Published on February 10, 2015.
Last Friday, in a news analysis for Inquirer.net, I raised “three points to consider” for a public about to view President Aquino’s nationwide address. Official sources had given assurances that he would use the occasion to announce Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima’s resignation. But, given the circumstances, the mere announcement of acceptance was not, could not have been, enough.
There were at least three threshold questions the President had to answer. That he ended up answering only one suggests to me that the theological concept of “patterns of sin” (and therefore of redemption) might apply, if only analogically, to understand Mr. Aquino’s latest televised address—and that he was sticking to the pattern again.
The first point to consider was: How can Purisima resign, when he is facing charges of graft (not to mention plunder)? The antigraft law specifically prohibits allowing an official “to resign or retire pending an investigation, criminal or administrative, or pending a prosecution against him.” So: “If the sources’ information is accurate, and Purisima will be removed, how will the President couch his removal?”
I understand that government officials were busy consulting the statute books and the experts to craft the language the President would use; but in the end, Mr. Aquino decided simply to say he had accepted Purisima’s resignation. This is problematic, not because the controversial police chief should not be removed, but because it displays a nonchalant attitude toward the nuances of the law. Instead of putting paid to the issue, President Aquino’s mere acceptance raises more questions, the most important of which involves the graft cases Purisima faces: What happens now?
From the start of the Aquino administration, the quality of the legal advice the President was receiving from within his office has been an issue. I am not referring to the counsel and experience of professionals like Francis Jardeleza and Florin Hilbay, or Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, but the legal advice from the President’s confidants, including Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa. These confidants do not enjoy a reputation as legal luminaries. (Those familiar with Mr. Aquino’s presidential campaign will recognize the problem; it goes back to those tumultuous draft and campaign days in late 2009 and early 2010.)
The second point to consider was: How will the President pay tribute to Purisima, a close friend he credits for literally saving his life? The context for this question was Mr. Aquino’s two speeches the previous week, the first nationwide address on Mamasapano and his eulogy for the 44 slain Special Action Force troopers; these were widely criticized for misreading the situation (and the public mood). Would he display a similar “sense of misplaced proportion” and praise his friend in a way the public would find excessive?
It must be said that the President gave Purisima a full, but not a fulsome, tribute. Here it is, in the official English translation:
“In all our efforts to capture Marwan and Usman, Gen. Alan Purisima played a vital role. He contributed greatly to the long preparations and in the many operations in pursuit of the two terrorists. The public is likewise aware that Alan and I have known each other for a very long time. During the coup d’etat, or the attempted coup d’ etat in 1987, before we were ambushed, I was confident that our security personnel had sufficient skills to protect us. But because almost all my escorts fell during that ambush, my confidence was shaken. It was Alan Purisima who designed, executed, and trained us in a modified VIP protection course; this played a great role in restoring my confidence. From then, until today, Alan and I have gone through so much; he was with me in opposing powerful vested interests who were capable of threatening our lives. In the days when I was part of the opposition, even though it was detrimental to his career to be close to me, Alan did not leave my side.
“For this reason, perhaps you will understand why I find it painful to see him leave the service under these circumstances. I have accepted, effective immediately, the resignation of General Purisima. I thank him for his many years of service prior to this tragedy.”
The third point to consider was: How will the President justify Purisima’s removal? As we can see from the passage quoted above, he did not. He offered no explanation why it was necessary to remove Purisima. Did he violate the chain of command, giving orders while under preventive suspension? Did he give the wrong advice, regarding the operation that is now known as Oplan Exodus? Did he insist on keeping the PNP officer in charge and the interior secretary out of the loop? Or was he simply too controversial to remain PNP chief?
Nothing. No explanation. The question last week was: “How will Purisima’s participation in Wolverine [as I thought the January operation was still called] reflect on the President’s own role in the plan? Purisima could have taken part only because the President allowed it.” This is a point someone like administration ally Sen. TG Guingona might want to ask when the Senate hearing resumes today, instead of badgering former SAF commander Getulio Napeñas.
I’ve used “patterns of sin” as a category of analysis once before, when I tried to make sense of yet another Willie Revillame controversy. Again, I am using sin only in the analogical sense—sin as “hamartia,” a missing-of-the-mark, a coming-up-short. What did the President’s speech last Friday tell us about his administration’s systematic shortcomings?
One reading: a deadly combination of legal-staff sloth and self-justifying pride.