MANILA – Senator Francis Escudero said on Thursday President Benigno S. Aquino III could not be held liable for the bloody Mamasapano encounter that killed 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) men last month.
Escudero said the President has been forthright about the Oplan Exodus aimed at arresting two high-profile terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Basit Usman.
The senator said resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima played a key role in spoiling the operation for feeding wrong information to the Commander-in-Chief.
”He really played a big role, not only in the wrong information he fed to the President based on what he understood from the message given by Gen. Rustico Guerrero, Western Mindanao Command chief, but also for not informing OIC-PNP chief Leonardo Espina and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas,” Escudero said in the weekly Kapihan sa Senado media forum.
Citing a provision in the Constitution, Escudero said the President did not violate any law and that calls for the Chief Executive’s resignation following the deadly clash between the SAF men and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other armed groups in Maguindanao were unfounded.
“The President, under the Constitution, is immune from suit and can only be held liable, if at all, for what he did or did not do in the Mamasapano operation in an impeachment proceeding,” said Escudero, who also chairs the Senate Committee on Finance.
”For me, the only mistake that the President did was when he gave Purisima space to act at any capacity in the operation (despite his suspension). But then again, we have the benefit of hindsight,” Escudero explained.
In one of the Senate hearings, former SAF commander Director Getulio Napeňas Jr. admitted that Purisima told him not to tell Roxas and Espina of the special mission to arrest two wanted international terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Escudero also scored Napeňas for listening to Purisima despite the latter’s suspension.
”General Espina should know that a suspended official can no longer give order,” Escudero said.
He said that if the former SAF commander was ambivalent and scared of Purisima, Napeňas should have been more scared of what his men were about to face in the field.
”He should have considered first the situation of his men who will be endangered if there will be no coordination by simply following Purisima’s advice,” Escudero said.
According to Escudero, the Senate should immediately come out with its committee report on the Mamasapano investigation, simultaneous with the reports from the Board of Inquiry and other agencies that conducted investigations into the deadly clash.
At the same time, Escudero urged the President to come out in public once investigative reports have been released to answer, address and explain these results to the people waiting for answers, especially the families left behind by the 44 elite commandos who were killed in the Mamasapano mission.
”If necessary to address the public for the third, fourth time, he should do it so that the people will understand his relation to the reports and on what to do moving forward learning from past mistakes of the Mamasapano incident,” Escuero said.