MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – He chose to share his side of the story at the graduation rites of the country’s newest batch of police officers, the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) Lakandula Class of 2015.
Two months after the Mamasapano incident where 44 elite cops were among those killed including PNPA graduates – the biggest crisis of his administration, so far – President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday, March 26, asked the people for “understanding,” and reiterated that he feels responsible for the deaths.
“I am aware of this: that no words will suffice to explain the deaths of our brave policemen. A report or a speech can never reflect the entirety of what is felt by a parent who lost a good child,” he said. (READ: Full text of Aquino’s speech)
“All I can do, after saying all that must be said, and after doing all that must be done, is to ask for your deep understanding.”
He added, “Regardless of my anger for the disregard for the orders I gave, regardless of my regret for trusting people who concealed the truth from me, I can never erase the fact: 44 members of our police force are dead. And this happened under my term. Let me stress it: I will bear this basic truth with me to my grave.”
Aquino said it would be the last time he would speak on the incident, but he did not go deep into detail. This time, he did not put any blame on anyone in particular, but mentioned that his orders were not followed and that those he trusted let him down.
“Perhaps the most important question I must answer is one that was asked me of a father of one of the fallen SAF Commandos. He asked: ‘Why did you allow my son to go there? Why did you let him die?‘” Aquino said.
“Let me emphasize: I would not have allowed those in our uniformed services to embark on a suicide mission. If an operation poses serious danger, I will always be the very first to call for its cancellation.”
He explained, “However, the version of the plan presented to me convinced me that adequate preparations were made, and that it would be executed correctly. I also assumed that all my orders would be followed, especially since I was dealing with professionals regarding the matter.”
I am telling the truth
Aquino also asked that people put themselves in his shoes.
“My appeal is this: Try to put yourselves in my situation. If I had been honestly told on the morning of the incident: ‘Sir, we are at a disadvantage, we were unable to follow your order to coordinate with the AFP, which is why they are moving slowly. Can you please help us expedite their response?’—if I had known this immediately, do you think I would have missed the chance to help our men?,” he said,
He continued, “ But you know what happened. On the morning of January 25, there was no urgency in the text messages that were sent to me. From what was texted, it appeared to me as if the operation in Mamasapano had ended, or was coming to an end, because mechanized units and artillery were already providing assistance.”
The President also took the opportunity to explain why he did not attend the arrival ceremonies of the cops when their corpses arrived in Manila, a decision Filipinos disagreed with. (READ: Aquino skips welcome honors for slain cops)
“My intention was to help them heal. I wanted to have clear answers should I be asked, ‘What happened? Why did they die? What will happen to us now?'” he said. “If my response was ‘I do not know,’ how could I help hasten the healing?”
Aquino then again vowed he was telling the truth about the operation before again “humbly” asking for understanding.
“With God as my witness, I tell you the truth. But I am aware there are those who are close-minded, who will not listen regardless of what I say,” he said.
He added, “As President, I have to attend to so many matters, all at the same time, all requiring an immediate response and decision from me. I am responsible for the 100 million Filipinos here at home and abroad. Yes, I am the President, but I am also human. I cannot read the mind of every person in front of me, and I cannot personally monitor every situation. But as I have promised, I will continue to do what is right and just. I will continue to exert every effort to serve all of you and to faithfully fulfill my sworn mandate.”
Justice for SAF 44
He reiterated his pledge to seek justice for the fallen cops.
“I am not saying that I am like God, who knows everything, but I have a duty to right whatever wrong I discover. And I assure you: We respect due process. Those responsible will be held to account,” he said.
Aquino’s speech comes days after a nationwide poll showed that 8 in 10 Filipinos or 79% believe his explanation on the Mamasapano incident is “insufficient.” It also comes as various sectors continued to be frustrated with Aquino over his perceived poor handling of the incident and confusion regarding his actual role in the operation. (READ: Aquino biggest loser in Mamasapano debacle)
It’s the worst crisis for his administration.
Aquino had already offered some explanation on what happened – first in a national address following the January 25 incident on January 28, his speech at the National Day of Mourning on January 30, his second national address on February 6, and his statement at a gathering of religious leaders on March 9.
In those statements, Aquino continuously pinned the blame on former Special Action Force (SAF) chief Getulio Napeñas. While Aquino has “taken responsibility,” for the the incident, he has said that he would not take all the blame since he was fooled by Napeñas. Aquino has not apologized for the incident.
In his speech, Aquino again expressed his disappointment in not being summoned by the Senate or the Board of Inquiry (BOI), and not being able to air his side to the investigating bodies, both of which released their respective reports on the incident. (READ: FULL TEXT: Senate report on Mamasapano and FULL TEXT: PNP report on Mamasapano)
“What saddens me is that at times, in lieu of asking me questions, those who prepared the reports chose to speculate instead. This leads us to ask: How can guesswork, instead of facts, help clarify this issue?,” he said, hitting both bodies for their “speculations.”
The Senate report found Aquino to be “ultimately responsible” for the botched operation while the BOI report said that the President had committed “lapses” as he had allegedly broken the chain of command when he tapped a suspended police officer – Director General Alan Purisima – for the Mamasapano operation.
In his speech, Aquino also sought to remind the public of the gains of his administration, including his anti-corruption campaign and improved benefits for policemen, which have been overshadowed by the Mamasapano incident as shown by his lowest-ever public approval and trust ratings since he became president. – Rappler.com