MANILA – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Saturday defended President Benigno Aquino III after the Philippine National Police – Board of Inquiry, in its report on the Mamasapano clash, said the chief executive violated the chain of command.
In a statement, De Lima said the BOI report on Mamasapano ''starts on the wrong premise insofar as the role of the President as Commander-in-Chief of the PNP is concerned."
The BOI, in its 120-page report on the Mamasapano incident, said the chain of command in the PNP was violated when Aquino, former PNP chief Alan Purisima, and former Special Action Force (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas "kept information" on the January 25 anti-terror operation "to themselves."
The BOI said the President, who "gave the go-signal" for Oplan Exodus that targeted wanted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Basit Usman, "allowed the participation" of Purisima in the planning and execution despite his suspension.
Purisima, meanwhile, also violated the preventive suspension order issued against him by the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with graft charges. The suspension order was issued in December last year.
The BOI likewise said Napeñas violated the chain of command since he followed the instructions of Purisima despite his knowledge of the former PNP chief's suspension.
'PNOY IS NOT PNP'S COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF'
De Lima, however, said the Supreme Court, in Carpio v. Executive Secretary (G.R. No. 96409; February 14, 1992), already ruled that the President is not the commander-in-chief of the PNP.
''He is not the PNP Commander-in-Chief because under the 1987 Constitution, the PNP is no longer part of the armed forces. The President is only Commander-in-Chief in relation to the armed forces. The PNP, being a civilian agency, is not part of the armed forces,'' the Justice secretary said.
''In relation to the PNP, the President is the Chief Executive, in the same way that he acts as the Chief Executive to all the civilian agencies of the Executive bureaucracy."
De Lima opined that ''based on a wrong premise, the BOI Report on the nature of the President's role can only arrive at a wrong conclusion."
She explained the PNP cannot hold the President responsible for violating an ''erroneous dogma''. She stressed that policemen are no longer soldiers, and the PNP is no longer part of the armed forces, and that its officers no longer relate to the President as their commander-in-chief, but as chief executive.
''The PNPs mistaken 28-year tradition of treating itself as part of the armed forces and the President as its Commander-in-Chief can never ripen into a statutory provision or legal principle, most especially since the Supreme Court has already declared the contrary as early as 23 years ago,'' she said.
''[The] custom or tradition of the PNP of treating itself as part of the armed forces, contrary to the Constitution and the law, can never become law without amending the 1987 Constitution."
In its report, the BOI said, "under the Manual for PNP Fundamental Doctrine, the Chain of Command runs upward and downward. Such Manual requires the commander to discharge his responsibilities through a Chain of Command."
De Lima, however, said ''a PNP Manual laying down a chain of command cannot override the President's constitutional and statutory prerogatives as Chief Executive. It cannot bind him to an erroneous understanding of the Constitution and the law. It cannot limit the President's exercise of his powers as Chief Executive, including the exercise of the prerogative to go directly to a subordinate."
De Lima added the PNP Manual can neither limit nor bind the president's plenary control and supervision over the PNP as its chief executive.
''In this sense, the PNP BOI cannot assume to impose upon the President his role and corresponding accountabilities as commander-in-chief of the PNP, without itself understanding the very nature of the PNP as a civilian agency that should relate to the President as its Chief Executive,'' she said.
DE LIMA: BOI REPORT OUT OF FOCUS
De Lima believes that instead on laying down the premise that Aquino is the commander-in-chief of the PNP as the foundation of its framework on the President's accountability in the Mamasapano debacle, the BOI should have ''confronted this misplaced military culture and tradition within the PNP -- as underpinned by its most basic belief that it is still part of the armed forces -- head on."
De Lima noted that unlike the Armed Forces of the Philippines, ''which has a singular and unitary line of command from the Commander-in-Chief up to the lowliest private'', the PNP has several lines of command and authority that include not only the President or the PNP Chief, but also the National Police Commission and the governors and mayors of provinces, cities and municipalities.
In one of the Senate hearings on the Mamasapano clash, De Lima had already stated that the chain of command principle does not apply to the PNP.
Purisima adopted de Lima's legal point of view, saying he did not break any chain of command.