Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima missing in action at Villamor and Camp BagongDiwa. P-Noy, however, apparently stung to the quick by criticism of his also being MIA at Villamor, makes up by holding marathon consultations with the bereaved families. Board of Inquiry should be composed of credible people who will come out with credible findings, otherwise the Filipino people would not accept it. Clamors of P-Noy resign have begun.

Former PNP Chief Alan Purisima, who is supposed to be on suspended status, was missing in action when the bodies of the 44 slain PNP SAF commandoes arrived in Villamor Air Base yesterday morning. To be sure, Purisima is supposed to be suspended for six months owing to graft and corruption charges, but he was former PNP Chief and should have been there yesterday. Actually, his absence from the scene of grave disaster to his former command spoke volumes, for as a Manila Standard Today banner story last Wednesday, Jan.28, narrated it, Purisima and President Aquino had planned the SAF operation of last Sunday morning in Masasampano, Maguindanao, that led to the horrible death of those 44 SAF heroes. 

P-Noy and Purisima planned the operation and should take full responsibility for the botched job that killed 44 and wounded others. There are reports that Purisima had flown to Saipan---doon na nagtatago.  

Had Purisima shown up at the fallen heroes' arrival he might have reaped such condemnation from the grieving relatives. This morning at Camp Bagong Diwa, where the remains of the fallen SAF commandoes lay in state, I heard an interview over radio of PNP acting Chief Leonardo Espina where he said that “obviously those who planned and executed the Masasampano operation underestimated the strength of the MILF.” I suppose that was as direct as Espina could go to emphasize that HE HAD NO KNOWLEDGE of that bloody operation of early Sunday morning. 


President Aquino also put on a disappearing act at the cadavers’ arrival at Villamor, and found an excuse in the launch of a Mitsubishi car factory in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Rubbing salt on wounds was the stupid (yet another one) remark of a Malacanang functionary when queried why P-Noy was missing in action at Villamor---that it was not in the presidential schedule for that day. Attacks rained on P-Noy from outraged citizens, not the least from former President Fidel Ramos and former Vice President Noli de Castro, who didn’t bother to control his sarcasm in his ABS-CBN evening program.

More salt on wounds: at his nationwide address and press conference last Thursday, P-Noy sought to absolve himself from having taken a direct hand in the botched Masasampano operation by saying, in response to a direct query from the media, that "the President cannot always be consulted on every police operation, as otherwise they cannot go after the criminals." 

P-Noy's failure to welcome the fallen heroes at Villamor and his denial of having given the go-signal for the failed operation reaped enormous public outrage for him. Thus it was obvious that he sought to make amends by spending the whole day today in Camp Bagong Diwa---holding audience individually with the families of the dead cops. 


Unfortunately for P-Noy, there’s the story of the Standard, which has since been embellished by the Tribune and the Times, and so far there has been no denial from Malacanang about those accounts. Let’s hope for the nation's sake that he will appoint a credible board of inquiry, for if that board’s findings fail to pass the credibility test, the people, now in a very angry mood about all the lying and denials, would not take it. Already they are asking for P-Noy's resignation. 

Herewith is my summary of the points raised in the Manila Standard Today’s account of the tragic events leading up to last Sunday's Masasampano operation. I actually wrote this summary for Facebook before P-Noy went on nationwide TV yesterday, to explain from his point of view the tragic events in Maguindanao. But beause there has been so much muddling of facts---and in case my blog readers missed the MST story, allow me to reprint this FB post in this blog. The MST story is titled "Purisima Planned it all," and subtitled “Aquino let suspended PNP Chief run show,” excellently written by MST's ace reportorial team, namely Christine Herrera, Francisco Tuyay and Rio Araja.

According to Herrera et al, P-Noy assigned this "fatal covert operation" to suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima without the knowledge of Interior Sec. Mar Roxas and acting PNP Chief Gerardo Espina. The MST story is based on a conversation of its ace reporters with an unnamed police general, who asserted that the operation was "a tragedy in the making." When news broke out about the massacre in Masasampano, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas was quoted as fuming that he didn't know about it---but this assertion is challenged by the fact that Roxas was photographed by Zambo City Mayor Lobregat as also being in that city WITH P-NOY as early as the day prior to the SAF team's jump-off for Maguindanao. 


P-Noy presumably was in Zambo City to await the glorious return of the elite police force with Malaysian bomb expert Marwan, on whose head the US govt. had placed a bounty of $5 million, plus $1 for his Filipino sidekick Usman.

But the MST story seems to bear out that all that time Roxas was left in the dark indeed, for the story quotes the unnamed general as narrating how the DILG Chief reacted angrily at a hastily called command conference after news broke out about the massacre, and he was left out of it. APPARENTLY NO ONE KNEW OF THE TOP-SECRET SAF OPERATION EXCEPT P-NOY, PURISIMA WHO CONTINUED TO BE BASED AT THE WHITE HOUSE IN CRAME DESPITE SUSPENSION, AND TO WHOM THE GROUND PNP FORCES REPORTED DIRECTLY, AND EXECUTIVE SECRETARY PAQUITO OCHOA. 

There's a lot of speculation that the $6 million bounty was the reason for the tight secrecy even among the police forces, but that's now beside the point. The significant fact is that the President fully authorized the suspended Purisima to carry out this operation with his most trusted and handpicked men. MST said that apparently P-Noy was confident that the successful operation would give him lots of brownie points with the US government. But now, in the light of the massacre AQUINO SHOULD TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY.

The MST said that P-Noy, thinking of the fabulous attention if the world's most wanted terrorist was captured by his administration, gave Purisima the go-signal to operate 'incognito' and ordered Ochoa to give him all the resoruces and ammo the SAF needed.


So what went wrong? The MST story by Herrera et al pointed to the unnamed general's opinion that "it was the MILF that violated the (existing) ceasefire." He admitted that "there was no way we could coordinate with the MILF when the terrorists we were after were in their territory," that "We were there only to serve warrants for the arrest of Marwan and Usman" and that "there was no intention to engage in a firefight with the MILF," (though they could expect exchange with the BIFF since there's no cease fire with this breakaway group).

As the MST story narrated, when firefight opened up from the MILF the SAF people called for back-up and artillery from the Army, whose closest unit was the 6th Infantry Division, but the latter felt hamstrung by the cease-fire agreement with the MILF; in fact, at one point, said Herrera et al, the Army even thought the call was a crank call as they knew of no operation whatsoever in the area. The tragedy was that that real SOS call went the circuitous way: from Mamasapanoto Crame to Zambo where the President ordered Executive Secretary Ochoa to call the Army for an "extraction team." As the MST narrates the unnamed general speaking, it took several hours of convincing the higher-ups that our ranks were already being slaughtered."

After the slaughter acting PNP Chief Gerardo Espino sacked SAF Chief Getulio Napenas and announced that Deputy Chief Noli Talinam would be SAF-officer-in-charge. The MST said Secretary Mar Roxas has called for a seven-member Board of Inquiry to get to the bottom of things, but will the truth really surface? PNP sources of the MST were quoted as critical of Roxas' assertion that the tragic clash last Sunday was a "mis-encounter," because the firefight went on for hours and some shots showed bullet wounds at the troopers' backs, meaning, they were fighting at close quarters. Hardly the markings of a mis-encounter.

The MST source also disputes Roxas' assertion that the Mamasapano operation was a "legitimate police operation" when the SAF was attacked by the MILF and its breakaway group, the BIFF, and "not because of the US FBI's $5 million and $1 million bounty for the two wanted criminals (at P44 to a dollar that 6 million bounty would run up to more than a quarter of a billion pesos).

So, was it pera-pera-lang---greed, hindi nagkasundo sa partihan, as some citizens are asserting in social media? Or absent the mercenary element, just incompetence and amateurish handling at its inimitable and incomparable best? Or was it to protect the Bangsamoro Basic Law pending in the House of Representatives, which is dreamt of as a way for P-Noy to earn the coveted Nobel Peace Prize? 

Or is it all of the above?  Whatever it is, unfortunately, many many precious lives were lost. President Noynoy Aquino as Commander-in-Chief has a lot to explain to the nation and the Filipino people. Better still, he should resign.