MANILA - President Aquino’s relationship with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II remains friendly despite the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident where 44 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF) were killed in a clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and a private armed group while in an operation to capture two terror suspects.
Roxas was conspicuously absent at the meeting that followed the President’s nationally televised address last week, as he immediately left the Palace after listening to Aquino’s speech.
But when asked about the current status of the relationship between Aquino and Roxas, the Palace said they remain friends and it’s “not complicated.”
“Mainam at matibay ang kanilang pagsasama at pagkakaibigan. Iyon po ang batid natin,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
Roxas, the presumptive standard bearer of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), admitted he was out of the loop when it came to “Oplan Wolverine” – the SAF operation on the arrest of Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and his Filipino cohort Basit Usman, both linked to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
While it may be earning him sympathy at this point, there have also been questions on whether Roxas should stay on as chief of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), which exercises supervision over the Philippine National Police.
The “silent operation” has raised a lot of questions – on the role of Roxas at the PNP, as suspended police chief Director General Alan Purisima reportedly still serves as de facto PNP chief and manned Oplan Wolverine “by remote control;” the kind of MILF the government is dealing with, especially since they seemed to have been harboring the terrorists; and possible operational lapses that the President has to address as commander-in-chief.
Mamasapano is a known territory of both the MILF and its splinter group, the BIFF. But the MILF denied it was harboring terrorists or working with the BIFF, whose members are related to the MILF forces either by blood or affinity.
Aquino said lack of coordination with other security forces, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), could have resulted in the tragic deaths.
But even before an investigation into the matter and a thorough study of Oplan Wolverine were done, there were already prejudgments that the operation was disastrous.
Relieved SAF commander Police Director Getulio Napeñas Jr. has admitted that the coordination he made was very limited, precisely because it was a covert operation.
Napeñas said there was no time to inform Roxas and that he did not trust the MILF to coordinate a delicate operation aimed at the capture of terrorists camping in the rebel group’s lair.
The military said it was too late for them to send reinforcement because the call for help was done belatedly. Based on initial reports, the BIFF and the MILF appeared to have deliberately aided the terrorists in their camp instead of the government forces.
The President, the Palace and the whole nation had hailed the heroism of the SAF operatives and Malacañang said the investigation would shed light on what really transpired, especially on the ground.
There are reports that it was a “mission accomplished” for the SAF operatives because Marwan was neutralized, only that DNA test results would still have to confirm this.
Roxas, who formed the Board of Inquiry to look into the matter, said that he could not do anything at the time precisely because he did not know what was happening and that he only wanted to know if deaths could have been avoided.
Roxas would have run for president in the 2010 elections but gave way to Aquino. He ran for vice president but lost to Jejomar Binay.
‘Let probes take their course’
Malacañang assured the nation yesterday that the President would let the investigations and other processes to find out the truth about the Mamasapano incident take their course and not unduly influence them.
Coloma said the President would speak again at the right time and that he had been dealing with the situation “with equanimity and with objectivity.”
The Palace said it would be best to wait for the results of the investigation since only those directly involved and those on the ground could tell the nation exactly what happened.
Aquino had already explained that as father of the nation, he could not allow anger or emotions to prevail since he would have to lead the country in finding out the truth about the Mamasapano incident to help serve justice to the slain police commandos, Coloma stressed.
“That’s why at present, the President is doing what must be done. He also continues to fulfill his duties and gives everyone the opportunity to contribute vital information, like those from the PNP-SAF troopers whom he met last week,” he said.
“Because at this time, if the President will speak up, there are those who would say he might have undue influence over the testimonies of those asked (to testify). So let us wait for the complete story and at the right time, as appropriate, he will express his position on these matters,” he added.
Coloma said every piece of information would have to be weighed before discussing the possibility that the President’s command responsibility should have been exercised more prudently.
Coloma stressed that Aquino had never gone astray from his responsibility as commander-in-chief.
He also said that it would be best for the public to not be swayed by speculations that only foster intrigue and lack basis.
“That will not be of help to our nation,” Coloma said.
Read more on The Philippine Star