Mamasapano: What I wish Aquino said as president

I stand before you to take full responsibility for the botched operation that killed one of America’s most wanted, but which slaughtered 44 Filipino cops, 18 Moro rebels, and 3 civilians.

I take full responsibility for blowing to smithereens a peace process that was built by well-meaning sectors with their sweat and tears. The success of the last phase of our peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – which includes the approval of a law by partisans gunning for re-election in 2016 and a plebiscite in key areas in Mindanao dominated by warlords – hinges on the political capital that I have earned through the years.

That capital is almost lost, and I’d be delusional if I assured you now that the process would move as fast as I wanted it to be. 

I stand before you to tell you this: I blew it.

An attack in an area that has huge implications for the peace process could only have been done with my blessings. A secret police operation in a town under the area of responsibility of the Philippine military, which has a ceasefire agreement with the MILF, could not have been implemented without my approval.

I take full responsibility for allowing my friend and shooting buddy, General Alan Purisima, to run this operation through the Special Action Force (SAF) to which, incidentally, he belongs.

I take full responsibility for keeping Alan in power even if he had already been suspended; for hoping to find basis to reinstate him despite allegations he’s corrupt; and for believing that the PNP could survive the guerrilla war between him and my other good friend, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.

On the Roxas-Purisima war, I should have known that something’s got to give. Well, something did on January 25. 

Lessons learned

Perhaps I have given my friends too much leeway.

Back in 2011, a special operations in Basilan targeted an enclave of Moro rebels in the remote town of Al-Barka. The Army’s elite Special Forces (SF) did so without coordinating with the Western Mindanao Command based in nearby Zamboanga City, which has jurisdiction of all military forces in that area.

The result? At least 19 of our finest soldiers, many of whom were mere trainees plucked from the predictable terrains of Luzon, were killed. A court martial followed, which eventually punished ground commanders and demoted them.

What could have emboldened the SF to make that suicidal attack and bypass the chain of command? What the court martial failed to uncover is the apparent role of my father-figure, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, himself a member of the SF, in empowering those commanders to make those decisions. 

This I should have realized early on: We have no business treating our well-trained special units like our fiefdoms. We have no business making them more special than they already are. Precisely because of their skills and the high-value targets they’re mandated to hit, they ought to toe the line, follow the chain, and remain professional. They are mandated to serve their country first before they serve another.

Once you make things gray for them, or allow them to receive a rogue command from a suspended or favored commander, or – heaven forbid – a foreign government – you give them more than they can handle, and they end up endangering the very lives they are tasked to protect.

What do the experts say again? Through its military and police forces, the state has the monopoly of organized violence. That’s why they are given a commander-in-chief who’s not only a civilian, but an elected one, too. He is presumed to know how to manage “organized violence” for the greater good.

Ferdinand Marcos abused this power. And it bothers me that I did not take to heart the lessons from the Marcos dictatorship. 

In his time he appointed friends and cronies in the police and military establishments as a way of controlling the troops. He thrived in the factions he created in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo, pitting them against each other.

Come to think of it, what I have done to the Philippine National Police (PNP) since I became president in 2010 has been a bit Marcosian. 

I must admit I do enjoy the company of cops and soldiers. I spend my Saturdays with them at the firing range. 

Camp Aguinaldo, headquarters of the military, already has its overlord, Voltz. Because he is my senior, I leave him to run the state of the affairs of the military. But Camp Crame is something I wanted a foothold in. 

Thus I put my friend Rico Puno as undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the civilian agency tasked to supervise the PNP. Rico never got to work well with his boss, the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo (God bless his soul). So he set up his own office at Camp Crame, away from Jesse’s nose.

It was tough for Jesse, having to deal with another powerhouse in Camp Crame who enjoyed a direct line to me. This made life difficult for him. I know that now, perhaps too late in the day.

Jesse died. I let go of Rico. 

In due time I had my direct line to the PNP again, after I assigned Alan as its chief PNP. 

He immediately collided with Mar. There were horror stories about how they tried to outdo each other at the expense of organizational sanity. Mar recruited his own loyalists in the PNP; Alan ran his own cabal of fellow masons and PMA mistahs and ex-SAFs.

I take full responsibility for ignoring these stories. 

I take full responsibility for pushing my luck too far in the case of the PNP. When the Ombudsman suspended Alan in December of 2014, I should have just let go. But I held on to him, sending signals to the rest of the organization that he remained in my favor.

Conflicting messages

And it’s true. For how else could I explain his involvement in “Oplan Exodus” during his suspension?

You need not wait for the results of any investigation to know I approved the plan. Perhaps not the exact day and hour, but I can tell you I did not say no to it. I deemed it so urgent that I found time to spare precious time – at the height of preparations for the visit of Pope Francis to the country – to meet with Alan and key commanders on January 9 in Bahay Pangarap, my official residence.

Let me make this clear: it is within my powers as commander-in-chief to make decisions against terrorists. Had Marwan been killed with few lives lost, you would not only be cheering me on, you’d probably be even asking me to reinstate Alan!

I did not bypass the chain of command to cheat in an election or to earn billions through government contracts. I abused the chain to kill a terrorist.

I acknowledge the consequences of such short-sightedness.

The PNP and AFP have been stripped of their defenses by this operation. 

I used the PNP to run after a terrorist. I cracked the whip of the Armed Forces to follow my lead in the peace process. 

Because of my commitment to put this agreement on track, I turned the military into a peacemaker. Because of my friendship with Alan, I turned SAF into an autonomous unit that issued and followed its own command.

I sneaked Alan into a special operation behind the military’s back, but for a noble cause of arresting a bomb-maker. Yet, I also expected the AFP to heed my orders of keeping the peace, an equally noble cause. The left hand was made to contradict the right.

As commander-in-chief and president, I take full responsibility.

I am now ready to answer your questions. – Rappler.com