MANILA - (2nd UPDATE) Former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino on Thursday broke his self-imposed vow of one-year silence to defend himself from President Rodrigo Duterte's tirades in connection to the 2015 Mamasapano massacre that killed 44 policemen of the Special Action Force.
"Nangako po akong manahimik ng isang taon. Pero nitong Martes, nagsalita si Pangulong Duterte. Sa pakiwari ko: Tama lang po na tumugon ako," Aquino said in a statement.
(I kept silent for a year. On Tuesday, President Duterte spoke about the clash. I believe it is only right that I respond.)
Aquino insisted the botched anti-terror mission was not his fault, pinning the blame instead on former Special Action Forces (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas who allegedly lied to him and disobeyed orders.
"Sa pagtatapos, kung may kasalanan po ako bilang Pangulo nung panahong iyon, ito po: ni minsan, hindi pumasok sa isip kong magagawa ni Napeñas na magsinungaling sa Pangulo ng Pilipinas," he said.
"Pinagkatiwalaan ko ang isang two-star police officer, na ako pa mismo ang nagpromote. Naniwala akong itong graduate ng PMA [Philippine Military Academy] ay tatalima sa values ng paaralan na 'Courage, Integrity, Loyalty.'"
(In the end, if I had a fault as the President, it is that never thought that Napeñas could lie to the President of the Philippines. I trusted a two-star police officer whom I myself promoted. I believed that this PMA graduate would abide by his alma matter's value of 'Courage, Integrity, Loyalty.)
A joint Senate committee report earlier said former President Benigno Aquino III was ''ultimately responsible'' for the botched mission to neutralize Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and his Filipino cohort Basit Usman.
Duterte blamed Aquino for the massacre, citing reports that the government, through the advice of then-peace adviser Teresita Deles, decided not to send military reinforcement for the SAF troopers in Mamasapano to preserve a ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILG).
In his 3-page statement, Aquino outlined a point-by-point defense on the accusations, starting with Napeñas' alleged failure to follow his instructions to secure support from the Philippine Army.
"Inutusan ko si Napeñas na kailangan niyang makipag-coordinate sa AFP para maihanda ang mechanized units, artillery, eroplano, tao at iba pang assets na kailangan para hindi mangyari ang pintakasi. Sagot ni Napeñas: 'Yes, sir'," he said.
"Matapos ang imbestigasyon, lumabas na wala palang 160 ang Seaborne (84th Special Action Company). Higit 70 lang ang bilang nila at 54 sa kanila ang operators."
(I ordered Napeñas to coordinate with to AFP in order to prepare mechanized units, artillery, planes, troops and other assets needed to avoid pintakasi. He said, 'Yes, sir.' After the investigation, it was discovered there was less than 160 deployed member of Seaborne. There only 70 of them, 54 of whom were operators.)
He said the Army scrambled to provide SAF troopers with reinforcement due to Napeña's failure to follow the "days before" protocol in coordination.
WHY WAS SAF SENT TO A RURAL AREA?
Aquino also defended the deployment of SAF, noting that their operations are not limited to urban areas.
SAF's mission statement itself, he said, specifies that they may "conduct operations as a Rapid Deployment Force anywhere in the country."
He added that SAF troopers are trained from the start to combat insurgency in rural areas.
"Sa SAF rin po, sa pagkakaalam ko, at batay na rin sa isang dating direktor nila, ang unang kursong tinuturo sa kanila at tinatawag na commando course. Pang-counter insurgency po ito, at ang insurgency po natin, nasa rural areas," Aquino said.
(From what I know about SAF and according to their former director, the first course taught to them is called commando course. That is for counter insurgency, and our insurgency is centered on rural areas.)
US, GING DELES INVOLVEMENT
Aquino also denied that the US was involved in the operation against Marwan, who has a $5-million bounty on his head.
"Wala po akong Amerikanong nakausap ukol sa operasyon bago ito maisagawa at habang ito'y isinasagawa sa Mamasapano. Sa pagkakaunawa ko po, tumulong ang Estados Unidos doon sa equipment at hardware na pinanggalingan ng intelligence," he said.
(I did not talk to any American about the operation before or during its execution in Mamasapano. From what I understand, the United States only helped in the equipment and hardware used in intelligence gathering.)
He said there is also no truth to Duterte's claim that Deles gave a stand down order for reinforcements to protect peace talks with the MILF.
"Wala po yatang kinalaman si Secretary Ging Deles sa naging misyon dahil iyon po ay isang law enforcement operation," he said.
(Secretary Ging Deles was not involved in the mission because that was a law enforcement operation.)
Aquino also said he does not know who received the multi-million dollar as the money came from America.
On the medals of valor that were given to only 2 slain SAF troopers meanwhile, Aquino said the process goes through a board of the PNP.
If it was possible for all 44 fallen heroes to be recognized, he would not have objected to it, he added.
The nation on Wednesday marked the second anniversary of the Mamasapano massacre.
Duterte has announced that he will create a new commission to reopen the probe on the carnage.