Aquino defends Purisima as Mamasapano 'resource person'

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Benigno Aquino III defended the presence of his friend, former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima, in briefings leading up to the now-controversial Oplan Exodus on January 25, 2015.

His presence wasn't wrong, said the former president, because Purisima, who was suspended from his post then, was there merely as a "resource person." Aquino said it was a "practical" decision to bring Purisima in since he had knowledge of previous efforts against Zulkifli bin Hir or "Marwan," the target of the operation.

"Was he performing the role of the chief, PNP? Was he ordering anybody? Did I tell anybody to follow him?" said Aquino in a press conference on Friday, November 10, held right after he posted bail for graft and usurpation of authority charges filed against him over the botched police operation.

More than 70 Filipinos, 44 of them elite cops, died as a result of the operation, which triggered a firefight against local armed groups in the area. The PNP SAF's own estimate in 2015 pegged the number of armed forces at over 3,200. The PNP SAF, meanwhile, deployed over 400 troopers as main and support operators for the mission.

Two SAF companies – 69 troopers all in all – were the main and support efforts for the operation. They were pinned down in two barangays in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, at the height of the firefight.

Aquino is being charged for allowing Purisima to commit graft and usurpation of authority when he participated in the operation. Purisima then was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman as it investigated a corruption charge against him. Purisima was eventually sacked from the PNP over the same corruption case.

Aquino said aside from Purisima's "stock knowledge" of the situation, he had another advantage: he was Balik-Islam, or a Christian who converted to Islam. Purisima’s faith, said Aquino, meant that he understood the cultural intricacies of the area.

The two go a long way. Purisima was a member of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) when Aquino’s mother, the late president Cory Aquino, was president. He was tasked to guard the young Aquino.

Aside from the high death toll, Oplan Exodus is controversial because police commanders had apparently left many key officials – from the PNP officer-in-charge, Cabinet secretaries, and military commanders – out of the loop.

In its aftermath, support for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law eroded. –