Aquino seeks ‘deepest understanding’ over Mamasapano

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

MANILA. President Benigno Aquino III asked Thursday for "deepest understanding" for the botched anti-terrorism operation that resulted in the deaths of 67 people, including 44 police commandos, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao two months ago. (Malacañang Photo Bureau)

MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino III asked for "deepest understanding" over the botched anti-terrorism operation that claimed the lives of 67 people, including 44 police commandos, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao two months ago.

The Chief Executive, in a speech at the graduation rites of the Philippine National Police Academy in Cavite, said this could be the last time he would talk about the "Oplan Exodus" that was launched on January 25 against two suspected terrorists.

The bungled operation led to the tragic death of 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF).

"To every Filipino who has felt failure or has been hurt because of the events related to this operation: It is with the abiding humility that I ask for your deepest understanding," he said.

Aquino said he was aware that no words will suffice to explain the deaths of the brave policemen.

"A report or a speech can never reflect the entirety of what is felt by a parent who lost a good child. All I can do, after saying all that must be said, and after doing all that must be done, is ask for your deep understanding," he added.

The President said regardless of his anger for the disregard by some people on his orders and regardless of his regret for trusting people who concealed the truth from him, he could never erase the fact that 44 police commandos are dead.

"And this happened under my term. Let me stress it: I will bear this basic truth with me to my grave," he said, adding that as President, he was fully responsible for any result, triumph, suffering and tragedy that may be borne of the government's desire for lasting security and peace.

He again blamed the lack of coordination of former SAF commander Getulio Napeñas with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for the Mamasapano tragedy.

He noted that both the reports of the police Board of Inquiry and that of the Senate agreed with his initial statements about certain details of the operation.

"In fact, the two reports reaffirm the position we had taken from the very beginning: The lack of coordination with the AFP was a major mistake. What saddens me is that at times, in lieu of asking me questions, those who prepared the reports chose to speculate instead. This leads us to ask: How can guesswork, instead of facts, help clarify this issue?" he said.

Aquino said he would not have allowed the uniformed services to embark on a "suicide mission" if only he was told earlier that there was serious danger in the operation.

But he said the version of the plan presented to him convinced him that adequate preparations were made, and that it would be executed correctly.

"I also assumed that all my orders would be followed, especially since I was dealing with professionals regarding the matter," he said.

Aside from Napeñas, Aquino earlier said that he was fed with wrong information by former police chief Alan Purisima, who despite being suspended, was involved in the operation.

If he had been "honestly told" of the incident that the government troops were at a "disadvantaged" position and that he should help to expedite the response of the military, the President said he would not have missed the chance to help them.

"But you know what happened. On the morning of January 25, there was no urgency in the text messages that were sent to me. From what was texted, it appeared to me as if the operation in Mamasapano had ended, or was coming to an end, because mechanized units and artillery were already providing assistance," he said.

This was also the reason why he continued with his plans to go to Zamboanga City, Aquino added.

The President was in Zamboanga City on the day of the operation to personally see the victims of the recent explosion and to discuss with the local government there the need to hasten the rehabilitation of the communities affected by the siege in 2013.

The President also explained why he chose not to be present during the arrival of the remains of some of the fallen cops at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City and instead attended the inauguration of a car factory in Laguna.

"I am saddened by the fact that, despite my effort to give the families space to grieve, as they were to meet their fallen loved ones for the first time, some people found fault in this by calling me cruel or without regard for such loss. My intention was to help them heal. I wanted to have clear answers should I be asked, 'What happened? Why did they die? What will happen to us now?' If my response was 'I do not know,' how could I help hasten the healing?" he said.

Aquino said that he was also saddened that the peace process has been affected by the sentiments connected to the result of Oplan Exodus.

The Senate and the House of Representatives have suspended the deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law because of the incident. Both chambers will resume hearings in April.

Aquino said that as president, he has to attend to so many matters all at the same time.

"Yes, I am President, but I am also human," he said.

But he reiterated his assurance that those responsible in the bloody incident would be held to account. (SDR/Sunnex)

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