When the report of PNP Board of Inquiry says that the President violated the chain of command, it only means he chose not to follow it—and that is not a crime.
The chain of command is a convenience; it is not a constraint on presidential command. If it did legally then that would be the end of civilian supremacy over the military. Ideally, presidential commands come down the chain of commanders, enriched at every link by their experience or impoverished by their ignorance and subverted by inter-branch rivalry.
The chain does not go up to shackle the president; it only goes down. Every officer and soldier owes him direct obedience without having to pass his loyalty up through the chain of command.
We regularly ignored the chain of command fighting coups for Cory. The President can skip links and entrust to one instead of another a special military job that he wants done.
A general is not obligated to bring in every officer and his uncle and listen to their advice.
The suspension of Purisima for graft did not erase his unique understanding of the mission he planned. He could still advise, and subordinates could listen, when he couldn’t strictly speaking command.
The exclusion of an Army that cannot keep secrets and would not fight proved Purisma right. Catapang confessed that a vigorous rescue of the SAF in Mamasapano would trigger fighting all over Mindanao. To save the peace talks, Pangilinan would not fire even a phosphorous round—even if phosphorous scattered the MILF in previous engagements and stopped the fighting. The Philippine Military Academy valedictorian just said, “War is not the answer” even if “theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die,” quote Tennyson poetic summation of the soldier’s life and death. An Army that declares fighting to be its last priority has no deterrent, offensive or defensive value.
It was not wrong for the President to keep Purisima in the loop. A suspicion of graft does not erase the experience of command. He planned the operation. The next time the Ombudsman orders any serving officer suspended on a charge of graft it might want to limit the suspension to his authority to sign off on purchases but not over military operations.
Purisima and Napeñas were not wrong to delay telling an Army that is a chatterbox about the operation; at least not until it was well underway. The US armed forces did not know that one US President had sent a hostage rescue mission to Iran (it failed) and another sent an assassination squad into Pakistan (a roaring success that perhaps Noynoy had in mind). Under the AFP, Oplan Sagittarius was leaked to Ninoy and Oplan Double Strike was leaked to me, not that we could do anything to stop martial law. But a leak of Oplan Exodus threatened the safety of the SAF as in fact it took all of their lives but one.
When the call for it was made in the early hours, artillery fire risked collateral damage to the SAF but, going by previous encounters, it would have ended the fight. The alternative taken was to let all our men die.
Judged by the Manual of Operations, Napeñas’s expertise turned out to be less than the mission required but it was enough to carry it out. There is nothing to show that the Army would have done better after refusing to take part in past missions of the kind. Napeñas could have planned it by the book. But if he had reasons not to—i.e., telling a leaky Army of the plan well ahead of time and alerting a peace panel partial to the enemy of a mission to snatch the terrorists hiding in its camp—the only alternative was to cancel the mission forever and keep the friends of Deles and Ferrer happy harboring a trinity of monsters making bombs to kill thousands of civilians in Metro Manila.
Napeñas could have picked better terrain—one with high ground to which the SAF could have repaired and held it until the help there was no intention of sending had come. But Marwan, Usman and a third turbaned fellow would not be there. The Cordilleras has high and easy places to defend but if he attacked there all he could gather was marijuana.
Napeñas sidestepped 2 back-up plans. The 1st required telling the Army to coordinate in the sort of mission they disliked. Indeed, after being told of the mission the Army opted to just let all the men die. The 2nd required alerting a peace panel thick as thieves with the MILF—and lauded loudest by pro-Malaysian journalists in the Philippine media—of a mission to take out their terrorist darlings. But if the peace panel was told it would still have needed at least 6 hours to stop a massacre that was completed in half the time. Back-up plans like these amounted to canceling the mission—or losing all the targets and 380 SAF walking into a trap.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.