Aquino told: Tell ‘accurate’ Mamasapano story

MANILA, Philippines – Is there a way President Benigno Aquino III can recover from the worst political crisis to hit his administration?

Former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz thinks so, if the Chief Executive would only reveal the “accurate facts” he knows about the anti-terror operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that led to the deaths of 65 persons, including 44 police commandos and at least 5 civilians. Official reports say only 3 civilians were killed.

The debacle now threatens to derail the peace agreement that the government signed after 17 years of negotiation with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). An MILF command is among those suspected to be responsible for the killing of the police commandos, although it also lost 18 fighters.

Cruz, who served the administration of President Gloria Arroyo, said Aquino should reveal what he really knew about the operation in the light of continuing debate on who was really responsible for the bloodiest security operation in the country’s recent history.

“I think, at the present circumstance, the  call is for him to reveal the accurate facts as they happened,” Cruz told Rappler this week during the launch of retired General Jose Almonte’s Endless Journey: A Memoir, where former senior government officials gathered.

“There is search for truth, search for justice, and search for accountability. If those things are addressed by government, I think the government will be able to get back to its agenda,” he said. (READ: Did the President lie? Text messages contradict Aquino)

‘Own up to it’

No less than former President Fidel Ramos made this call as well in his speech during the book launch.

Retired Marine Colonel Ariel Querubin, echoed the idea: “A commander is accountable for the actions – successes and failures – of his men. That is the essence of commandership. Huwag ka mag-blame. Akuin mo. Kung inako mo kasi at sinabi mo sana, ‘I take full responsibility. These people are accountable to me,’ tapos na.”

(Don’t pass the blame, own up to it. If you owned up to it early on and said, “I take full responsibility. These people are accountable to me,” then [this crisis] would not have worsened.)

Cruz said the Senate report on the incident will be helpful, if it will provide accurate facts and impose punishment on those who are accountable.

The mission that turned bloody in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January 25 was apparently reported directly to the President but kept a secret from the top echelon of the Philippine National Police and even the military.

During the February 23 Senate hearing on the Mamasapano clash, a series of text messages between resigned Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and President Aquino was revealed.

It became clear that Purisima was the link between the President and the Special Action Force (SAF) command in the early hours of the clash on January 25.

The details of the text messages directly contradicted what the President said in front of the nation during his first televised national address after the incident, where he said he only consulted Purisima over jargon and did so only up until the PNP chief was
suspended for graft charges in early December.

“All presidents make wrong decisions. I think he will recover,” said Cruz.

‘No chance’ of a coup happening

Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo believes Aquino can bounce back from the backlash of the tragedy in Maguindanao: “I think history will judge him better. What Aquino has shown is that integrity is an indispensable quality as president. If he doesn’t have integrity, you will not have this growth rate. Some say he is not competent, but, to me, we have to count our blessings.”

Former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr, one of Arroyo’s closest allies and staunchest defenders, said President Aquino “will get over this” crisis. “He has only less than one year and a half to go, he has to make up. His achievements have been sustained, but there are lapses and failures. By and large, he is above-ground, but he has to do more to become a really successful government before his term ends.”

Cruz belittled threats of a coup after the Mamasapano crisis. “I think there is no chance of that happening. On the whole, the government has popular support. I’m not worried at all,” he said.

Querubin, a coup plotter against past administrations, agreed. While disappointment with Aquino is widespread, he noted the absence of an acceptable alternative.

“’Yung military, nakita mo naman. ’Yung pulis, nakita mo kung paano nila protektahan ang presidente. Sino sasama diyan? Kung ako presidente, bakit ako matatakot kung ang mga general at top brasses ng police at AFP kakampi ko?” Querubin said.

(You’ve seen the military and the police, how they’ve been protecting the President. Who among them would join [a coup]? If I were the President, I wouldn’t be worried because the top brasses of the police and the AFP are on my side.) – with a report from Carmela Fonbuena/