Seven months on, the Mamasapano controversy refuses to die. It lingers and is still very much in the news.
This was helped by the fact that the President felt no need to mention the heroism of the SAF 44 in his last State-of-the-Nation Address last month even as he found time to thank everyone, including his house help.
It was also aggravated by allegations that medals that were supposed to be awarded to two deserving SAF participants in the Mamasapano encounter during the August 8 celebrations in Camp Crame were cancelled reportedly due to the intervention of the Palace. Although this was denied by the Palace, interviews with certain high ranking police officials indicate that all the steps required for the awarding of certain medals were already completed until the ceremony was abruptly cancelled at the last moment for reasons that were not satisfactorily explained. The accounts of the encounter are now known by the public and it is clear that some of the men who fell during the fighting deserve medals. Why the Palace do not seem to think so is certainly inexplicable and is impacting negatively on the President.
Clearly, the President wants to put the Mamasapano incident behind him and does not want to be reminded of it. It is not, after all, one of his best moments as a leader.
If at all, his presidency will always be defined by the way he mishandled the Mamasapano operation. As president, Mr. Aquino has shown inconsistency in the way he has handled deaths, wakes and funerals. There was one time when he remarked when asked why he did not go to the wake of someone by saying that he felt uncomfortable going to the wakes of people that he did not know. This is understandable enough but in other cases, he would go the extra mile when others died. Remember the passing of Jessie Robredo? President Aquino as they say did everything to honor the late Secretary Robredo. It was not as if the late Jessie Robredo did not deserve the honors because he clearly did. But it was such that the widow and now Rep. Leni Robredo had to say enough is enough. Critics interpreted this unprecedented show of attention to Jessie Robredo’s passing as a sign of guilt by the President because he was the one invited to go to Cebu but sent Jessie instead.
There was also the time when a journalist friend of his who died was also given all the accolades such as a Legion of Honor Award and military burial honors complete with taps, the last bugle call exclusively reserved for fallen soldiers.
Yet, he did not find the SAF 44 important enough to meet the remains at Villamor Air Base. Instead, he was filmed frolicking in the opening of the new Mitsubishi car plant. This is perhaps what the President would rather forget, including why he authorized a suspended officer to take charge of the operation. We also continue to hear from some quarters, most notably from the families of the fallen SAF 44, the cry for justice. To them, the ultimate sacrifice made by the fallen SAF 44 were in vain because there is still no justice.
To be fair, what should be considered as justice in this case? The filing of cases against the MILF insurgents who mutilated the remains of the SAF elements even when they were already dead? Was the filing of cases against both Alan Purisima and former SAF Chief Getulio Napeñas not enough? As far as assistance is concerned, the families have been provided with more financial aid than others who have also given their lives in the service of their country.
On August 8 alone, PNP Chief Ric Marquez distributed financial assistance to the tune of about P61,000 each to every family. What would satisfy those crying for justice? Perhaps the inclusion of the President in the charge sheet. Unfortunately, the Office of the Ombudsman already excluded him from any culpability in the conduct of the operation. The effect of the Ombudsman investigating a purely military operation, however, is a signal that henceforth, the leadership of the PNP will have to think a hundred times before embarking on similar types of operation for fear of being subjected to investigation by the Ombudsman.
The entry of the Ombudsman into the Mamasapano operation was a first of its kind. It has never happened before and was an unnecessary intrusion. Those who did the investigation were not competent to make judgments on why commanders in the field make split decisions in combat. It is not the proper body to investigate the operation.
The fact-finding board headed by Benjie Magalong, was the right body. And it came out with what many believed was a fair conclusion. But since the board found the President breaking the chain of command and therefore had something to explain, it is safe to say that the Palace did not agree with the board’s finding because it had to be consistent in saying that the President did nothing wrong.
The Senate Committee also found that the President was ultimately responsible. Maybe there is a need for the Palace to have an investigative agency pronouncing the President completely blameless because the Palace appears unsatisfied with the pronouncements of DOJ Secretary De Lima that the President was not responsible for what happened during the operation. But no matter what the President believe or what the Palace say, the Mamasapano issue is not over. This will continue to haunt President Aquino well into the future.