Below is President Benigno Aquino III's address to the nation televised from Malacañang on Friday, February 6. Almost two weeks after 44 Special Action Force commandos were killed in Moro Islamic Liberation Front territory in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25, the President promised to pursue the terrorist who escaped the operation, Basit Usman. He also vowed to continue working toward peace and put in place reforms in the Philippine National Police. He confirmed that he had accepted the resignation of his close friend, suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima.
The path to peace is not easy to tread. Many Filipinos have given their lives in the fight against those who wish for continued violence and discord. It is our policemen and soldiers who are the most opposed to war, precisely because they are the first in line, and because they make the greatest sacrifice when fighting breaks out. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I am fully responsible for any result—any triumph, any suffering, and any tragedy – that may result from our desire for lasting peace and security.
On January 24, our Special Action Force conducted an operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Their targets were two notorious terrorists: Primarily, Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias Abu Marwan, a Malaysian, and Basit Usman. The operation against Marwan was successful.
In exchange for this triumph, we paid a heavy price. 44 heroes from the Special Action Force gave their lives. To the bereaved families: Last Friday, I made a request to meet you, and I am thankful that you agreed to have that meeting at a time when I could speak with you, with sufficient knowledge on what had happened, and concrete proposals for your futures. Just as I was responsible for your loved ones, so too am I responsible for you; it is my duty to ensure that the sacrifices made by your relatives are repaid. My promise to you remains unchanged: During my remaining 17 months in office, I am doing, and will continue to do, everything I can to guarantee your families’ well-being.
I am the father of this country and 44 of my children were killed. They can no longer be brought back. This tragedy happened during my term, and I will carry this to the end of my days. They were my responsibility, together with the rest of the forces of the SAF involved in this operation, as well as those who rescued them, and whose lives were likewise put in danger.
Terrorists such as Marwan and Usman murder innocent people without hesitation or remorse, which is why operations to neutralize them are inherently dangerous. Marwan was an international terrorist, who had been long sought not only by us, but also by other countries. We did not expect them to follow like obedient sheep when presented with an arrest warrant.
When it comes to the operations reported to us, we have always reviewed them to learn the lessons they may carry, especially when our troops are slain. This is why I continue to ask: Was there anything more that could have been done to avoid this tragedy?
Marwan and Usman have been wanted since 2002. There have been many operations conceptualized to neutralize them, even before I became president. This latest version of the plan has likewise been aborted many times. Like you, I want to know the whole truth behind this incident, and I have complete confidence that the truth will be uncovered through the comprehensive and unbiased investigation of the Board of Inquiry. We are awaiting its results. However, as President, it is part of my responsibilities to determine, at this very moment, the mistakes that were made in order to correct them. It is my responsibility to find justice at the soonest possible time.
It is precisely because of this that I undertook my own investigations and conducted my own interviews of those who participated in this operation. It has clearly emerged that: The situation our troops found on the ground was vastly different from what was expected under the plans.
The commander of the operation should have been aware of this, especially since he has long been assigned to Mindanao. Situational awareness is demanded of him. As commander, he had full knowledge of the entire plan, together with the dangers that came with it; he would be the first to know if the plan was being executed correctly. He should have known what was happening at every moment.
While studying what had transpired, precisely because the situation on the ground was so different from what had been envisioned in the plan, we saw that there were no fewer than three separate instances when the mission could have been aborted or postponed, or when the plan could have been dramatically changed. There was an even greater need for this, especially since he was well aware that no coordination had taken place regarding expected assistance, and since the Armed Forces could render little aid, if at all, because they were not given sufficient time to prepare.
How and why did it happen that there was no coordination? Why did the mission continue, when it had deviated so far from the original plan, and our troops were already in grave danger? These, and many others, are the questions that plague my mind. The former SAF Commander will have an opportunity to answer these, and explain himself, in the appropriate proceedings.
In all our efforts to capture Marwan and Usman, General Alan Purisima played a vital role. He contributed greatly to the long preparations and in the many operations in pursuit of the two terrorists. The public is likewise aware that Alan and I have known each other for a very long time. During the coup d’etat, or the attempted coup d’ etat in 1987, before we were ambushed, I was confident that our security personnel had sufficient skills to protect us. But because almost all my escorts fell during that ambush, my confidence was shaken. It was Alan Purisima who designed, executed, and trained us in a modified VIP protection course; this played a great role in restoring my confidence. From then, until today, Alan and I have gone through so much; he was with me in opposing powerful vested interests who were capable of threatening our lives. In the days when I was part of the opposition, even though it was detrimental to his career to be close to me, Alan did not leave my side.
For this reason, perhaps you will understand why I find it painful to see him leave the service under these circumstances. I have accepted, effective immediately, the resignation of General Purisima. I thank him for his many years of service prior to this tragedy.
I assure you: We are doing everything to uncover the truth. The report that will emerge from this investigation will provide invaluable lessons, to ensure such a tragedy will never happen again. There will be changes.
I fulfill, and I will continue to fulfill, my duties as President. The morale of our Special Action Force troops needs to be raised. Their status as a fully operational unit needs to be restored. As there are those who seek to drive a wedge between the AFP and PNP, we will make sure they do not succeed; we should not waste the good working relationship between the AFP and PNP, a relationship we have seen in rescue operations in the wake of calamities, or in other operations where they have worked together to respond to threats to our security, such as the Zamboanga siege. Let us remember, our work is not yet done: Usman is still at large.
To the members and leadership of the MILF: From the onset, I have considered you brothers on the path to peace. Until now, I am confident that you will help us in seeking justice; that those who have done wrong should be held to account, especially if it is confirmed that there were SAF troopers who werel executed despite being wounded and defenseless. Your efforts to limit the movement of the BIFF are a good first step.
Now about Usman, let me point out the following: If he remains within your territory, or is protected by one of your members, we expect you to surrender him to the authorities. If not, we expect you to do everything you can to help capture him. And if even this is not possible, do not interfere with our pursuit of Usman.
May this serve as a warning and a reminder: We will get Usman, whatever you decide, regardless of who provides a safe haven for him, regardless of where he may be hiding. Let no one doubt: We are partners in pursuing peace and justice. To those who have lost their way, who would still stand in our way, remember this: You are fighting the State, and we will run you over.
To the members of our uniformed services: We are with you. We will stand in front of you, beside you, and behind you, as needed; whatever is required of you, be assured that we are with you. I assure you: You are not alone.
Again, to the families of the fallen SAF members: No words can fully alleviate the pain of your loss. To each one of you, and to each person whose life was imperiled, I say to you today what the Filipino people said to us when we lost our parents: You are not alone.
To all those working with us towards peace: We are fully committed to continuing the fight. And I say to those opposed to our objective, especially those who resort to violence: Mark my words, you will feel the sharpened and strengthened might of a unified Filipino nation.
Let us all remain focused on our primary goal: a widespread and lasting peace. This is what our Special Action Force fought for in Mamasapano. This is what every decent Filipino who wishes to leave behind a better future for coming generations continues to fight for. Through solidarity and partnership, we can attain justice, pay tribute to the sacrifices of our policemen, and turn our collective dreams into reality.
Thank you, and good day. – Rappler.com