BOI head: Did I clear the President in Mamasapano?

Bea Cupin
BOI head: Did I clear the President in Mamasapano?
'Let's just stick to facts. Let's not spin words,' says Police Director Benjamin Magalong, head of the BOI, on reports that the board cleared the President of liability in the Mamasapano clash

MANILA, Philippines – Is a father liable for the order he gives to his son?

Police Director Benjamin Magalong, who headed an independent body formed to probe a botched police operation that claimed the lives of 67 people, turned emotional on Thursday, March 19, as he reacted to reports that claimed he had “cleared” President Benigno Aquino III of liability following a meeting at Malacañang Palace.

In an ambush interview with reporters, Magalong said he and the Board of Inquiry (BOI) stand by their findings on the Mamasapano incident, particularly regarding the President’s involvement, contrary to news reports.

Nakakalungkot na dahil lang sa isang interview, parang lumabas tuloy na lumambot ako, nag retract ako. Parang lumalabas na binenta ko na ang aming prinsipyo,” said an emotional Magalong.

(It saddens me because it makes it seem as though with just one interview, I gave in, I retracted our report. It makes it seem as though I’ve sacrificed my principles.)

Magalong said the “malicious and unfair” reports hurt him and other people involved in the BOI’s investigation.

“Let’s just state the facts. Let’s not spin words. I know that there are already people who are doing their best to discredit us, discredit the report. We are here to seek out the truth. I think we’ve sought out the truth,” he said.

According to Magalong, he had only clarified speculation that the President was “liable” for “bypassing” the PNP’s chain of command. It’s not a question of what’s in the law, he said. It’s a question of what is right.

The police general, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1982, turned to his experience in the military academy to better illustrate the President’s involvement:

Merong isang retired na officer. Meron siyang anak na PMA na plebo. Anong regulations sa PMA? Diba dapat kung may nakita kang upper class cadet magsasaludo ka? Ngayon, binisita yung anak niya, retired siya. Habang naglalakad siya, sasaludo siya sa upperclassmen.

Ang sinabi niya sa anak niya: huwag kang sumaludo, kasama mo ako. Hindi sumaludo yung bata sa upperclass. Ang tanong ko ngayon: liable ba ang tatay sa hindi pag saludo ng anak?

Yung tatay hindi covered the regulation ng academy. Pero yung anak covered the regulation sa academy. Hindi siya liable yung liable doon ang bata. That alone violated the regulation.

Ang tanong ko sa inyo ngayon: tama ba ang ginawa ng tatay na sabihin niya doon sa anak niya na huwag kang sumaludo. Based on standards, established standards and ethics, tama ba ang ginagawa ng ama na sabihan ang anak huwag kang sumaludo?

(You have a retired officer. He has a son in the PMA, a plebe, a first year cadet. What are the rules in the PMA? You have to salute when an upperclass cadet passes by. Now, the retired officer visits his child. While they’re walking, the young cadet is expected to salute the upperclass.

But the retired officer tells his child: don’t salute because you’re with me. The young cadet doesn’t salute his upperclass. My question now is: is the father liable because his child did not salute his upperclass?

The father is not covered by the regulations of the academy but the child is. The father is not liable but the child is – he violated the regulations.

My question now: was the father right in telling his child not to salute? Based on standards, established standards and ethics, was the father right in telling his child not to salute?)

Hurt president

In an interview on Wednesday, March 18, Magalong revealed he had met with the President and several Cabinet officials on Tuesday to clarify certain parts of the BOI report.

According to the BOI, the President:

  • “Gave the go-signal and allowed” the operation after it was presented to him by now-sacked PNP Special Action Force chief Police Director Getulio Napeñas; 
  • “Allowed the participation” of his friend, suspended and now-resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima in the operation; and 
  • “Bypassed the established PNP Chain of Command” when he dealt with Napeñas instead of PNP office-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina

The police general said the President was “hurt” by the BOI’s report but emphasized their meeting or even an earlier interview with the President would not have changed any of their findings.

“It’s not in my character to change the report. We will not sacrifice our principles no matter what pressures we encounter. We will not change the results of the BOI report,” he said.

The Senate committee’s draft report, released days after the BOI released its own, tagged the President as “ultimately liable” for the carnage in Mamasapano. In contrast, the BOI report leaves it up to other government agencies to determine liabilities and the corresponding administrative, criminal and civil charges for the key personalities in the operation.

Going back to the now-controversial BOI report, Magalong added: “The President is not part of the chain of command in the PNP. It’s very clear that the chain of command starts with the chief of the PNP. What’s his liability? Nothing.”

He added: “We just stated a fact: the President exercised his prerogative but in the process, he bypassed the chain of command. Based on established standards, is that right? You be the judge.”

In his first address following the bloody clash in Mamasapano, Aquino said Purisima served as his consultant to better understand the mission. It was later revealed that Purisima was in fact a “key personality” in the lead up to and during the operation, sitting in briefings and sending updates to the President on the day of the operation itself. 

Careers on the line

Referring to their findings, the police general added: “Does that clear the President of Mamasapano? Yung findings namin, nagbago ba (Did our findings change)? I don’t think so.”

The BOI spent the last 6 weeks investigating the circumstances of the botched police operation. Composed of 3 police generals, 3 police colonels, and several other police officers, the BOI’s investigation has taken them from the cornfields of Mamasapano to the cold confines of the Senate session hall.

At least 67 Filipinos, including 5 civilians, 18 Muslim rebels and 44 elite policemen died during the operation which targetted bomb makers and terrorists Zulfli bin Hir, alias “Marwan” and Abdul Basit Usman.

Marwan was killed but Usman escaped. After killing Marwan, SAF troopers found themselves in an encounter with fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and private armed groups.

To Magalong, the investigation is ultimately for the 44 police officers and personnel who died during what the BOI described as a “defective” operation plan.

“We have set aside our personal ambitions because we need to be objective. We owe the public, we owe the SAF 44, we owe the families and we need to make sure justice is given to their family members who died,” said Magalong, a former SAF battalion commander himself. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.