‘The President has taken responsibility for Mamasapano’ – Palace
MANILA, Philippines – Reacting to the lowest approval and trust ratings of President Benigno Aquino III since his presidency, due to the controversial Mamasapano operation, Malacañang reiterated that the Chief Executive had already taken responsibility for the incident that killed 67 people, including 44 elite cops.
On Tuesday, March 17 – the day survey results showed that Aquino’s approval ratings dropped by 21 percentage points, and his trust ratings by 20 percentage points – Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr defended the President.
“These ratings reflect public sentiment arising from the PNP-SAF’s operations to capture international terror suspects in Mamasapano, Maguindanao,” Coloma said.
“From the outset, the President has acknowledged his personal responsibility as when he declared on February 6 in a televised nationwide message, and I quote: ‘I am the father of this country and 44 of my children were killed. They can no longer be brought back. This tragedy happened during my term and I will carry this to the end of my days. They were my responsibility together with the rest of the forces of the SAF involved in this operation as well as those who rescued them and whose lives were likewise put in danger.’”
Aquino, however, has yet to apologize for the incident, or for including his close friend and then-suspended police chief Alan Purisima as part of the operation.
On March 9, Aquino also refused to take responsibility. In a speech before religious leaders, he blamed sacked Special Action Forces (SAF) commander Getulio Napeñas for the botched operation. (READ: FULL TEXT: 'Binola ako' ni Napeñas – Aquino)
“The point is he will be one of those held liable. Of course there are those objecting to this. They say he was ordered, or that I’m saving myself – no way. If I was at fault, why would I not take full responsibility?” the President said.
Despite these statements, Malacañang emphasized Aquino had taken responsibility and had been truthful.
“In all the statement made by the President there has only been one principle: this must be truthful. So all the statements made by the President and the administration will continue to be truthful," Coloma said.
He added: “The President has repeatedly said that all successes and all failures of his administration land on his doorstep. He believes that in time the truth will set us all free. We are determined to work even harder to continually earn our people’s trust and confidence.”
The Palace's statements come the same day a Senate report on the incident was released, saying Aquino was "ultimately responsible" for the Mamasapano fiasco.
Coloma said it could not react to the Senate report until reading it fully, but said the administration and the President would continue to explain its side of the story to remove all doubts and suspicions of the public, and in an attempt to regain the trust of the people.
Since the incident, however, there have been contradictions in the statements made by the President, among them on Purisima's role. (READ: Aquino's contradictions on Mamasapano)
Asked on January 28 about Purisima's role in the operation, Aquino said he was no longer involved after his suspension in early December, and was just there to explain details to him, "if at all, maybe just jargon."
The Board of Inquiry (BOI) report probing the incident, however, made it clear that the President’s explanation of Purisima’s role was innacurate.
"Even if PDG Purisima was suspended, his actions indicate that he was asserting and exercising command responsibility in relation to Oplan Exodus,” it said.
Aquino himself later admitted on March 9, that "it was through him (Purisima) that I had been communicating since the beginning, the messages of the SAF director. I was not talking to the SAF director directly, since the beginning.”
Peace process continues
Asked what he thought Aquino could have done better to avoid the huge drop in ratings, Coloma said there was no use in focusing on the past, instead saying it was best to look toward the future.
He also said the President would continue “listening to the people to understand the sentiment of his bosses” and pushing for the peace process that had been put in jeopardy after the operation. (READ: Aquino's words vs BOI: Contradictions on Mamasapano)
“He also remains firmly committed to rendering justice as well as pursuing the peace process. In the remaining 15 months, the President and the Cabinet will intensify the implementation of development programs and the strengthening of institutional reforms toward achieving sustainable and inclusive growth and fulfilling our people’s aspirations,” Coloma said.
He showed slides comparing the trust and approval ratings of former presidents Joseph Ejercito Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with that of Aquino. He pointed out that “the difference is clear in that the performance ratings of the President are higher to a significant degree.”
“This is only the first time that it has dropped below majority or less than 50% the performance and trust ratings of the President,” he added.
On January 25, some 392 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos entered Mamasapano town, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to arrest 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 67 lives, including 44 SAF troopers. The MILF blamed this on the SAF team's failure to coordinate with them, as provided in its ceasefire agreement with the government on operations in known MILF territories.
The incident occurred less than a year after the MILF signed a landmark peace deal with the Philippine government, and as lawmakers deliberate on the proposed BBL which seeks to create an autonomous region initially headed by the MILF. Several lawmakers are now lukewarm to the idea of passing the law.
Since the incident, various sectors, including some Catholic leaders, have called for the resignation of Aquino. They were frustrated by his handling of the incident and amid confusion of his role during the operation. – Rappler.com