DAVAO CITY –President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is “doing a Pontious Pilate” in his speech on the “botched” operations of the Philippine National Police – Special Action Force (SAF) in Maguindanao.

This, as Aquino declared January 30 as a National Day of Mourning for the killed SAF members.

Bayan Muna partylist representative Karlos Ysagani Zarate reacted to Aquino’s speech aired over national television yesterday saying “malayo pa ang Semana Santa pero (The Holy Week is still far but) BS Aquino is already doing a Pontius Pilate. True to his form, he blamed others for the bloody, botched operations that he himself knew.”

Aquino in his speech admitted knowledge of the operation for the arrest of Abdulbasit Usman and Zulkipli Bin Hir, alias Abu Marwan in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao last January 25 which resulted to the death of 44 SAF  personnel and the wounding of 16 others including three civilians.

He said the mission to arrest Usman and Marwan “had a ‘go’ for a long time” as both are wanted terrorists since 2002.

However, Aquino said that during the Mamasapano incident, the SAF group “did not ask for my permission everytime as it would be impractical for them to wait for my clearance.”

Aquino said the “primary target of the operation, Marwan, was reportedly killed.”

Aquino said Usman’s group came to Marwan’s aid “which prompted the SAF to pull back and rendezvous with their comrades which are guarding their exit.”

“It appears that in this withdrawal the bloodiest encounter happened,” said Aquino.

“The BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front and a Private Armed Group were in the area which are relatives by blood or by marriage,” Aquino said.

Aquino claims that the Director of SAF only said “Yes, Sir” to his reminders of the need for coordination and “operational security.”

He said that he asked  “why the nearest AFP battalion was only informed when the jump-off was already near” and that the men of the battalion are still “scattered”.

Aquino also admitted to the role played by suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima, who in a news report, was alleged to have planned the operations itself under the direction of Aquino.

“He was involved until he was suspended. He explained to me the intricacies,” Aquino said in an interview after his speech.

Earlier television reports said the Army “did not act as they have not yet coordinated with the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) between the government and the MILF.”

For his part,  Zarate censured Aquino for letting SAF take all the blame.

“He did not explain why the failed operation was not disclosed to SILG (Secretary of Interior and Local Government Mar) Roxas and PNP Officer-in-Charge Chief  Leonardo Espina,” Zarate said.

He said that Aquino’s speech “only raised more questions than answers.”

“His bloodied hands cannot just be cleaned by doing a Pilate,” said Zarate.

Zarate said that the “US must also be made accountable for this botched counter-terror operations as it again placed Mindanao in the brink of strife and division.”

Television and national paper reports show American troops in Bell helicopter helped in rescuing the SAF troops.

The United States State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed a 5-million dollar reward for Marwan and 2 million dollars for Usman.

Zarate said that it is “unbelievable that the armed elements JSOTFP (Joint Special Task Force Philippines) of the US were in Shariff Aguak only to help in the evacuation of the wounded.”

“It is very likely that they were in fact the ones directing the whole operations as part of their long time project to get Marwan and Usman,” he said.

Meanwhile, Moro group Suara Bangsamoro  said that they want “an independent and credible investigation on the encounter.”

“We are angered at how President Aquino evaded the issue and avoided command responsibility,” said Amirah Lidasan, spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro.

Lidasan said “it is difficult to take his report of a successful operation against Jemaah Islamiya when no one in the ground can verify their death or presence in the area.”

“Worse, several civilians were affected and even killed because of the operations. Heads should roll and not only of the SAF chief but the PNP Chief and President Aquino himself,” said Lidasan.

Aquino said that with regards to the MILF, “it is a good first step that they have created a Special Investigations Commission” but he said he expects that they will  “take more concrete steps in pursuing truth and to make those at fault accountable.”

He said that “many are now exploiting the Mamasapano incident to lessen trust and to fail the peace process.”

“There are now those who propose to stop the advance of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress and Senate,” Aquino said.

He said the “failure of the peace process will create more Marwans and Usmans.” (davaotoday.com)

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