February 08, 2015

Aquino cover-up

The second address to the nation about the Mamasapano incident by President B.S. Aquino last Friday was more of the same glib BS. 

To the fallen 44’s relatives, the self-proclaimed “Father of the Nation” said he feels for them just as if he had lost 44 of his “children”.  SAF Director Napenas is being set up as the definitive fall guy in keeping with Aquino’s habit of blaming everyone else but himself and his inner circle for any failures in his administration.  Aquino accepts the resignation of suspended PNP Director Purisima, Aquino’s BFF (best friend forever), for reasons known only to him.

Aquino vows to get Usman (the other “terrorist” that got away) and cajoles the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to please help or at least “do not interfere” (as in, don’t shoot our police when they come after him).  He then threatens the full might of the state against unspecified groups “who have lost their way”, presumably the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), in a bid to satisfy those whose idea of justice is to get even through “all-out war”.

At the outset and in conclusion Aquino plays the “peace” card. The SAF commandoes attacked the MILF stronghold to achieve “peace”. (No, they were not just serving warrants of arrest for Marwan and Usman.)  Aquino considers the MILF “brothers on the path to peace”. (Too bad the ceasefire agreement integral to the GPH-MILF peace talks was breached by the Marwan operation, unleashing untold deleterious consequences on the peace process).  And a “widespread and lasting peace” should be the primary focus of one and all.  (Truth, accountability and justice are all secondary or perhaps even irrelevant.)

Aquino takes pains to paint Marwan as an extremely evil and dangerous man, wanted by both Indonesian and Philippine governments for mass bombings and for leading an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group in the region.  The description of Marwan as the alleged "Bin Laden of Asia" or Southeast Asia is exaggerated media hype; such is not what is stated even in FBI dossiers.

In fact there is no conclusive evidence till now that Marwan, Jemaah Islamiya, the ASG or any Moro/Islamic “terrorists” are behind the bombings in Mindanao and the National Capital Region.  Let’s not forget the US fellow Meiring who accidentally set off a bomb in his hotel room in Davao but was whisked out of the country by US authorities beyond any investigation by local police. Let us also call to mind the Magdalo mutineers who pointed to their superiors as having ordered them to throw grenades at public places and implicated then AFP Chief Angelo Reyes and ISAFP head Victor Corpuz in the insidious plots to sow mayhem.

Based on a mere FBI certification (which the public, by the way, cannot independently verify) that DNA tests indicate it is Marwan the SAF commandoes had killed in their assault, Aquino declares Oplan Wolverine a “triumph” albeit with a “heave price”.  To many observers, it seemed a foregone conclusion that US lab tests would show the SAF teams got their man.  A negative result would have meant the entire Marwan operation was an unmitigated failure.

But even assuming that the FBI claim is true, does one dead “terrorist” justify the illegal command by a suspended general; the unnecessary deaths of 44 SAF, 18 MILF, 2 BIFF and 6 civilians; and the outright violation of the ceasefire agreement between government and the MILF that had held without incident for the past two years?

Marwan’s supposed demise is being used in the same way Osama Bin Laden’s supposed death was used: to falsely claim that the world is safer from terrorism because of the US-led “war on terror”; to justify draconian anti-terror measures violative of people’s democratic and human rights; and to deodorize the atrocities perpetrated in the name of countering terrorism through imperialist wars of intervention, aggression and occupation.

Aquino crows that many lives have been saved because Marwan has been neutralized.  The question begs to be asked, were many lives saved by the killing of Bin Laden (assuming that he is indeed dead if we believe the US claim hook, line and sinker)?  Has “terrorism” ended with the killing of these leaders? Let us recall that in 2001, US troops joined the AFP in Balikatan war exercises directed against about 300 members of the homegrown Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).  The Philippine armed forces then said they had reduced the ASG to a few score men. Nowadays, authorities concede that the ASG appears to be continuously growing like the proverbial amoeba despite one counterterrorist campaign after another.

The truth is, in a bid to follow the orders of his US bosses to go after Marwan in this fatally flawed operation (also out of Aquino’s sheer incompetence, narrow-mindedness and arrogance) Aquino gambled the entire peace process with the MILF.  Aquino is now scrambling to salvage what is left of efforts to legislate the Bangsamoro Basic Law that hangs on the brink of interminable delays if not potential defeat.

The Aquino regime is carrying on the policy and practice of the previous Arroyo regime of blind, uncritical support for the so-called war on terror and compliance with US dictates.  This is not the first time the result has been at the expense of peace negotiations.  In the case of the GPH peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the US designation of NDFP Chief Political Consultant and the CPP-NPA as “terrorists” with the full collaboration of the Arroyo regime resulted in years of delays in the talks until the end of the Arroyo term.

What is critical at this point is to unmask the continuing efforts to cover up the truth and evade accountability by: 1) fudging Aquino's critical role in the bungled operation as Commander-in-Chief,  particularly his criminal abuse of authority in disregarding the chain of command; 2) reducing the bloody fiasco to operational lapses and bad decisions of the commander-on-ground in order to shift the blame to him; 3) denying Purisima’s role as an illegal commander in order to shield Aquino and Purisima; 4) encouraging an anti-MILF hate campaign to also shift the blame on the MILF while making loud noises about wanting to push the peace process forward; 5) going through the motions of filing cases against the MILF and BIFF commanders to appease those who are crying for MILF and BIFF blood; 6) trying to appease the relatives of 44 SAF by means of financial assistance and false paeans to them as heroes; 7) continuing blackout regarding the US role in Oplan Wolverine; 8) claiming the Marwan kill  with US complicity so that operation is not exposed as a complete failure.

Aquino and Purisima are both criminally liable.  At the minimum, Aquino should resign while Purisima’s resignation should not allow him to escape criminal liability.

There must be no impunity for the Mamasapano bloodbath. #

Published in Business World
9 February 2015

February 03, 2015

Epic fail in leadership and intelligence

It was a rout – a massacre.  On the early morning of January 25, forty four out of close to 400 elite, US-trained, Special Action Force (SAF) policemen were killed in a 12-hour firefight, in a remote barrio in Mamasapano, Maguindanao -- a known rebel stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  They were reportedly on a top-secret counterterrorism operation to capture Malaysian bomb expert and Jemaah Islamiya leader, Marwan, said to be the equivalent of Osama bin Laden in Southeast Asia and his second in command, Usman.  The two had a total of $7 million bounty on their heads courtesy of the United States government. 

The facts and circumstances surrounding this latest debacle in the Aquino government’s anti-terrorist efforts have only been slowly trickling out, no thanks to Malacanang’s lack of transparency if not outright attempts to mislead and deceive. Mr. Aquino’s address to the nation four days after the Mamasapano incident was riddled with inconsistencies, obfuscation, half-truths and outright lies. (For one, there is no mention of civilian guides and paramilitary/CAFGU casualties, which the MILF reports counting, adding up to a total of 64 instead of just 44 killed on the government side.)  

Thus the families and comrades of the slain are still seeking answers.  They find little consolation in the Aquino administration’s declaration of a so-called national day of mourning, medals of valor for the dead and injured, and promises of financial support to the latter’s dependents.  They are steadfastly demanding that justice be rendered for their kin’s untimely, avoidable and senseless deaths. 

This demand underlies the calls by various quarters for an impartial and thorough investigation into the culpability of those who had instigated, authorized, and planned the entire operation. 

Unfortunately, the warmongers and those with deep-seated anti-Moro prejudices have been garnering the most media mileage.  They are calling for “all-out-war” versus the MILF, the junking of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and a halt to further peace negotiations between government and the MILF on the premise that the rebel group is mainly, if not exclusively, to blame for the carnage.

Aquino and his defenders and apologists pretend to be sober and fully committed to achieving peace with the MILF despite this setback.  They have labeled the Mamasapano incident as an unfortunate “misencounter” and have appealed to the public not to make any hasty conclusions until an investigation to be carried out by a PNP Board of Inquiry can determine the “truth”.
But the truth is Mr. Aquino and his clique of the closest “kabarkada” and “kabarilan” are hell bent on foisting a cover-up. 

In the first place, more than a week after the incident, there is no admission as to who gave the go signal for what an Interaksyon editorial called a “fatally flawed mission”.  Aquino, when asked by the media categorically whether he himself okayed it, hemmed and hawed and ended up saying his specific approval was unnecessary since there were standing warrants of arrest for the two high-value targets.

Nonetheless, it can be concluded, from his claim that he had repeatedly stressed in briefings the need for coordination, that he was continuously briefed on the progress of the operation and therefore had – or could have had -- full and constant knowledge of it.

What has also eventually emerged as a fact is that SAF Director Napenas was directly reporting to suspended PNP chief Purisima, bypassing superior officers in the line of command up to PNP OIC Espina.  Purisima in turn was directly reporting to Aquino, bypassing SILG Mar Roxas.  This breakdown in the line of command, especially in giving Purisima the authority to direct the operations, is by itself highly anomalous and unjustifiable, even if the operation had been successful.

There is no need for any investigation to determine the immediate cause of the disaster.  It was the deliberate decision not to coordinate with both the MILF and the AFP.  It is clear that there was no coordination on several levels and fronts between the police and armed forces, from the SAF commandoes and army units on the ground up to the highest levels of command.

Within the police hierarchy, there was a clear breakdown in the chain of command, with the SAF Director Napenas neither informing nor reporting to the PNP Chief Espina, and instead directly reporting to suspended chief Purisima. Purisima, in turn did not inform nor report to DILG Secretary Roxas but to the President himself.

The MILF official statement sums up the lesson from the Mamasapano incident insofar as the peace process is concerned:  “The MILF have (sic) been in negotiations with the Philippine Government for some time now. During this time both parties have established protocols, ways of proceedings and mechanisms, which support and keep the peace.  Adherence to these mechanism (sic) have created a peaceful environment and lessened actual hostilities through the years.  lt is unfortunate but not entirely surprising that when parties do not follow these protocols lives are placed in harm's way.”

What emerges is the picture of a clique in Aquino’s Cabinet, headed by no less than the Commander-in-Chief, breaking the chain-of-command and illegally placing a suspended police officer in charge of a suicidal mission – a mission fraught not only with untold dangers and operational complexity but imbued with wider and more serious political implications on the ongoing GPH-MILF peace negotiations, particularly the passage by Congress of the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Some analysts attribute Aquino’s illegal and foolhardy reliance on Purisima and his coterie of trusted aides like Napenas to a combination of hubris, his eagerness to score propaganda points in the global “anti-terror” campaign, and just plain incompetent leadership.

What is overlooked however are the undeniable military and political stakes of the US Superpower in this bungled operation and their record of direct and indirect involvement in previous attempts to neutralize Marwan’s group.  This includes the 2012 use of armed drone strikes against a suspected hideout of Marwan in Sulu which resulted in scores of civilian fatalities and an unscathed Marwan.

The “actionable intelligence” that Aquino touted as key to the decision to mount the Mamasapano operation has been traced, according to news reports, to a US mole within the MILF.  This was allegedly verified through US drones and GPS tracking. Subsequently the US mobilized its Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) based in Mindanao for the latest operation; JSOTF forces were sighted in the aftermath of the Mamasapano operation.  The US would also have nixed coordinating with the MILF despite the dangers of a firefight between the SAF and MILF forces because of intelligence information that Marwan was being given sanctuary by the MILF.

Thus it comes as no surprise that a certified US puppet like Aquino would have had no second thoughts about giving the go-signal for the ill-conceived operation at the sacrifice of the lives of so many SAF personnel in exchange for the prospect of having bragging rights to Marwan’s neutralization.

Speculations are rife and the entire truth will have to await an impartial and thorough investigation.  But there are enough undisputed facts surrounding the Mamasapano disaster that point to an epic fail in intelligence and leadership, military and otherwise. #

Published I Business Wolrd
2 February 2015

January 19, 2015

Beyond expectations

I write this essay on the third day of the uplifting visit of Pope Francis to the country after his half day stopover at Tacloban City, ground zero of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and nearby Palo, although the visit was cut short by another one of the innumerable storms that annually pound Eastern Visayas.  Already we can say that for millions of Filipinos, the papal visit has exceeded expectations, on so many levels.

Pope Francis’ actuations, remarks, speeches, prayers and accomplishments in his short time in office had already surprised, delighted, alarmed, discomfited, raised the hopes or the hackles (depending on which side of the socio-economic-cultural divide one is in) of people around the globe even before he had set foot inside the country.  But for most Filipinos, even the internet-connected ones (and lest we forget they are mostly in the urban centers), it was only as the Pope’s visit drew near that they experienced the explosion of information on the Pontiff (much of it in the form of trivia) that the local mass media provided. 

A more serious and diligent search, however, uncovers more than the photo-ops that had gone viral -- the pope embracing a man disfigured by neurofribromatosis; eschewing protocol and security strictures and reaching out to the crowds of people greeting him; dancing with indigenous peoples and celebrating the blessings of nature; allowing children to upstage him while he delivered his speech; and clowning around with newlyweds.. 

One stumbles on innumerable statements and gestures that bespeak of this Pontiff’s simplicity, humility, openness and deep concern for the downtrodden.  He has displayed an honest acknowledgement of the ills plaguing the institutional church and insight into the systemic evils that undergird social injustice, inequity and conflicts in the world today.

His smiling, kindly visage had been popularized long before by the life-size carboard figures distributed by local church authorities and with which selfie-crazed Filipinos could take pictures.  It didn’t take long for commercial interests and enterprising politicians to cash in on the Pope fever: his face on tarpaulins, big and small, and in various memorabilia, cheap and pricey, grew in number to the extent that the Pope himself had, ahead of the visit, given feedback to church authorities that he should not be the center of attention but the gospel message he brings with him.

And he has not disappointed.  His sincere intention to be with the people -- majority of whom are poor and struggling -- has penetrated through the concrete barriers, the phalanx of security forces, and the array of high government officials, church hierarchy and the well-heeled and well-connected who have been able to be physically closest to him. 

He has appeared happiest, most at ease, most spontaneous and most heartfelt when waving at the huge welcoming crowds of ordinary people wherever he went; when addressing the throng of survivors of Yolanda and other calamities huddled in the wind and rain; when mingling with street children at a refuge run by a non-government organization; when calling on the bishops, priests, nuns, seminarians and lay leaders of the local Catholic Church to spread the Good News of the Gospel with a joyful, open-minded missionary zeal.

Pope Francis spoke from the heart when he disclosed in his homily at the mass held in the Tacloban airport that he had decided to come to the Philippines, and specifically to Tacloban, immediately after learning about the devastation Yolanda had wrought.  He then apologized that it took him some time to make the trip.

He offered words of hope, of faith and then the comfort of silence when he frankly admitted that he was at a loss for words to express his profound solidarity with a people still suffering from the loss of their loved ones, their homes and all their earthly possessions; and now facing a bleak future with no jobs or livelihood, no decent housing and other basic necessities. 

At the few, thankfully brief, official functions where he was received as the head of state, Pope Francis appeared stiff, his head and shoulders bowed and his face tired; although he shook hands with enthusiasm and allowed an assortment of government officials to kiss the papal ring. 

His speech at the Presidential Palace held no surprises, especially for those already familiar with his earlier exhortations against corruption, dishonesty and abuse of power among economic, political and ecclesiastical leaders everywhere. 

He did not single out the Aquino administration or even the Philippine landed and big business elite for perpetrating much of what are unjust, unchristian and inhumane in Philippine society.   His forthright call that “political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good” and his reminder of the duty to “break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities” reverberated in the dirty, smelly, poverty-stricken streets of Manila and the rest of the country.

For his part President Benigno Aquino III, did a disservice to the Filipino people by greeting the Pope with a self-indulgent, self-serving, rambling and juvenile speech totally inappropriate for the occasion and distasteful to say the least.

He talked about his and his family’s travails under martial law to underscore his credentials as one who fights tyranny and oppression.   He spoke about his reluctance to run for the presidency (the subtext: he is not power hungry) yet he responded to the call of duty to purportedly “effect real change” (the subtext: he is a reforming president).  He praised the Philippine Catholic Church for its role in fighting the Marcos dictatorship but this was just an introduction to his griping about church leaders who had become critical about his regime allegedly to the point of pettiness. 

He was completely silent about the issues hounding his presidency especially land monopoly by a few families (notably his own); economic policies that have deepened poverty and inequality; human rights violations accompanying the government’s counterinsurgency program; and an intractable armed conflict fueled by social injustice and government’s refusal to talk peace in earnest with revolutionary forces.

We share the hope and prayer that the visit of Pope Francis will bring more than fleeting feelings of being blessed by a holy man with a big heart for the least of God’s brethren.  We hope it will rekindle a commitment to what he himself describes as a revolutionary struggle to achieve human dignity, social justice, equity, and a just and lasting peace. #

Published in Business World
19 January 2015