Apologists of the Aquino government are currently celebrating a false ‘achievement’ following today’s Mamasapano Senate hearing. They think that “proof” that Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III did not give a direct order to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to stand down from providing support to the besieged Special Action Force (SAF) police officers in Mamasapano absolves the president of responsibility.
The point Senator Juan Ponce Enrile was essentially trying to make was a difficult one to bring across to a Filipino public accustomed to analysis-by-soundbyte — that President BS Aquino presided over a fragmented and inept government that failed to manage a preventable crisis. If there was anything further highlighted today, it was that the Philippine government under President BS Aquino was completely inutile when it came to maintaining a tight and effective command-and-control regime across its two main armed state services — the police and the military.
Indeed, Mamasapano is no more than just the most recent of catastrophic failures owing to the dysfunctional command structure of the Philippine government. The police operation snafu that led to the massacre of nine Hong Kong tourists in 2010 was the first of these tragic failures in which the manner with which President BS Aquino performed under stress came under scrutiny. The other was the appallingly incompetent Philippine government response to the Typhoon Haiyan disaster in 2013. In both disasters, the government of President BS Aquino were heavily-criticised for not getting on top of the situation at a pace befitting the gravity of the crises unfolding.
CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper reporting on the ground in Tacloban City in the days following the Haiyan calamity observed an astounding breakdown in leadership just when it was most needed. There was, he reported, “no real evidence of organized recovery or relief” effort coming from the Philippine government. An ABC News report also observed of the Philippine Airforce’s performance in those critical days…
Villeamor Airbase – home of the Philippine Air Force and the main staging area for relief flights to the disaster zone – seems to be operating at half-speed. There is no thrum of activity, no evidence that there’s a real sense of urgency among the Philippine troops here. Every once in a while a civilian car pulls up and unloads a few boxes of goods some neighbors have collected. They put them on the sidewalk and drive away. A little while later, some Filipino troops (or reporters) move them inside. No method. No organization. It’s as if an earthquake hit southern California and Vandenburg or Nellis AFB were quiet and half-populated.
The contrast with the way other emergency and armed services from other countries performed was stark…
The U.S. Marines have swung into action, certainly. But there are just 215 of them right now, and they must coordinate with the Philippine government. As one high-ranking officer told me here about the host government, “They’re paralyzed.”An Israeli Foreign Ministry official confirmed that impression privately to me. The Israeli team is here to assess what their country can contribute and where. Over the years, Israel has developed excellent field hospital capabilities that they’ve brought to disasters in Haiti and elsewhere.But the Israelis, too, need to coordinate with the Philippine government. “When we ask them what they need, they tell us to talk to the Americans,” the official said.
In all of the above cases as he now does today, Philippine President BS Aquino enjoyed an unembarrassed plausible deniability for responsibility for all this non-performance on display. This is thanks to a multitude of fall guys left hung out to dry while the President hid from the public eye. It is not that much different from the way he handled the Mamasapano crisis in which 44 elite SAF troopers were gunned down in cold blood by Moro Islamic Liberation Front bandits. This plausible deniability was, yet again, held up by Aquino’s minions in the Senate as a means to cover-up his inability to cobble together a high-performing team that could respond to crises efficiently. In a country that is exposed to extremely high risk of disasters due to weather disturbances and terrorist attack, this failure on the part of a sitting president is unacceptable and likely to be criminal in nature.
Even if President BS Aquino wins this battle to wash the blood of the 44 slain SAF troopers off his hands, the fact remains, he is ultimately responsible — responsible for negotiating with terrorists, responsible for colluding with a belligerent foreign government to carve out a resource-rich chunk of Mindanao, and, more importantly, responsible for overseeing a government that is a consistent source of embarrassment to its people.
If China — or Malaysia — were to decide to invade the Philippines, this is the sort of government and armed forces it will be up against. It’ll be like a stroll in the park.
[Photo courtesy Inquirer.net.]