistake or not. We want to know what he did and why he did this,” Marcos said on Monday, March 2. “Why did he institute, create this informal, ill-defined chain of command that caused all the problems?” 

Marcos said it is not enough for Aquino to explain to lawmakers, as he did last week, by meeting with some members of the House of Representatives. Aquino met with the legislators, and said that Purisima disobeyed his order to loop in Philippine National Police (PNP) Officer in Charge Leonardo Espina in the mission to arrest top terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. 

“The people are waiting for an answer. Why did he do that? For all we know, he may have a very, very good reason. But we have to know what that reason is so we can understand what happened,” Marcos added. 

Marcos is the chairperson of the Senate local government committee hearing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), whose passage is under question after the clash. The bill aims to create an expanded region in Muslim Mindanao with more power and resources, as part of a peace process aimed at ending 4 decades of conflict and poverty. 

The senator said he will only resume hearings once he gets the reports of the parallel bodies investigating the incident. 

Poe, the head of the Senate investigation into the clash, said her public order committee will also benefit from an explanation from Aquino. 

“We always ask for an explanation from the President, especially when there is conflict. I think that is part of the responsibility of a president to clarify issues,” Poe said in a separate interview. 

Poe and Marcos said Aquino can give his explanation through another public address. The President already delivered two primetime speeches on the encounter. 

“I think it will not hurt if our countrymen know what his thoughts are on this issue,” Poe said. 

The Mamasapano clash is the biggest security crisis to hit Aquino’s administration. Besides the SAF troopers, 18 MILF members and at least 3 civilians died in the clash. 

Aquino tried to appease public outrage over the incident through several speeches and by meeting with relatives of the slain policemen. Yet critics said he should resign over the costly mission, his perceived lack of empathy in skipping the arrival honors for the remains of the slain policemen, and for supposedly allowing Purisima to direct the operation even while suspended over corruption charges. 

‘Explain before apologizing’ 

The statements of Marcos and Poe are just the latest from senators urging Aquino to address lingering questions about his role in Mamasapano. 

Last week, Aquino ally Senator Francis Escudero said it was wrong for Aquino to allow Purisima to play a role in the mission but this does not constitute a crime. Over the weekend, Senator Sergio Osmeña III said Aquino must apologize for bypassing Espina and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II. 

To Poe, Aquino should first clarify what exactly he did, and did not do. 

“We should first hear the point of the President before asking for his apology. But to say that he should [say sorry], only he can voluntarily do that,” Poe said. 

Marcos said what emerged from 5 public hearings and 5 closed-door meetings of the Senate was that the “chain of command” in Mamasapano was from Aquino to Purisima to Napeñas. 

Asked if Aquino preferred to talk to Purisima because he was a trusted friend, the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos said this is not how the chain of command works. 

“That’s why there was chaos. The person was suspended so the people under him did not know their role because they were not operating under normal procedures,” Marcos said. 

No chain of command in police? 

Malacañang and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima repeatedly said that Aquino did not violate the chain of command because there is no such concept in the PNP. 

“The chain of command in the strictest sense is a military construct. The PNP as a civilian agency is part of executive branch. It doesn’t apply,” De Lima said in a hearing last week.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III though said that the principle of command responsibility applies in the PNP, citing a Ramos administration-era executive order. (READ: EO refutes Malacañang: Command responsibility applies to PNP

Quoting the order, Guingona said: ““Any government official or supervisor, or officer of the Philippine National Police or that of any other law enforcement agency shall be held accountable for ‘Neglect of Duty’ under the doctrine of ‘command responsibility’ if he has knowledge that a crime or offense shall be committed, is being committed, or has been committed by his subordinates, or by others within his area of responsibility and, despite such knowledge, he did not take preventive or corrective action either before, during, or immediately after its commission.” – 

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