‘Beware of politicos riding on Mamasapano clash’

MANILA, Philippines – Be wary of “agitators.”

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV warned against politicians, leftist groups, and “some elements of the Catholic Church,” which he said are organizing to take advantage of the public outcry stemming from the Mamasapano clash.

A former coup plotter, Trillanes said that there are “movements” to ride on the public’s grievances against President Benigno Aquino III’s handling of the incident, and to sow “social upheaval.”

Asked if he was referring to the political opposition headed by Vice President Jejomar Binay, Trillanes responded, “I don’t see the administration involved.”

In a press briefing on Thursday, February 5, the senator strongly reacted to some bishops and militant lawmakers’ calls for Aquino to resign in the wake of the deadly encounter. The fierce Binay critic said the scenario of the Vice President taking over is unacceptable.

Parang naghanap tayo ng batong ipupukpok sa ulo natin (It’s like we looked for a rock to hit our head with). We don’t want that. I don’t want that, personally,” he quipped.

The January 25 clash that led to the death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, at least 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, and at least 7 civilians, sparked public outcry, and threatens to derail the peace process between the government and the former rebel group.

It also triggered questions on Aquino’s role in the operation to arrest international terrorists after he admitted he knew of the plan beforehand.

While he has not heard of coup plots, Trillanes said politicians and even some members of the media are “operating” to use the incident for their own agenda. The senator is among those leading the probe into corruption allegations against Binay.

“Why will you remove the President? When all is said and done, the fact is there are people who are riding on this. Perhaps they want the divert the issue, take advantage of the situation to be in power immediately. We must be discerning.”

The former Navy lieutenant senior grade criticized communist groups who condemned the killing.

“Saan ka makakita pati grupo ng komunista nananawagan ng hustisya, eh kung ambushin nila ang SAF, ganun din lang? (Where can you find communist groups calling for justice, when in fact they also ambush the SAF that easily?)"

Binay’s camp dismissed allegations it was fanning anti-Aquino sentiment.

“The Vice President would rather concentrate on finding the truth behind the Mamasapano incident. Let’s just talk about that because injecting politics and the personal agenda of Senator Trillanes when we need to unite behind truth and justice is a great disservice to the fallen 44,” Binay’s spokesman Joey Salgado told Rappler.

A 2016 presidential aspirant, Binay has been vocal about the clash. He rejected proposals for Aquino to appoint members of a fact-finding commission, and urged the President’s friend, suspended police chief Alan Purisima, to speak up on the operation he allegedly ordered.

SAF, AFP watching Aquino moves

Despite attempts to politicize the issue, Trillanes acknowledged that there are “valid” grievances, especially from SAF. He said the group’s morale is low.

Trillanes added that the SAF and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are closely watching Aquino’s moves.

“Malacañang should ensure there is no whitewash. What the SAF demands here is justice, particularly how the President treats the MILF and other perpetrators of this act. If they feel he is ‘babying’ the MILF, the SAF and AFP will not take this lightly,” he said.

Eight bodies are investigating the clash to determine what exactly happened in Mamasapano. Aquino said he will await the results of the police Board of Inquiry (BOI) before passing judgment on the MILF, but vowed to go after Filipino terrorist Abdul Basit Usman, who escaped.

Opposition Senator Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito agreed. He is one of two senators who withdrew co-authorship of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which aims to create an expanded autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao.

“The President should address how to pacify the outrage because we have yet to hear him condemn the massacre. There is no condemnation, likewise the pursuit of justice must be his focus,” Ejercito told Rappler.

Trillanes said another issue that the government must address is the blame-game between the police and the military. The police questioned why the military did not reinforce the troopers but the AFP said the lack of coordination limited its response.

“From the SAF perspective, their troops were asking for help, how come it took 8 hours? They said some of their troopers were still alive by noon. That the help did not come immediately is hard to swallow. But on a strategic level, you can see why it happened,” Trillanes said.

Binay probe still on

Trillanes admitted that the controversy over the clash overshadowed the Senate probeo on Binay but he said this was natural because the country was “in mourning.”

Still, he said the Senate will push through with the now 5-month long investigation, the longest in the history of the Senate blue ribbon committee.

The target is to complete the probe by March, focusing on the alleged anomalous deal between the Boy Scouts of the Philippines and Alphaland to benefit Binay’s 2010 campaign, as well as other corruption allegations in Makati.

“It’s up to the people. We showed what needs to be shown. It’s up to you if that’s the kind of President you want.” – Rappler.com