Aquino’s blind spot in the wake of mas­sacre

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The tragedy in Ma­mas­apano, Maguin­danao — the se­cret po­lice op­er­a­tion which killed Malaysian ter­ror­ist Mar­wan but also left 44 Spe­cial Ac­tion Force (SAF) troop­ers, 17 Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front reg­u­lars, and three civil­ians dead — con­tin­ues to spook Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. It sim­ply does not know what to do with the in­ci­dent and its con­se­quences.

Pres­i­dent Aquino’s worst ap­proval or sat­is­fac­tion rat­ings were caused, not by his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s dis­as­trous ini­tial re­sponse to Su­per­ty­phoon “Yolanda,” but by his dis­as­trous re­sponse to Ma­mas­apano and es­pe­cially to the deaths of the SAF 44. His de­ci­sion to skip the ar­rival hon­ors for the slain troop­ers in Vil­lamor Air Base may have been prompted by a per­sonal dis­taste for hog­ging the in­evitable lime­light, but it was a ter­ri­ble po­lit­i­cal mis­cal­cu­la­tion. Many per­ceived him as cal­lous, con­de­scend­ing, un­able to ac­cept mis­takes.

Are the Lessons Learned?

His rat­ings have since re­cov­ered but has he or his ad­min­is­tra­tion learned the right lessons?

There is no good ex­pla­na­tion for why there was no men­tion of the SAF 44, how­ever brief, in his last State of the Na­tion Ad­dress (SONA). The of­fi­cial line from his many spokesper­sons is that he had al­ready rec­og­nized them, many times, in other speeches. That is true, as far as it goes. But how much of his SONA was rep­e­ti­tion, fa­mil­iar facts or cur­rent claims al­ready as­serted? He also listed the killing of Mar­wan as an ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­com­plish­ment; he could have sim­ply added a phrase, say, about the gallant 44 troop­ers, and that would have been that. In­stead he opened him­self to crit­i­cism, not only from some of the SAF 44 fam­i­lies but from op­po­si­tion leader Vice Pres­i­dent Je­jo­mar Bi­nay.

Now comes the con­tro­versy over the re­ported snub of at least two SAF of­fi­cers, the late Petty Of­fi­cer 2nd Class Romeo Cem­pron, who died in Ma­mas­apano, and Su­per­in­ten­dent Ray­mund Train, the man who led (and sur­vived) the as­sault on Mar­wan’s lair, dur­ing the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice an­niver­sary.

The ex­clu­sive by re­porter Jul­liane Love de Je­sus of In­ be­gan thus: “The names of two SAF of­fi­cers in­cluded in the of­fi­cial mem­o­ran­dum iden­ti­fy­ing the po­lice per­son­nel to be awarded by Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III dur­ing the 114th po­lice ser­vice an­niver­sary on Fri­day morn­ing were nowhere to be found in the an­niver­sary pro­gram. A gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial told In­ on Thurs­day that the names had been or­dered re­moved.”

Ad­min­is­tra­tion and po­lice of­fi­cials have since de­nied there was any such or­der from the Palace, and that the awards had merely failed to make the dead­line. But this much we know: On July 8, or a month be­fore Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice Day, a mem­ber of the awards se­lec­tion com­mit­tee al­ready an­nounced that Cem­pron’s hero­ism will be rec­og­nized with a Medal of Valor. Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Au­gusto Mar­quez told the In­quirer that the mo­tion to grant Cem­pron the PNP’s high­est dis­tinc­tion was unan­i­mously ap­proved by the ser­vice’s Spe­cial Pro­mo­tion, Awards and De­lib­er­a­tion Board. He said the tes­ti­mony of Petty Of­fi­cer 2nd Class Christo­pher Lalan, the lone sur­vivor from the block­ing force, was decisive.

Late in July (around July 23 or so), the chair of the Sub­Com­mit­tee on Se­lec­tion of Awardees for the 114th Po­lice Ser­vice An­niver­sary Cel­e­bra­tion, Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Fer­di­nand Pablo Yuzon, re­leased a mem­o­ran­dum on the “Re­sult of the Se­lec­tion of Awardees.” That mem­o­ran­dum in­cluded the names of Cem­pron and Train in the sec­tion on In­di­vid­ual Awards: the Medal of Valor for Cem­pron, the Medalya ng Kabayani­han for Train.

On July 31, Cem­pron’s widow, Chris­tine, was ad­vised by SAF of­fi­cials that her hus­band would re­ceive the PNP’s high­est honor, and from the pres­i­dent him­self, on PNP Day. “Last Fri­day (July 31), SAF told me to pre­pare a Filip­ini­ana at­tire be­cause I would at­tend a for­mal event — the pres­i­dent will give my hus­band an award. I had to can­cel my clinic ap­point­ments,” the pe­di­a­tri­cian said. She added: “In fair­ness to SAF, they did not com­mit un­til they were sure that the award­ing would push through.”

What hap­pened? Would SAF of­fi­cials ar­range for Chris­tine’s trip to Manila, and buy her the Filip­ini­ana dress she needed, if they had not re­ceived con­fir­ma­tion? Even more cru­cial: At any time since July 8, the Palace or the PNP lead­er­ship could have al­ready sig­naled that the SAF awardees didn’t in fact make it to the cut­off. Why didn’t they? Two po­lice sources who re­quested anonymity al­lege that the last-minute or­der to re­move the names came from Mala­canang. What does it tell the Palace that these anony­mous claims carry more weight than its be­lated ex­pla­na­tion? This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by Philip­pine Daily In­quirer on Aug. 10.

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