Category: Uncategorized

Inquirer reporter did PR for controversial Mercedes-Benz distributor CATS Motors

IT was a Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) business reporter, Daxim Lucas, who represented CATS Motors owner Felix Ang in offering the Manila Times’ main stockholder Dante Ang advertising revenues in exchange for favorable or even no coverage of the luxury car company’s tax woes.

The Manila Times in recent weeks had run articles that alleged that investigators of both customs and internal revenue bureaus had reported to their superiors that the company had been undervaluing its reported Mercedes-Benz cars in order to evade taxes.

My Chinese-Filipino sources alleged that Felix Ang likes to boast to his friends that he is a personal friend of President Duterte and that he “officially” had donated P10 million to his campaign funds last year, hinting that his support was more than that.

It seems to be a practice of the owners of CATS Motors—the sole distributor of Mercedes-Benz cars here—to ingratiate themselves with the incumbent President. Its former chairman Gregorio Yu officially donated P5 million to President Aquino’s campaign kitty in the 2010 elections. Sources claimed that the amount was much bigger, which explains why Yu who had never been a government employee was in the board of the Government Service Insurance System, the state-run pension fund for government employees, for the entire term of Aquino, getting an annual salary of about P2.5 million.

Officers in the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) claimed that their boss during the immediate past administration, Kim Henares, had thrown to the wastebasket their recommendation to investigate CATS Motors for undervaluing its cars’ prices in computing its revenues subject to tax. This was despite the fact that their report was approved by their three higher levels of supervisors, including the deputy commissioner for the BIR’s legal and inspection group.

The big-picture question over a business reporter acting as a PR for a company facing adverse press: Has journalism these days become so bad that this is now an accepted practice in the profession, for reporters to be press relations officers for private companies? A ranking media officer of a conglomerate indeed told me: “That’s so very common among business journalists these days.” A veteran columnist told me he’s often pissed off with reporters, even from his own newspaper, “interceding” for people he has written adversely about. “PR is legitimate racket for PR pros, but not of newsmen,” the columnist said.

SPIKED? PDI report on CATS Motors posted in its Facebook page, but nowhere to be found in its website.

The term PR in this country has indeed become a euphemism for an operator who manages to bribe in so many varied ways a reporter and/or an editor to “spin” an article in his client’s favor, or even to totally stop publication of adverse reportage on him.

I was shocked that PDI reporter Lucas didn’t even invoke confidentiality when he texted Dante Ang requesting for an appointment “as an emissary” of CATS Motors. In his e-mail to me when I asked him to comment on the report, he didn’t seem to find anything wrong acting as a PR for the car importer. Is moonlighting as PR men an accepted practice at the PDI?

E-mail
What follows is Lucas’ unedited, complete e-mail reply:

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify the matter. I appreciate it.

“I visited Dante Ang yesterday [September 6] in my personal capacity at the request of my friends/sources in the industry regarding CATS Motors.

“The company was the subject of an adverse article in The Manila Times, and they wanted a firmer grasp of where the negative news was coming from, especially since, according to them, the issue in question had already been settled with authorities in the past.

“Having been a former employee of the Times—and Mr. Ang having been my boss for two years in the previous decade—I set up a meeting with him.

“We met at the Manila Times where I conveyed the message from CATS’ principals that they wanted to be ‘on friendly terms’ with the publication. ‘How can you [meaning both parties]be on friendlier terms,’ I asked him, relaying their concern.

“Mr. Ang explained the editorial process of the paper, stressing its independence and saying CATS could have its side aired anytime prominently.

“I then asked Mr. Ang if his editorial policy toward CATS would be different if the company were an advertiser. He replied: ‘I have no problem being friends with them, and ads are always welcome—who doesn’t want ads, right? —but I cannot commit to killing the story.’

“I left it at that, thanked him, told him I would relay the message back, and we proceeded to talk about the local media industry and other news.”

Under Felix’s orders
I know that it was Felix Ang himself who asked—or ordered—Lucas to talk to Dante Ang because of my involvement in this episode. Two friends of Felix Ang had called me asking if I could arrange a meeting between Felix and Dante for the former to convince the newspaper owner that the firm wasn’t guilty of any tax or customs-duty evasion.

I refused to do so, and told them I was not Felix’s PR man. However, I told them that Dante Ang was a fair man, and he would agree to talk to Felix. I gave them Dante’s personal cell phone number, emphasizing that it had to be Felix who should call Dante to request for a meeting.

Apparently, Felix Ang thinks himself so important that it is beneath him to call a newspaper owner to make an appointment. Instead, it was Lucas who called Dante – on the confidential cell phone number that I gave.

There are important questions that arise over this episode. Does Lucas and other business reporters have a number of businessmen as clients? Lucas has even won several “awards,” the latest of which was “Investigative Journalist of the Year” last year. It was awarded by the Rotary Club of Manila, whose awards are handled by two of the country’s top (or most expensive) PR men, one recently appointed ambassador, and the other President Estrada’s former media man.

If Lucas can do PR to convince another newspaper not to run adverse stories on his client, he must also have done “PR” with his own newspaper for CATS Motors.

Based on a Google search, PDI had no article at all regarding investigations published in other newspapers, alleging that CATS Motors* had undervalued the prices of its car imports. PDI though had similar articles on charges against other luxury car importers such as PGA Cars, Vikings, Inc., and Asian Car Makers.

But a particular recent report on CATS Motors, unless PDI can explain it, shows that even an adverse article on the firm that was already posted on the newspaper’s Internet edition was spiked** and didn’t make it to the print edition.

In October last year, the PDI’s Facebook page reported that then Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon had announced that he was filing charges against CATS Motors, which he “accused of cheating the government out of P233.8 million in unpaid duties and taxes on 138 Mercedes-Benz cars in 2015. The Bureau of Customs even tweeted the PDI report, posting the link (i.e., location in the Internet) of the PDI article.

If you click on the links on that report in PDI’s Facebook and in the BoC’s twitter, the result is a message from the PDI website: “Sorry, this page doesn’t exist.” (See photo.) A Google search using the article’s title leads only to the PDI Facebook post.

I am quite familiar with the Internet versions of a newspaper as I was senior vice president for inq7.net (the doomed version of inquirer.net) and helped in the setting up of this newspaper’s website. That the article on CATS Motors can’t be found simply means that it was deleted from the website. That’s how powerful the company’s PR man was.

No wonder that Filipino businessmen, according to business journalists’ portrayal of them, are the angels of the capitalist world, incapable of doing bad things.

Notes:
*Daimler of Germany in 2014 ordered CATS Motors to spin off its importing functions into a separate company Auto Nation Group, which became the official distributor of Mercedes-Benz in the country. CATS Motors became the retail dealer which also provided maintenance and service for the cars.

** “Spike” was the old American term for stopping a newspaper article from being published. The local term is simply “pinatay”.

Filed under: Uncategorized

CBCP campaign against ‘fake news’ targets pro-Duterte sites

THE Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is at it again, undertaking a move to undermine President Duterte, using religion as a smokescreen.

Its penchant for meddling in secular affairs beyond its sphere has now been directed at alleged “fake-news” sites. In a “pastoral letter” signed by its president, Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas – who lusts after the distinction of being the country’s second Cardinal Sin—the CBCP announced that the “Catholic faith” requires fighting fake news.

While that exhortation seems harmless, the CBCP’s pastoral guidelines had an “Appendix” titled “A partial list of web/news/blog sites in the Philippines with fake or unverified content”. The CBCP’s subtext: Never visit these sites or you will be in sin. Who does Villegas think he is? God’s representative to determine what websites Filipinos should read and what they shouldn’t?

The list though reveals the CBCP’s real intent, disguised as a holy war against lies spread through the Internet.

While some of the sites listed are amateurish, unscrupulous attempts to lure “visitors” for advertising revenues, many of the sites listed have been supportive of President Duterte and his administration even before he assumed office, among them, www.getrealphilippines.com; www.thinkingpinoy.com; and www.mindanation.com.

In fact, I had been a fan of getrealphilippines that two years ago I contacted its anonymous “webmaster” to try to recruit him as a columnist for this newspaper. That getrealphilippines has been targeted by the CBCP is most probably due to the fact that it has been one of the earliest sites to do much research to debunk the myth of the Edsa revolution and the heroism of the Aquinos – both Ninoy and Cory. RJ Nieto who runs thinkingpinoy.com could trounce with his well-researched articles most columnists in mainstream papers.

I dare Villegas or anybody at the CBCP to send me an instance of “fake news” reportage by these two websites I have been familiar with.

Plot vs netizen journalism
Wittingly or unwittingly, the CBCP’s move is part of a plot to weaken netizen journalism in social media that has been an influential base of support for Duterte and his policies. It was this pro-Duterte social media that had roundly beaten during the last election campaign the mainstream media that supported Duterte’s rivals, mainly Mar Roxas. The core of such social media has continued to be supportive of Duterte, trouncing such well-funded anti-Duterte sites as Rappler.

Netizen-journalists have their weaknesses, mainly an inflated ego due to the objective metric showing that they have thousands and thousands of followers. By contrast, while still definitely egoistic, print journalists have had their egos cut down by shouting editors when they were still greenhorn reporters. Print journalists also know that they could be humbled anytime by an editor slashing their articles or even throwing them to the dustbin.

Despite this dangerous weakness though, netizen-journalists represent empowerment at the grassroots, and a force against oligarchic media.

Rappler practically endorsing Villegas’ list of ‘fake news’ official propagandists, and sites the faithful should boycott.

I won’t name rabidly anti-Duterte sites which insult our sense of decency and rationality, and which reduce argumentation to photo-shopped images, as doing so would just give them free advertising to lure more people to their sites.

But not a single one of these sites which are inarguably spreading fake news and insults in the Internet, was in the CBCP’s list of fake sites or blogs.

The CBCP has practically no staff that could have done research on the “fake sites” infesting the Internet, so how could it have come up with such a list?

Rappler’s list?
A source has claimed that it was Rappler’s editor in chief Maria Ressa, through one of her editors known to be close to the CBCP, that provided it the list. It was so cleverly done that it didn’t include as “purveyors of fake news” Mocha Uson, against whom Ressa has publicly ranted as the biggest fake-news generator, and Sass Rogando who has been fiercely criticizing the Rappler boss. Indeed, it has been Rappler that has prominently reported in several articles the CBCP’s campaign against fake news, practically endorsing the list of alleged “fake news” sites the religious organization has condemned.

Ressa in fact has been on a campaign against “fake news” sites, and implied these have taken over media when she tweeted a few months back, “Time to take back the Internet.” The Wikipedia entry on fake news reported: “Rappler investigated online networks of Duterte supporters and discovered that they include fake news, fake accounts, bots and trolls, which Rappler thinks are being used to silence dissent.” That entry was obviously made by Rappler itself.

I dare the CBCP to tell us exactly how it compiled the list of alleged “fake news” site—what criteria was used for a site’s inclusion in the list— and to deny that it got its list from a Rappler editor.

However, the plot to weaken Duterte’s political base in social media, disguised as a campaign against “fake news,” is so amateurish as to be so obvious.

After Ressa’s campaign through Rappler against fake news, CBCP comes up with a list of websites which are purportedly purveyors of fake news— which includes many pro-Duterte sites—and which the Church asks it faithful to boycott.

Then, Yellow Sen. Joel Villanueva, one of former President Aquino 3rd’s favorite officials, introduces a bill that would penalize such fake-news site with a fine of at least P10 million and imprisonment of 10 years. And what organization has the first list of such fake-news sites? CBCP.

The CBCP’s list of what it claimed were fake news sites reminds one of the Vatican’s infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of authors and publications which the Catholic faithful were prohibited from reading under pain of excommunication—which included the works of scientists and philosophers like Johannes Kepler and Immanuel Kant that would liberate mankind’s mind from religion-developed superstition. (It was discontinued by Pope Paul VI in 1966.)

Affront to our intellect
Like the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the CBCP’s list of “fake news” sites is an affront to our intellect and the freedom of the press. As the Index prevented a generation from reading Kepler and Kant and other intellectual giants, the CBCP’s list intends to prevent Catholics from reading valid analyses of the country’s situation.

Fake news – deliberate misinformation and hoaxes – has always been a dark facet of mass media as it has emerged in different forms. It was even used in ancient times by the Romans through their Acta Diurna, whitewashed boards posted in public places to demonize the current ruler’s enemies.

The dawn of newspapers had such an episode as The New York Sun in 1835 reporting the observation of life on the moon. The classic case of fake news, even if unintended, was the reading on radio of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds, which listeners believed was an accurate news account of an invasion by Martians, and consequently triggered mass panic in New York.

But mankind has been clever enough so that fake news outfits have withered under the light of reason.

Don’t worry about “fake news” in social media. There are simple guideposts so one doesn’t swallow their lies. And there are steps one could take to get rid of them in your Facebook timeline.

If the news is so shocking that mainstream newspapers and news sites haven’t reported them at all, e.g., the death of a prominent personality, look at the website reporting it. If it’s a never-heard site, or one masquerading as being that of a major news organization (e.g., Fox-News24.com, or timenews.com), don’t waste your time reading it.

Then block it – if you use Facebook, it’s a must to learn how to block such sites. If it’s persistent news, especially one circulating globally – like that one about Chinese eating fetuses or Christians slaughtered by Muslims – check it out at a reliable fact checker, such as snopes.com. Having been quite disciplined in blocking such fake news sites, I hardly ever have such fake news in my time-line.

Easy to spot
Most “fake news” sites are easy to spot, and are set up by megalomaniac loners or unscrupulous individuals, out to get back at society because of their frustrations in life, or in the latter case, foolishly believing they can make a fast buck out of Internet advertisements. But they soon get tired of it, or don’t have the money to continue their scams, especially as Internet advertising isn’t as lucrative at it seems, with the lion’s share of such revenues going to Google.

These gradually vanish, as in fact happened to various versions of fake-news purveyors in different forms of mass media. What’s dangerous really is Big Media. For instance, a slew of newspapers, broadsheets and tabloids, emerged after the 1986 Edsa Revolution. The “fake newspapers”—mostly tabloids—died natural deaths. What have survived though are such behemoths as The Philippine Daily Inquirer, which has managed to dominate Filipinos’ minds for decades with its fake Yellow narrative.

In these times, worry more about articles by well-funded sites that have a long-term agenda, such as Rappler, as these are cleverly disguised as rational, data-based reports.

A case in point: Even an excellent journalist like BBC HARDtalk host Stephen Sackur in his recent interview with Sen. Antonio Trillanes prefaced his program: “Since he came to power, around 7,000 people have been killed in his war on drugs crime.” Where did he get that 7,000 figure? From Rappler. And the figure is fake news as not only I but the Philippine National Police have debunked it. (See my March 20 article,” How Rappler misled EU, Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time, BBC — the world.”)

More recently, Rappler had another fake news, that Duterte’s foreign trips were doubly expensive than those of his predecessors’, showing his allegedly exorbitant lifestyle. That was based on false information, and therefore was fake news. (See my June 21 column, “Duterte’s 21 foreign trips should be applauded, not ‘rapplered’”).

Don’t worry about pygmy “fake-news” sites, worry about Big Media and its fake news.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Let Filipinos condemn and boycott the New York Times

I’M sick and tired of the New York Times articles and editorials that are vicious hatchet jobs not just on President Duterte, but on the Philippines itself.

NYT has portrayed our country as one where thousands of corpses of the innocent litter our streets, and that we Filipinos—and therefore even columnists like me— either just keep quiet in fear of Duterte, or that we are savages living in and embracing a failed state.

I am shocked at its latest editorial entitled “Let the world condemn Duterte,” the second on the same topic by its editorial board in just a month, the first titled “Accountability for Duterte.”

What right does the NYT have to call on the world to condemn Duterte, based on their flawed and biased reporting? Didn’t this American paper find ridiculous its editorial that cheered the International Criminal Court to convict Duterte for “mass murder”, since the US voted against the ICC’s establishment in 2002?

The New York Times recent hatchet job on the Philippines, complete with gory picture.

NYT’s extreme bias is so obvious in that its editorial was accompanied by a gory but tear-jerker of a photo captioned “a 17-year-old a few hours after she was killed by masked gunmen in Quezon City, Philippines, in 2016.” But was it a murder committed by Duterte’s purported death squads, or just another case of murder out of the thousands that occur every day in metropolises not just in the Philippines but even in New York?

Its most recent April 25 editorial reveals the plot of the Yellow Cult’s campaign against Duterte: Have somebody file a case in an international body even if it is merely based on allegations by the opposition and hearsay, and then get US media to sensationalize it. Here’s some news for the Yellow Cult whose rise to power in 1986 was to a great extent due to US media: Those days are over.

My head explodes at the NYT, to borrow a vivid sentence recently used just the other day by former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, to condemn the United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ February warning to President Trump that repealing Obamacare would violate international laws.

Smoking gun

The smoking gun, or what incontrovertibly shows the NYT’s bias against the Philippines, is the following sentence in that editorial: “Mr. Sabio said in the 77-page filing, that more than 9,400 people have been killed, most of them poor young men, but also bystanders, children and political opponents.” (It was this Sabio who filed a case against Duterte and 10 other Philippine government officials before the ICC accusing them of “mass murder”.)

However, even the mercenary Sabio couldn’t convince himself to make such a brazen lie, with no basis at all. There is no such 9.400 figure of people summarily executed in Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, claimed in Sabio’s complaint. When it comes to the Philippines, has the NYT’s editors ordered out of the newsroom its much-vaunted fact checkers?

The highest number Sabio could fabricate is 8,000, a figure he wouldn’t even explain how he got: “In his first seven months in the office, or from June 2016 to January 2017, 7,000 drug-related killings have been recorded as having been committed by police and unknown armed persons. The body count has continued to mount and increase into his ninth month in office, reaching up to more than 8,000 to date. “

Note the word-play propaganda trick the NYT uses to accompany its 9,400 figure, which leaves the impression that thousands of children and Duterte’s political opponents have been killed allegedly by police. C’mon now, dear Reader and even dear Yellow Cultist, is this what’s happening in your neighborhood?

I dare the NYT to name a single political opponent of this regime and a single child killed by Duterte’s alleged death squads.

Thank Rappler

Thank the internet-only news outfit Rappler for the 7,000 figure. It invented that figure way back in September and its editors — and its owner — have refused to repudiate that figure the Philippine National Police and I have totally debunked. It’s been the figure quoted by nearly all Western media outfits, the European Union Parliament, and Amnesty International, and of course the NYT.

Sabio made the effort in his complaint to hide Rappler’s complicity though. He claimed that the 7,000 figure was “based on official statistics from the Philippine National Police for the period from 1 July 2016 up to and until 21 January 2017.” The PNP has loudly denied this figure, explaining point-by-point how Rappler invented the figure. Sabio merely claims: “This figure is widely reported in local and foreign media, and also in social media.”
That’s wrong: local media mostly don’t use that figure anymore after PNP explained why it is such a colossal error; in social media, only Rappler uses it.

Rappler intentionally manufactured that figure it to exaggerate the casualties in Duterte’s war against illegal drugs. It added all the 4,525 murder cases that the PNP was investigating to the 2,555 the people who were killed when they allegedly fought the police who were trying to arrest them.

A detailed list based on police blotters compiled by the Philippine Daily Inquirer shows 2,107 killed in the anti-illegal drug war, and by no stretch of the imagination would even half of this be due to summary executions. Yet, even while failing miserably to justify its 7,000 figure, Rappler has continued to “update” it to this day.

As I had predicted in my column last month (“How Rappler misled EU, Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time, BBC — the world”), that 7,000 figure, if Rappler doesn’t retract it, will be used by anti-Duterte groups to extrapolate that the number of extra-judicial killings now total 9,000. If Duterte doesn’t stop his anti-illegal drug war, will it be 10,000 next month?

Ridiculous claim

Indeed it was extrapolated by Sabio to make this ridiculous and atrocious claim in his complaint: “In the event Duterte will be able to end his six-year term, the body count would reach an estimate of 72,000 for six years, based on the 1,000 killings per month, or could reach even a much higher number resulting in a national bloodbath of disastrous proportions.”

What’s appalling in the NYT’s recent editorial is that it totally presumes that Duterte is guilty of “mass murder”. It claims that if the House of Representatives “quashes an impeachment motion filed by an opposition lawyer,” then the ICC can prosecute the case since it may exercise its jurisdiction to prosecute criminals “when their national courts are unwilling or unable to do so.”

What? If the Congress doesn’t impeach Duterte, he is still guilty of mass murder anyway, so the ICC can intervene?

What is appalling is that the NYT believed totally the integrity of what it merely describes as a “Filipino lawyer”. It didn’t even bother to check how such a mediocre lawyer with so little financial resources (even to make the trip to the ICC’s headquarters in The Hague and stay for week in a 300 euro per night hotel there) could have filed the suit.

It didn’t even bother to report that many in this country are convinced that this joker appears to be a minion of the nutty opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, probably using Liberal Party funds, who has been undertaking a plot to oust Duterte, so Vice President Leni Robredo of the Liberal Party would assume power.

Trillanes a hero?

Indeed, read that lawyer’s suit, and see Trillanes is the most often-quoted personality, depicted as a hero and as the only Filipino other than Senator Leila de Lima bold enough to challenge Duterte.

What’s appalling about the NYT’s editorials is that there was no attempt at all to get the government’s side, or even those of non-partisans on the extra-judicial killing allegations. After a query, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar reported that his office had sent letters to the NYT’s editors to debunk its editorials and articles.

None has been published. Compare the NYT’s one-sided articles to those of the Washington Post, which in a recent article quoted ordinary Filipinos explaining why they support Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs.
I worked for a decade in an international publication as a journalist, and I closely monitored US and European press coverage during President Macapagal-Arroyo’s term as it was my job, both as Press Secretary and later Presidential Chief of Staff, to do so.

I have never encountered such one-sided, biased coverage of the Philippines as the NYT has done. Major US newspapers in the past routinely published my letters to them that cited errors and biases in their coverage. I strongly suspect that a Filipino female tycoon who lives in New York has managed to get the NYT to adopt her stridently anti-Duterte worldview.

With these maliciously cruel and destructive that the NYT has been unleashing against our country, we should all condemn this publication, and patriotic Filipino New Yorkers should boycott it.

I urge my readers to do a patriotic act and write the NYT letters of complaints against their coverage and editorials. Or you can just send the link to this column and ask them to comment. Let’s show these AHs we’re not pushovers, and we’ll not allow biased reportage to slur our country.

NYTs email addresses are: executive-editor@nytimes.com; public@nytimes.com; and letters@nytimes.com. Or post a message at its Facebook page and Twitter account (@nytimes).

Filed under: Manila Times Columns, Uncategorized

Aquino stonewalled inquiry; cover-up underway

Despite its valiant efforts, the Philippine National Police’s Board of Inquiry’s (PNP BOI) report on why and how 44 Special Action Forces got helplessly trapped and massacred by Muslim insurgents on that fateful January day is far from complete.

The big reason for this is that President Benigno S. Aquino stonewalled its probe, and is now desperately trying to conceal what really happened: even as he was informed early that morning that the commandos have been cornered by the Muslim insurgents, he did little to order their rescue.

Aquino refused to be interviewed, declined to give his account of the event to the probe body, which to its credit did ask him. Indeed, those who, together with Aquino, rebuffed the PNP-BOI’s request seem to be guilty that they’re worried they might incriminate themselves or disclose Aquino’s criminal negligence if the PNP investigators interviewed them.

This is clear right on the first page of the report, in its Executive Summary:

“(The) BOI failed to secure an interview with the President, suspended Chief PNP Alan Purisima, Chief-of-Staff AFP General Gregorio Catapang and Lieutenant Rustico Guerrero. All concerned officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines refused to be interviewed by the BOI despite repeated requests.”

It’s understandable why Purisima refused to be interviewed. He is likely to face a court suit for violating the order of the Ombudsman and for usurpation of authority. It would be unlikely that Aquino’s best friend would see the inside of a jail cell or a military stockade while he is President. But with the case likely to drag on to the next administration, that could happen, and worse, he could lose his retirement benefits.

PNP-BOI report: Police asked for army artillery at 7 a.m.; Army fired phosphorus markers 11 hours later, at 6 p.m. Did Aquino tell them to do so?
PNP-BOI report: Police asked for army artillery at 7 a.m.; Army fired phosphorus markers 11 hours later, at 6 p.m. Did Aquino tell them to do so?

Catapang’s refusal to be interviewed by the PNP-BOI is unacceptable, as he could have very crucial information. If the armed forces hadn’t dilly-dallied in rescuing the Special Action Forces trapped by the insurgents, and if they just fired the phosphorus markers at 7 a.m. when they were asked to do so by PNP officials, and not 11 hours later, the 44 commandos would still be alive.

Or did Aquino give Catapang reasons to withhold their forces, which might be why they refused to be interviewed by the PNP-BOI?

Technically, it is only his Commander-in-Chief Aquino who could order him to be interviewed by the PNP-BOI. My bet is that it was Aquino himself, with the order relayed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who told him to stonewall the investigation.

Moral depravity

Aquino’s refusal to talk to the PNP-BOI probers, and even to just submit this account of the event, is not only an indication of his guilt but his moral depravity.

He called for what he pretended was a “prayer meeting” of evangelical groups, just for him to have a televised pulpit to give his account of the event, which was to put all blame on SAF director Getulio Napeñas, who didn’t have a chance to face his accuser.

Aquino refused to talk with the PNP probers, who might just ask the kind of questions that would show that he panicked and froze after the reports that the SAF were being massacred. The biggest lacuna in the PNP-BOI’s otherwise very comprehensive report: What did the President do that whole fateful day to save the SAF troopers?

He was informed that the operation didn’t go as planned at early morning. Aquino was not only the Commander-in-Chief but acted as strategic commander who helped plan the operation from its very inception and was privy even to its minutest details.

Yet there is no report, even in that of the PNP-BOI, that he called his security officials who were with him since the morning of that day in Zamboanga City to a crisis-conference to deal with the situation, to draw up a plan to rescue the trapped SAF forces.

After reading the PNP-BOI report and all other accounts of the Mamasapano event, I totally, completely stand by my columns almost three weeks ago, “Aquino got mad, panicked and closed his eyes to reality” (Feb. 24) and “Aquino orders SAF operations, then abandons his troops” (Feb. 5).

Even his speech at the “prayer meeting” last week, with all the blame heaped on Napeñas and all the details of the operation he disclosed, Aquino hasn’t explained a bit: “What did you do when you were informed the SAF were in trouble?”

Covering up his culpability in rescuing the SAF is this Administration’s main concern now. To the credit of the PNP-BOI, it reported a detail many have missed:

Missing messages?

“PDG Purisima’s sworn statement included, as an attachment, a transcript of his SMS exchange with the President on January 24, 2015. The BOI noted that such transcript did not consistently indicate the time when the SMS messages were sent and/or received by PDG Purisima or the President. Out of a total eleven SMS messages exchanged between them, only five messages indicated the time of transmission or receipt.”

“The BOI also observed that there appears to be an unusually long gap or an absence of SMS exchange between PDG Purisima and the President after 11:38 a.m. and before 6:20 p.m. The BOI could not determine on the basis of the submitted transcript if the eleven messages enumerated therein were the only SMS exchanges between PDG Purisima and the President on January 25, 2015. The BOI could not also determine … whether the absence of SMS exchanges between him and the President after 11:38 a.m. and before 6:20 p.m. indicates an absence of communication between two individuals during that period, or whether Purisima did not include in the transcript their SMS exchanges for that period.” (Emphasis added.)”

In short, the BOI was questioning why there were no SMS messages for seven hours after 11:38 a.m. Aquino’s last message, according to Purisima’s statement was actually at 10:16 a.m., which didn’t even ask about the situation of the SAF troops: “Basit should not get away.”

Is that what Purisima is hoping will make Aquino continue to back him up – that it would be devastating to the President if he made public their exchange of messages that he deleted in his transcript, which would show that the Commander-in-Chief just got mad, panicked, and abandoned his troops? Did Aquino paraphrase the infamous statement he made in the Yolanda episode: “May buhay pa naman sa kanila, ‘di ba?” Or did Aquino send angry messages cursing Purisima for the fiasco?

That the 10:16 a.m. message from Aquino was the last seems impossible given how Purisima and Aquino were frantically exchanging messages early in the morning, and especially since only the two were, in fact, running the operation.

The PNP-BOI emphasized how the President stonewalled the investigation, making it difficult to find out what he did on that fateful day by pointing out: “The Board likewise lacked access to the specific details of the activities of the President on January 25, 2015 in Zamboanga City that could have shed light on events prior to, during and after the operation.”

It also pointed out, quite significantly:
“The BOI did not have access to other crucial information such as call and SMS messages logs, and the text content of the SMS messages sent and received by majority of the key personalities before, during and after the execution of Oplan Exodus.”

“The Board requested key personalities to submit their cellular phones for digital forensic examination. CSAFP Catapang and Guerrero refused to submit their cellular phones to the BOI. Purisima also refused to turn over his cellular phone to the BOI.”

Why would they refuse to do so, if they had nothing to hide?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns, Uncategorized