MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – It was the report that first spelled out the mistakes he allegedly committed, the same report that sparked debate and saw his Cabinet defending him over his role with respect to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
But on Tuesday, March 17, President Benigno Aquino III himself met with Police Director Benjamin Magalong who headed the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI), an independent fact-finding police body formed to probe the controversial police operation that claimed the lives of 67, including 44 elite cops in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The BOI report, released on March 12, said that Aquino bypassed the PNP chain of command by going straight to sacked police Special Action Force chief Police Director Getulio Napeñas and “allowed” his friend, suspended and now-resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima to participate in Oplan Exodus despite the suspension order of the Ombudsman.
In a chance interview with reporters on Wednesday, March 18, Magalong described the Tuesday night meeting with Aquino as “professional” and “straightforward” though the President was admittedly “hurt” by the findings of the report.
“Visibly nasaktan siya. Nasaktan siya sa naging report, makikita naman ‘yun (He was visibly hurt. The report hurt him and we saw that),” Magalong said.
He said, however, that the President remained “very calm” throughout the discussion, which he described as “cordial and orderly.”
“It was a straightfoward discussion, very systematic, very educated,” Magalong added.
Magalong said the “no-holds-barred” conversation clarified parts of the BOI report.
Also in the meeting were Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas III, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, PNP Officer-in-Charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, and BOI member Chief Superintendent John Sosito.
In an interview with Rappler, Magalong said Aquino even showed him his mobile phone, apparently to show his side of the story.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said that Aquino met with the police officials “to thank them for their efforts and to give them the opportunity to clarify any matters.”
It’s a meeting that Magalong had long wanted to happen. In a previous interview with reporters, Magalong said the BOI had tried to secure an interview with the President through Roxas and Espina.
On Wednesday, Magalong said Roxas admitted he forgot to relay the BOI’s request to the President.
Magalong said, however, that even if the BOI had met with the President prior to the completion of the report, there would be no significant changes in their findings.
The President had repeatedly said in public that he ought not to be faulted for what happened in Mamasapano, putting the blame squarely on Napeñas. (READ: Napeñas ‘tricked me,’ says Aquino)
In a press conference on Friday, March 13, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said Aquino “has no liability” for the Mamasapano operation. Other Cabinet officials have criticized the BOI for its “wrong presumptions” on the President’s role relative to the PNP and for making “potentially hastily-made conclusions and opinions.”
Both De Lima and Presidential spokesman Secretary Edwin Lacierda made the statements against the BOI and Magalong.
“Very factual ‘yung aming sinabi. In the first place very clear ang sinabi na sinabi namin na, ‘the President exercised his prerogative,’ klarong-klaro yun. At we have established Chain of Command kaya lang na by-pass yun ang nasa conclusion naman namin. Hindi naman namin binanggit doon na he validated it,” Magalong told reporters.
(What we said was factual. In the first place, we clearly said that the President exercised his prerogative, that’s very clear. And we established the Chain of Command that was bypassed and that’s in our conclusions. We did not say that the President validated it.)
Aquino’s involvement in the operation has sparked calls for his impeachment and have prompted at least one political ally – resigned Akbayan Representative Walden Bello – to withdraw support from the administration.
The bloody clash in Mamasapano itself has repercussions beyond the sleepy town. It has endangered the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the product of a long negotiation between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which lost 18 of its members in the clash.
It was also caused tensions to rise between the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, over the latter’s supposed failure to send in reinforcements when the SAF troopers were in trouble.
So far, only two comprehensive investigations into the incident have been released to the public: the BOI report and the Senate draft report. (READ: FULL TEXT: Senate report on Mamasapano – Rappler.com