Who 'stopped' cops from joining SAF 44 march?

MANILA, Philippines – Mere advice and not an order.

Taking a page out of resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima's handbook, an official from the Philippine National Police Academy Alumni Association (PNPAAAI) Camp Crame chapter explained a text message discouraging its members from joining a Sunday, March 8 “Sympathy March” for the “SAF 44” was only advice to his fellow policemen and women still in active service.

This was according to PNPAAI president retired Chief Superintendent Tomas Rentoy III during a press conference on Sunday.

“When I confronted [PNPAAAI Crame chapter president] Senior Superintendent Jerome Baxinela about this message, he told me that it wasn’t an order but mere advice. It’s up to the members to abide to (sic) this advice,” Rentoy told reporters after a mass held for the slain members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) in Claret School, Quezon City.

Rentoy was referring to a text message from Baxinela sent to PNPA alumni and reporters on Friday, March 6. In the text message, Baxinela urged the police academy's graduates to “desist from joining the said march” and to “uphold public interests over and above all other interests.”

On Sunday, PNPAAAI members joined the widows and family members of the “SAF 44,” the elite cops who died during a January 25 police operation in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao. (READ: SAF 44 widow: Why is justice so hard to get?)

The SAF troopers were able to kill one of their two targets, bomb maker and terrorist Zulifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, but lost 44 of their comrades. Another 21 people also died during the operation, 3 of them civilians and 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters.

‘He chickened out’

Rentoy had strong words for his fellow PNPA alumnus, who “chickened out” of the event, which Baxinela also “conceptualized.”

“[The PNPAAAI board of trustees] will definitely be speaking about this infraction because some of our underclassmen are saddened by this turn of events because it causes divisiveness within our ranks,” added the retired police general.

Father Robert Reyes, who joined the PNPA and family members of the SAF 44 during the march, earlier hinted that government had pressured active PNP officers to nix the march, lest their positions be in danger.

Was it worth it, especially for Baxinela?

“It depends on your values system. If being a general is more important to him, it’s up to him,” said Rentoy, who added the PNPAAAI might consider “ostracizing” the police colonel.

The PNPAAAI head also said their permits for the Sunday event were revoked one-by-one: from the Quezon City government, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, and Camp Crame officials.

"We don't know why [the permits were revoked]," said Rentoy. 

The group was supposed to assemble at the Camp Crame grandstand but PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina supposedly cancelled the permit because “it was supposedly not a command acitivity,” said Rentoy.

The PNPA graduate refused to speculate on Espina’s reasons but said the PNP OIC had “intimated to us that he would be joining this activity.”

In a text message to Rappler, Espina denied having intentions of joining the “Sympathy March.”

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo, Jr. earlier denied pressuring any active PNP officer from joining the Sunday march. The Palace denied the same in a separate news briefing.

No politics here

During the same press conference, Rentoy said the PNPAAAI will be investigating Baxinela’s actions and the circumstances surrounding the sudden withdrawal of support of other PNPA alumni. In other areas in the Philippines, he said, PNPA graduates opted instead to hold masses for the SAF 44.

“We have shown to authorities that the march remained peaceful and nobody was able to exploit it despite their apprehensions that politics would be involved,” said Rentoy.

As marchers passed by East Avenue, leftist groups gathered outside the Philippine Heart Center, brandishing banners calling for President Benigno Aquino III’s ouster. The activist groups, however, did not join the march itself.

The PNPAAAI had earlier released guidelines for those who wanted to join the march, among them the restriction against “anti-government” posters or streamers.

The Mamasapano incident is one of the bloodiest in PNP and SAF history and is the biggest crisis to hit the Aquino administration. Various groups have called on the President to resign in the wake of the bloody clash.

The PNP’s Board of Inquiry, a group formed to probe the incident, is set to submit its findings to Espina on Monday, March 9. – Rappler.com