On this day, we mark the transition of the 246 members of the PNPA “LAKANDULA” Class of 2015 towards becoming members of our uniformed services. Together with all your friends and families, your teachers, and the leadership of the PNP, BJMP, and BFP, I congratulate you.
The name you have chosen for yourself becomes even more meaningful, now that the 44 brave members of our Special Action Force have become part of our national consciousness. One cannot ask for a better example of “Members of the Filipino race prepared to offer their blood and strength to the country.” As you enter the next stage of serving the country, I am certain that their sacrifices are in your thoughts. As policemen, you will encounter situations wherein the lives of our countrymen, as well as your own and those of your comrades, will depend on your actions and your judgment. I am hopeful that you will use your training, and all that you have learned here in the PNPA, not simply to successfully fulfill your missions but also, and more importantly, to protect the safety of all.
I am certain that you have followed the news and the commentaries about Oplan Exodus. Some of these serve as inspiration to young policemen and policewomen like yourselves, and enhanced the image of our entire police force among the Filipino people. It is unfortunate, however, that some of these commentaries have also caused confusion, if not anger, among our countrymen.
At present, there are two reports from which one can derive information about what transpired in Mamasapano: The Board of Inquiry Report and the Senate Report that were completed after their investigations. Many of the questions in the minds of our countrymen can be answered by these reports. Both reports agree with our initial statements about certain details of the operation. In fact, the two reports reaffirm the position we had taken from the very beginning: The lack of coordination with the AFP was a major mistake. What saddens me is that at times, in lieu of asking me questions, those who prepared the reports chose to speculate instead. This leads us to ask: How can guesswork, instead of facts, help clarify this issue?
Excluding an instance where those concerned need further clarification from me, this is the last time I will speak on this issue. I hope you will allow me to share my own point of view to shed light on the context behind the decisions I made in relation to the incident in Mamasapano. It is your right to know the whole truth. After all, it is often said that, “the truth shall set us all free.” Perhaps the most important question I must answer is one that was asked me of a father of one of the fallen SAF Commandos. He asked: “Why did you allow my son to go there? Why did you let him die?”
I understand where such statements come from. I have repeatedly looked back on what I knew about what happened, and have thought about whether I had been lacking, and whether I could have done more. Let me emphasize: I would not have allowed those in our uniformed services to embark on a suicide mission. If an operation poses serious danger, I will always be the very first to call for its cancellation. However, the version of the plan presented to me convinced me that adequate preparations were made, and that it would be executed correctly. I also assumed that all my orders would be followed, especially since I was dealing with professionals regarding the matter.
My appeal is this: Try to put yourselves in my situation. If I had been honestly told on the morning of the incident: “Sir, we are at a disadvantage, we were unable to follow your order to coordinate with the AFP, which is why they are moving slowly. Can you please help us expedite their response?”—if I had known this immediately, do you think I would have missed the chance to help our men? But you know what happened. On the morning of January 25, there was no urgency in the text messages that were sent to me. From what was texted, it appeared to me as if the operation in Mamasapano had ended, or was coming to an end, because mechanized units and artillery were already providing assistance.
This is why I continued with my plans to go to Zamboanga City. Perhaps you will also allow me to explain what happened when I went there that day. Because of the initial attacks of the rouge MNLF, I instructed that Zamboanga City be considered a “hardened site.” What this means is that we strengthened our security policies, in order to thwart the evil plans of terrorists. When I arrived there, I was shown pictures of a car that was used for the bombing, together with the house from which the suspects came. There were surveillance operations even in the places in which the bomb was set off. Here, I asked: if these policies and operations were followed, why was the attack not prevented? Over the next days, it was explained to me that there were no overt acts—as our intelligence operatives call it—observed, acts which would have served as probable cause to accuse those inside the car. Apart from this, almost two years have passed since the Zamboanga siege, and yet, local issues hindered the full completion of what needed to be fixed. This was why I also wanted to take the opportunity to have a thorough discussion with Mayor Beng Climaco, in order to hasten the rehabilitation of affected communities.
As I was attending to these matters, again, I was thinking that the incident in Mamasapano had ended, or was coming to an end. Let me remind you: it was close to evening when I was advised of the true situation—not of the 55th but of our 84th Seaborne Company. I was told that linking up would be difficult, since it was getting dark and the danger of friendly fire was present and possible. I refused to agree that linking up could be completed the next day. I said: Aren’t those who are in a precarious position our brothers? I ordered them to craft plans so that they could link up at the soonest possible time, and save the 84th. The minimum I agreed to was to deliver aid, such as medicine and resupply ammunition, granted that linking up was impossible. With God as my witness, I tell you the truth. But I am aware there are those who are close-minded, who will not listen regardless of what I say.
Now, I could give a long explanation on the dangers presented by Marwan and Usman to our countrymen. I could also detail the problems and the errors in the operation. But now that I have shared all that I went through, and the information I held on that day, is there anyone who can say, in all honesty, that he can exceed everything we did in order to respond to the situation, given the information we held?
No words will suffice
I am aware of this: that no words will suffice to explain the deaths of our brave policemen. A report or a speech can never reflect the entirety of what is felt by a parent who lost a good child. All I can do, after saying all that must be said, and after doing all that must be done, is to ask for your deep understanding.
Regardless of my anger for the disregard for the orders I gave, regardless of my regret for trusting people who concealed the truth from me, I can never erase the fact: 44 members of our police force are dead. And this happened under my term. Let me stress it: I will bear this basic truth with me to my grave.
Today, I say this once more: As President, I am fully responsible for any result—any triumph, any suffering, and any tragedy—that may be borne of our desire for lasting security and peace. It deeply saddens me that there are families who are now without a husband, a father, a brother, a son, because of what happened in Mamasapano. I am saddened by the fact that, despite my effort to give the families space to grieve, as they were to meet their fallen loved ones for the first time, some people found fault in this by calling me cruel or without regard for such loss. My intention was to help them heal. I wanted to have clear answers should I be asked, “What happened? Why did they die? What will happen to us now?” If my response was “I do not know,” how could I help hasten the healing? I am also saddened that our peace process has been affected by the sentiments connected to the result of Oplan Exodus. To every Filipino who has felt failure or has been hurt because of the events related to this operation: It is with the abiding humility that I ask for your deepest understanding.
As President, I have to attend to so many matters, all at the same time, all requiring an immediate response and decision from me. I am responsible for the 100 million Filipinos here at home and abroad. Yes, I am the President, but I am also human. I cannot read the mind of every person in front of me, and I cannot personally monitor every situation. But as I have promised, I will continue to do what is right and just. I will continue to exert every effort to serve all of you and to faithfully fulfill my sworn mandate. I am not saying that I am like God, who knows everything, but I have a duty to right whatever wrong I discover. And I assure you: We respect due process. Those responsible will be held to account.
I fully understand why Filipinos expect so much from their leader. For a very long time, we were robbed of our hard-earned taxes. Our rights were set aside for many years. For the longest time, we were deprived of what we truly deserved.
When I ran for President, I made a promise: I will never steal. I invited you to tread the straight path with me, to reform the old system. And you gave me your full support. When I took my oath of office, I said: The wang-wang mindset cannot and will not prevail. We would work to end the kind of system where only a few benefit, while the majority of our countrymen suffer. Four years and nine months into our administration, you yourselves have seen the change. We have fixed the problems in our path. We have gone after the corrupt. We restored the trust of our people in their government. Once we were called “the Sick Man of Asia,” and today we are hailed as “Asia’s rising tiger.”
With the resurgence of our economy came the greater wherewithal for us to focus on addressing the concerns regarding the training and equipment of the PNP, BJMP, and BFP. Before, the old thinking as regards our police was, if you gave them guns, the NPA would be able to grab it from them. In 2007, news came out saying that, instead of providing our police with high-caliber guns and equipment, our policemen were given whistles and clubs, so that the NPA would not grab those from them. We get to ask: How would you be able to fight if you encounter someone with an M-16?
Shoot, scoot, communicate
As we tread the straight path, we are continuing to meet whatever gaps in your requirements that we may come across. Our goal: to enhance even further your abilities to effectively “shoot, scoot, and communicate.” In 2014, we were already able to address the backlog in pistols, when we procured 74,879 Glock 9mm pistols for your ranks. There are also the 12,399 handheld radios, and 144 patrol jeeps that we have turned over to the PNP from 2010 to 2014. Just this March, we also hired 4,859 non-uniformed personnel to focus on administrative work in your agency, to allow more policemen to patrol our communities. Also last year, we filled 9,860 PO1 positions. On top of that: this year, we allotted 1.64 billion pesos for an additional 10,000 PO1 positions. And for our Special Action Force: We are studying carefully the lessons learned from Mamasapano, in order to ensure, to the best of our abilities, minimal risk for an operation. We will continue to enhance your training and equipment needs, and we will give you the care and attention that you deserve as an elite unit of the PNP. Our challenge to the next chief of our national police force: Craft the plans that will lead to greater unity in the ranks of the police. Let us change the culture of factionalism within the PNP, where that guy is his guy, and that is his guy. We need solidarity among you, so that you may be effective protectors of our countrymen.
Indeed: So much has changed in the way that government has treated our police. Now, there is high morale, accompanied by an extensive list of achievements. Senior Inspector Charity Galvez is a good example of this; she led her comrades in repelling the attack of around 250 members of the NPA on their precinct in Agusan del Sur in 2011. Our policemen in Mati City, Davao Oriental, likewise succeeded in defending their precinct against an attack of some 80 rebels. There is the story of PO3 Edlyn Arbo, who, without any hesitation, pursued and caught a criminal who attempted to hold up the jeepney she was in, even if she was off-duty and did not have her firearm with her. And during the ravages of Typhoon Yolanda, Inspector Marjorie Manuta walked six kilometers in order to render assistance to our countrymen who were victims of the storm. Perhaps you will also remember the story of our four rookie policewomen, who courageously confronted the Martilyo Gang, in the Mall of Asia, in 2014.
In our fight against crime, the results of the PNP’s operations under the supervision of Secretary Mar Roxas of the DILG, NAPOLCOM, and the rest of the PNP leadership have likewise been impressive. From the moment I tasked him to focus on reducing crime in the National Capital Region, and after he initiated Operation Lambat-Sibat last year, the general criminality rate has gone down, from 918 per week from January to June 2014 to a weekly average of 471 these past four weeks. This means that, every week, we are able to ensure the security of an additional 447 of our countrymen. On top of this, this past week, we reduced the general criminality rate to 400. Since we have seen the effectiveness of this initiative, we are now undertaking Operation Lambat-Sibat in other regions too. It is clear: As the state cares for the police, all the more have they improved in caring for the citizenry.
The transformation taking place in the PNP is only part of the widespread change that is sweeping our society. Allow me to emphasize: I promised you change, and change is what we are reaping today. I have no plans of ceasing the pursuit of reform in my remaining year and three months in office. Through our sustained trust in each other, and through the cooperation of each decent Filipino, we will ensure that the old system—in which a few take advantage of an anomalous situation, while the majority suffer—will never return.
To our graduates: You are fortunate because the PNP you will enter is far more modern, and more complete in terms of equipment. The challenge facing you today: Follow, if not surpass, the good example of those that have come before you. For each criminal that you arrest, for each bribe that you reject, and for each instance you show courage in times of calamity, you are helping to ensure the increased safety of society. In this way, you will bring honor, not only to yourselves, but also to your loved ones, to the uniform you wear, and to our nation. With full pride, you will be able to say that you are indeed, “members of the Filipino race, ready to offer the nation your blood and strength.”
Thank you, and again, my congratulations to you. – Rappler.com
President Aquino delivered this speech on Thursday, March 26, at the PNPA in Silang, Cavite.