MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Sunday, March 22, downplayed criticism that they had “mishandled” the aftermath of a bungled police operation that claimed the lives of 67, including 5 civilians, 18 Muslim rebels, and 44 elite cops.
“Government has endeavored at all times to give all the necessary information in the spirit of openness and transparency and to promote accountability in public service,” Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said in an interview over government-run Radyo ng Bayan on Sunday.
Coloma was reacting to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s assertion that the President had mishandled the January 25 Mamasapano carnage “from the very start.”
Trillanes, going against the findings of both a Senate committee and a police board that probed the incident, said the President was not liable for the now-controversial police operation which has since put in danger the peace process between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
President Benigno Aquino III has been strongly criticized for his involvement in the operation and his perceived flippant attitude following the operation. Former political allies, long-time foes, and at least one former president have called on Aquino to take responsibility and apologize for the incident.
It was how Aquino acted and spoke after the bloody encounter that did him bad, said Trillanes.
“The President’s communication policy is clear: A well-informed citizenry will be sufficiently guided in decision-making and in determining the actions they wish to pursue,” said Coloma of the President and the Palace’s handling of the incident.
But the entire story of Mamasapano, or least from the President’s perspective, has yet to be fully made public.
Almost a week since the Senate committee probing the incident released its draft report, 2 weeks since the Philippine National Police (PNP) Board of Inquiry (BOI) released its report, and close to 3 months since the carnage in Mamasapano, Aquino is “still forming his own narrative and it is possible that in the right time – he has forthcoming public engagements after all – he can use these to give additional information,” Coloma had said in a press briefing earlier this week.
Both the BOI and the Senate committee’s draft report said Aquino “allowed” the participation of his close friend, PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, who was then serving a preventive suspension order over a graft case.
The Senate report said Aquino was “ultimately liable” for the deaths in Mamasapano and questioned whether the President had done enough to save the beleaguered SAF troopers.
Aquino has been inconsistent in speaking about his role and the circumstances surrounding the January 25 “Oplan Exodus,” which saw close to 400 PNP SAF troopers enter known Muslim rebel territory to neutralize two top terrorists.
The President, in particular, started out rather vague on the involvement of Purisima. (READ: Aquino's contradictions on Mamasapano)
Aquino’s side of the story is also not part of the 2 reports on the Mamasapano incident for different reasons. The Senate passed on requesting the President to testify, citing respect for co-equal branches of the government.
The PNP BOI’s request, meanwhile, was apparently overlooked since Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II had forgotten to relay their request to the President.
On March 20, the President allowed the release of the transcript of text messages exchanged between himself and Purisima on January 25. The approval came almost 2 weeks after the Senate made its request.
Coloma acknowledged the many voices that are opposed to or angry over Aquino’s statements. “Nauunawaan din namin ang mabigat na emosyon na bahagi ng pagdadalamhati ng mga naulila at ang pakikiisa sa kanila ng sambayanan (We also understand the sorrow of those whose loved ones died and the sympathy shown to them by the rest of the country),” said Coloma.
The President, said Coloma, continues to listen to those voices – from those who want him to explain further or those who want an apology.
“Patuloy pong nakikinig ang ating Pangulo sa saloobin ng mga mamamayan at gagawin po ng ating Pangulo ang sa kanyang pagtuturing ay pinakamainam na desisyon na naaayon sa pambansang interes,” said Coloma, this time reacting to suggestions that an apology from Aquino would do him good. (READ: No apology from Aquino on Mamasapano for now)
(The President continues to listen to the public’s sentiments and he will do what he thinks is right in line with national interest)