When a president dodges responsibility

Dencio Acop

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When a president dodges responsibility
A retired member of the Special Action Force writes: 'Gallant as we are, suicide missions are not in our vocabulary. The SAF went in assured that PNoy and his government had their backs.'

For good or bad, Mamasapano has certainly gripped the national consciousness. There may be larger interests at play. As the current dispensation likes to put it, these can be categorized under national interest, particularly national security.

But whether the US and Malaysia are somehow involved they’re naturally out to advance their own national interests. We would like to believe that, in this case, our own government led by our President likewise looks after Philippine national interests.

On January 25, 2015, at least 77 SAF commandos marched into the valley of death somewhere in Maguindanao, a beautiful province if not for its recent history that’s drenched in blood. The operation was successful in the sense that notorious international terrorist Marwan – a high value target – was killed by the raiding SAF while his cohort Abdul Basit Usman was shot and wounded but managed to escaped.

Operational problems only came about when the raiding team was attacked by the MILF/BIFF/private armies on their way out. As a result, 44 SAF commandos (not counting 20 other non-SAF) were butchered by the enemy. 

I think it would have been alright if President Noynoy Aquino simply and courageously owned up to the partly successful and partly failed operation. After all, he is the commander-in-chief and the buck stops with him. However meticulously planned and executed, operations can go wrong. There is nothing wrong in admitting failure even if you’re a president. 

But everything seems wrong when a president dodges responsibility and accountability for an operation which took the lives of Filipinos (including 44 well-trained commandos), an operation that he knew first-hand and approved. 

The nation is going through and enduring so much unnecessary pain because of this.

There are all these investigative bodies masochistically reliving one trauma after another but whose gradually revealing conclusions are to muddle the truth. Subordinates, who cannot possibly approve high-risk endeavors above their pay grade, are being made to be fall guys. Public servants are made to look and sound like fools defending an indefensible position and looking stupid before the eyes of the world. The public proceedings are revealing way too much even for audiences without the need-to-know.

All these to protect one man and his ego!

If the Nobel Peace Prize (which he cannot win, anyway, as he is going against a heavyweight like Pope Francis) was all-consuming for Noynoy, he should have delayed “Oplan Exodus” until after the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

There is no way the President can have both the BBL and HVTs (high value targets) simultaneously! The two are simply mutually exclusive! Ultimately, the President’s greed caused him both.  

The SAF are not stupid. No operator goes in knowing no one has his back. Gallant as we are, suicide missions are not in our vocabulary. The SAF went in assured that PNoy and his government had their backs. 

Where’s the reinforcement?

Ask any seasoned warrior from the field and he will tell you that in the profession of arms we automatically reinforce any beleaguered friendly force nearby without questions and excuses if we were still true to our profession. It is both a written and unwritten code.

This moral sense of duty derives from the ever-present possibility of one being in that same hour of need when his time came. 

Some say the SAF should have relied upon its own men. The rest of the 392 SAF troopers could not reinforce the 55th without the AFP’s heavier hardware.

Close air support could have pinpointed friendly and enemy dispositions and dispersed the enemy to relieve pressure off the 55th. Indirect artillery fire could have also dispersed the enemy allowing the 55th to maneuver out of the kill zone. Following the long distance bombardments, armor assets could have led the light infantry SAF so they could penetrate the lethal zones and unfamiliar terrain from entrenched and massed enemy positions.     

Police generals Alan Purisima and Getulio Napeñas could not order the AFP around at that hour of need in the morning of the 25th when the President knew. Only Noynoy as commander-in-chief could. 

Some say SAF’s plan and execution were poor. If these were true, why then did the commander-in-chief approve?

The generals (yes, those among us whose bread and butter is war) quibbled that reinforcement would have led to war! To this we say we are already at war! The moment the MILF/BIFF/private goons were butchering 64 Filipinos!

We all want peace. But not the BBL. Any prospects of peace must be seen in the light of developing global threats today. And certainly not just to satisfy one man’s ego, or interests other than Filipino!

Truth is we have a commander-in-chief who abandoned his men to die in the field of battle that day. Adding insult to injury is the fact that we have a bureaucracy that lies to its own people to protect a flawed leader and escape their collective accountability.

We talk of peace. But only justice can lead to peace. We talk of embracing all. But we must begin within our own family. 

I end by quoting MacArthur: “On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” – Rappler.com     

Now retired, the author is a former member of the elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police.


Related views on Mamasapano:

Should peace be contingent on the BBL?

Who informs us about Mindanao?

Mamasapano: What I wish Aquino said as president

Mamasapano: Who do we condemn?

Slain SAF: Beware when Cordillerans don’t weep

Mamasapano probe: Time is running out

Enough of this total war!

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