MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III was noticeably absent at Villamor Air Base on Thursday, January 29, where the bodies of 42 elite cops killed in a clash with Moro rebels arrived to a heroes' welcome.
Aquino, who had described the slain members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force as "heroes" in a national address on Wednesday night, opted to follow his original schedule that morning – the inauguration of a Mitsubishi plant in Sta Rosa, Laguna.
Malacañang defended the decision, and said that the President is scheduled anyway to be at the necrological services for the fallen cops on Friday, January 30.
"The President did not skip the arrival honors today. It presupposes he was originally scheduled to attend it, which was not the case. The President will lead the necrological services tomorrow at 10 am at Camp Bagong Diwa," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Valte acknowledged the question on many Filipinos' minds – that the President was not in Villamor Air Base where families, colleagues, and superiors of the ill-fated cops were gathered. However, she said the related events were planned deliberately and that they decided it was better to split up the activities.
“He really is not scheduled for today,” she said.
The officials who were at the Villamor arrival honors were Vice President Jejomar Binay, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, and Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
On Sunday, January 25, 392 SAF commandos entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). They were targeting two “high value targets,” one of them alleged Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as "Marwan.” (READ: Dead or alive? Top terrorist was cops' target)
The MILF blames the failure of the PNP SAF team to coordinate with them, as provided by its agreement with the government on operations in known MILF territories.
The incident occurred less than a year after the group signed a landmark peace deal with the Philippine government, and as lawmakers deliberate on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which seeks to create an autonomous region initially headed by the MILF.
In Laguna, Aquino praised Mitsubishi Philippines for standing by their "commitment to the Filipino people" as it inaugurated a plant that has a production capacity of up to 50,000 units per year, and is expected to employ up to 1,150 people over the next 6 years.
"That is why I made it a point to be here today: to recognize the depth of the partnership you have forged with my countrymen, a partnership that has already led to much success," Aquino told those in attendance, which included top Mitsubishi executives.
He made no mention of the simultaneous ceremonies happening in Manila.
Netizens were unhappy with the President’s decision.
On Twitter, Filipinos questioned his choice to choose the Mistubishi event over the arrival.
@XEryKV tweeted: “Which is more impt Mitsibushi plant inauguration or the fallen policemen Mr. President? You are heartless.”
Another user, @coquettepascual said: “heartbreaking-so many widows and orphans and a heartless noynoy! he does not deserve the respect of Filipinos!am ashamed of him!”
The President also appealed to the public to extend help. On Thursday, Malacañang said "donations may be given through the account established by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)" under Landbank of the Philippines (LBP) account name 'DSWD- Armed Conflict Mamasapano,Maguindanao' with account number (CA) No. 3122-1026-28.
Aquino also evaded questions on whether he gave a go-signal for the operation, only saying he talked to now relieved SAF chief Getulio Napeñas before the attack and that he ordered him to coordinate with concerned officials. – Rappler.com