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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

DOJ Chief Leila de Lima and Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda carry out spirited defense of President Aquino, arguing that PNP thrives on principle of Chief Executive and not Commander-in-Chief, as it’s a civilian organization, thus exempting P-Noy from its “internal processes.” But FVR’s EO 226 and PNP's highly stratified set-up clearly show that chain of command principle is institutionalized there. P-Noy’s apologists clearly only seek to absolve him from blame on SAF tragedy.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima began her spirited defense of President Aquino’s role in the disastrous Mamasapano SAF operation even during the Senate committee hearings, when she shocked the nation by asserting that the President is not the Commander-in-Chief of the PNP inasmuch as this principle does not apply to this security institution that's civilian in character, unlike in the AFP where it’s clearly operative. De Lima insisted even then that the President is the Chief Executive of the PNP and that he did not violate the chain of command as this does not apply there. De Lima, however, stopped short of exonerating him at that time, inasmuch as the result of the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) investigation was still being awaited then. 

In the light of the BOI’s 130-page report released last week, however, that directly blamed the disastrous SAF operation on "the breakdown of the chain of command" in the PNP---meaning, that the buck stops with the President as its head---De Lima heightened her defense of P-Noy. Said she: P-Noy cannot be blamed for Mamasapano---it’s Purisima and sacked SAF Chief Getulio Napenas who disregarded his orders to coordinate with the AFP.  


In the effort to absolve the President of command responsibility, De Lima chorused with Malacanang spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. The Philippine Star story of March 15 quoted Lacierda as stressing anew that P-Noy did not violate the chain of command of the PNP in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus as “the police force is a civilian organization” and this principle does no apply in the PNP. Moreover, said Lacierda, P-Noy “exercises full and absolute control and supervision over every police official.”

 This explanation, startling as it was, was meant to assert, as Lacierda said, that inasmuch as the PNP is a civilian institution that replaced the Philippine Constabulary Integrated National Police (PC-INP), the President serves no longer as Commander-in-Chief but as “Chief Executive,” just like the head of any other civilian office in government. Thus, said Lacierda, in this position, the President “cannot be subordinated to an internal process within the PNP, and that he "exercises full and absolute control and supervision over every police official." 

De Lima, stressing this point further, insists that the BOI report was on a “wrong premise” on the President’s role, and therefore, “it can only arrive at a wrong conclusion:” i.e., that P-Noy is subject to the chain of command principle that operates in the AFP, which he is not, as this principle does not apply to the PNP.

The implication of this “Chief Executive only” principle for the PNP and not the “commander in chief” principle of the AFP is that in assigning suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima and SAF Chief Getulio Napenas to handle the critical Mamasapano mission,  P-Noy cannot be faulted for picking those two officials to carry it out, and limiting knowledge of the operation only to them. The implication is that he trusted only these two officials and not the others, including acting PNP Chief Leonardo Espina and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, and that he cannot be faulted for this exclusive trust.

The other implication Palace apologists want to render is that if the two officials botched the job, it's they alone to blame and, as De Lima has already been making overtures about, they ought to be punished---not the Chief Executive.


The problem is that somewhere along the way, after the botched operation that butchered 44 SAF commandos and criticisms began to rain on him, P-Noy complained that he had ordered Napenas to “coordinate” with Roxas and Espina as well as on the military, but that the SAF Chief failed to do so. But in one of the Senate hearings, Gen. Napenas disclosed that after their last meeting with P-Noy where they went through details of the project, Purisima returned to P-Noy to confer again,  and when he came out instructions were different: Napenas was to keep the operation secret from Secretary Roxas and PNP OIC Espina, while Purisima himself was to handle AFP Chief Gregorio Catapang at a later time.

As it turned out, Napenas and Purisima were to beg for rescue from the military AFTER the operation had already began to fail and the SAF boys were in big trouble---coordination was “time-on-target” and not before, because obviously, P-Noy did not want to inform anyone else outside of his two trusted officials.


The validity or lack of it of the “Chief Executive” principle can be argued exhaustively, but it’s a fact that the chain of command principle---and therefore its corollary principle, the Commander-in-Chief concept, are very much alive in the PNP which is highly stratified, like the AFP, and the battle for promotions is very much a reality.  In fact, on February 17, 1995, then President Ramos felt it his duty to issue Executive Order 226, which is titled “The Institution of Doctrine of “Command Responsibility” in all government offices, particularly at all levels of command in the PNP and other law enforcement agencies.”  

One of EO 226's key provisions made it imperative that the doctrine of “command responsibility” against erring government personnel be institutionalized, and strictly applied in all government offices and at all levels of command in the PNP and other law-enforcement agencies.”

I’m trying to ascertain if this EO has been abolished by anyone of the subsequent Presidents, but it clearly shows that the principles that P-Noy now seeks to discard are very much in the life and function of the PNP.


What weighs heavily in this botched SAF venture is the fact that Aquino appointed his long-time buddy Alan Purisima to handle the critical project to bag international terrorist Marwan, when the former PNP Chief is under a six-month suspension on various graft issues, that began on Dec. 4, a month and three weeks before the botched operation. P-Noy’s move countermands the order from the Ombudsman and usurps her jurisdiction, and there could be prosecution once he gets out of office.

This point of assigning the suspended PNP Chief to carry out the critical SAF operation is very central, for this blogger had earlier raised the speculation that the reason Purisima was given this crucial task was to enable him to stage a return to the PNP’s helm after he was disgraced by a train of scandals. In view of later developments this is not idle speculation.


Sadly, however, the appointment of an official under suspension resulted in the tragic death of 44 of the elite police forces as well as over 20 others in the MILF/ BIFF camp---FILIPINOS ALL. In fact I submit that this questionable tasking of the suspended Gen. Purisima had a direct bearing on the death of all these Filipinos on both sides of the ideological fence, for the simple reason that he deliberately failed to coordinate with the AFP on the SAF operation . Why? Because he was probably wary of how his peers in the AFP, including PMA classmates now in major commands, would regard his moves---given his controversial and much-publicized suspension by the Ombudsman. 

Nag-alangan siya, as we’d put it in Tagalog---a very costly hesitation.  

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