Cardinal Vidal: Aquino accountable for Mamasapano

CEBU CITY, Philippines – Groups asking President Benigno Aquino III to step down from power met with Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal Friday, February 13, in his home in Banilad but have yet to convince the Church leader to support their bid.

Vidal would not directly support calls for Aquino's resignation but believed that Aquino, as commander-in-chief, should be held accountable for the Mamasapano operation that led to at least 65 deaths, 44 from the ranks of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP SAF).

“If we understand what is a commander-in-chief – if we understand that in the chain of command, siyempre pananagutan niya 'yan (of course he'll have to answer for that),” Vidal said. 

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, who was also in the meeting, did not directly support Aquino's ouster as well. Both Church officials simply called for prayers to seek the truth and recognize that there are several groups asking for the President to resign.

Hold Aquino accountable

A mass was first celebrated inside the Cardinal’s home which was officiated by Palma, for the 44 SAF troopers who were killed in the January 25 operation in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

In an interview, Palma said there are groups calling for Aquino's resignation, but added that the Church has not taken a position on the issue yet.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in a statement on February 4 that it "cannot morally join" calls for the President's ouster while details of the deadly clash remain unclear. 

"Before we have all the facts, however, the CBCP cannot morally join in the calls for his resignation, leaving this decision to his humble and prayerful discernment of his capacity to lead and the support he has not only from officials of government but from members of Philippine society," CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in the February 4 statement.

Palma said his personal view is that that he wants the truth on what happened in the SAF operation, and he  supports the proposed creation of a “truth” body. 

Vidal read a written statement prepared by the National Transformation Council but not in its entirety. The original statement was strongly worded, calling for Aquino to step down from the presidency, but the Cardinal omitted some portions of the statement when he read it aloud.  

Omitted statement

The omitted sentences are the following: “With courage, we confront the seat of power and privilege. No doubt, the call on Mr Aquino to step down is profoundly a moral issue that can no longer be ignored.”

Instead, the Cardinal said: “We appeal to our fellow bishops and religious leaders of faith-based communities to join us in prayer to God. To ask for his guidance for the renewal of this nation that is deeply rooted with faith values for love of country, respect for human life and environment.” 

Vidal's version hewed closely to the February 4 CBCP statement.

Present during the gathering of NTC members were former senator Francisco Tatad, former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, and former Interior Undersecretary Lito Ruiz. Gonzales and Ruiz both served the Arroyo administration. 

Church officials supporting Aquino's resignation were also in the meeting –  Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa in Batangas, Bishop Ramon Villena of Bayombong Nueva Vizcaya, Bishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, Bishop Filomeno Bactol of Naval, and Archbishop Romulo Delacruz of Zamboanga City.

After reading the NTC statement, Vidal remained neutral despite being surrounded by personalities calling for Aquino to step down.

Pressed by Rappler if he shared the same sentiment of the group, Vidal replied, “I have already retired.”

“Well, I am very sad in the first place as what has happened in Mindanao and hopefully it will not trigger further chaos,” he explained. “It could spread out, you know since everybody is very sad about the incident.” –