Its now apparent that in an effort to shield President Aquino from blame in the death of the SAF 44, administration spin doctors have been pinning the blame for the fiasco on both former PNP Chief Alan Purisima and SAF Chief Getulio Napenas. Of course the two, undoubtedly, have lots to answer for. But palace spin masters would now want us to believe that only the two should be held responsible for the fiasco.
This cannot be the case. While palace supporters belabor the point that both allegedly “broke the chain of command” when they did not inform DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP OIC Leonardo Espina about Oplan Exodus, the reality is the two did not have to. To begin with, Mar Roxas is not part of the chain of command. As DILG Secretary, his involvement with the PNP is only as Chairman of the National Police Commission. This means he has supervision over the PNP only to the extent that he should ensure that the police are doing their job. He does not have control, operational or otherwise, because this clearly belongs to the Chief PNP and the other officers in the PNP hierarchy. In law, control means the power to substitute a superior’s discretion to those of his subordinates.
Anent OIC Espina, the truth is that there cannot also be a breach of the chain of command there precisely because rightfully or not, General Purisima was reporting to the President, the ultimate Commander-in-Chief. Moreover, although he was suspended, the reality is that he remained the Chief of the PNP and the highest-ranking officer of the police force.
What does this mean? Simply put, the buck stops with the President. Perhaps, we can fault both Purisima and Napenas for failing to comply with the President’s directive to coordinate with the Armed Forces. This can amount to insubordination and gross negligence. But because the President himself authorized the mission on a “time-on-target” basis, this means that liability for the fiasco rests on the President himself.
Time-on-target is military jargon when the means and methods of a mission have been agreed upon even if the actual date of implementation is not known. This also means that others on the field will be informed when the mission is implemented. Make no mistake about it. The decision to invade the MILF lair to capture two high-level terrorists on a time-on-target basis as implemented by the SAF was a decision of the President himself. Full stop.
In any case, the on-going Senate investigation has also confirmed many of our worst fears. To begin with, there is the fact that the Armed Forces should and could have sent in reinforcements but did not. So far, the justification of AFP Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang, whom I want jailed for indirect contempt of Court, is because “the PNP did not ask for reinforcement”. Ergo, the Chief of Staff, who has not been shy about his Senate aspirations- wants, in the words of one senator, “ a drowning man to cry for help”. In reality, when one is drowning, one is already unable to utter a word and hence the failure to seek assistance.
The situation was no different from when the Maguindanao massacre took place. In 2009, the AFP leadership in the same area turned down the request of the murdered journalists for military assistance in covering the ill-fated filing of Esmael Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy. Moreover, even after knowing about the build-up of Ampatuan supporters in the intersection where the victims of the massacre where rounded up, the same military leadership did not do anything even as to inquire why there was a build up consisting of heavily armed men in an area where there is an on-going armed conflict. In other words, the AFP did nothing- then and now- because they opted to turn blind eyes and deaf ears to their colleagues from the PNP.
The more interesting question now is: “Why?” Well, on the basis of the Senate hearing, Senate wannabe Catapang said that it was because of the peace process. And pray tell me: who told the Chief of Staff that he could play God to determine that the SAF 44 should die so that Ging Deles and Miriam Ferrer could gloat that they were responsible for peace in Mindanao? Utterly ridiculous, absurd, and even insane!
So what now? Well, in ancient times this was an instance that would merit the rolling out of the guillotine. Fortunately for all the misfits responsible for the untimely heroism of the SAF44, public indignation appears more painful today than the guillotine. And yes, they deserve it!