After Mamasapano, a different PNPA homecoming

CAVITE, Philippines – They consider it hallowed grounds, a sanctuary where spats that happen in the line of work are not discussed, where people put differences aside and instead, look back on more carefree days of the past. 

But on Saturday, March 14, at the yearly homecoming of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA), its alumni could not ignore the long shadow of “Oplan Exodus,” a botched police operation that claimed the lives of 67 Filipinos, including 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF).

It’s an operation that has rocked a nation. It has exposed weaknesses both in the police and the military, endangered a peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and cast doubt on President Benigno Aquino III. Various groups have called on Aquino to resign in the wake of the bloody operation.

Six of the slain troopers were graduates of the PNPA – 3 from the Class of 2009, and one each from the Classes of 2011, 2010, and 2003. The 6 were given the Lakan Distinguished Award while the remaining 38 slain troopers were given the Lakan Recognition Award.

Classmates of Senior Inspector Ryan Pabalinas, among the slain members of the 55th Special Action Company (SAF), wore shirts with his face and name printed on it. Pabalinas was a member of the PNPA Class of 2006.  

Families of the slain troopers also went to the homecoming and were promised assistance from the PNPA’s alumni association. The troopers who weren’t alumni of the police academy were also “adopted” by the 35 different PNPA classes.

The yearly homecoming happens a day after the PNP Board of Inquiry, an independent body formed to probe the bloody Mamasapano incident, released its report. At least 3 top government officials were found to have violations: President Benigno Aquino III, resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, and former SAF commander Police Director Getulio Napeñas.

Both Purisima and Napeñas are graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) who entered the police force when it was still the Philippine Constabulary, then a part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

A PNPA torn apart?

The PNPA, or at least its alumni, is in itself being torn apart as a result of Mamasapano. Two of its alumni association leaders figured in a word war over a march for the SAF 44 held the prior weekend. PNPA Alumni Association president retired Chief Superintendent Tomas Rentoy III accused government of stopping police from attending the march.

The alumni association’s Camp Crame president, Senior Superintendent Jerome Baxinela texted Crame-based members of the organization to skip the march, arguing that it was “devoid of legality.”

In a statement, the police colonel denied any pressure from higher ups, and insisted his message was his “judgment call in the interest and for the sake and welfare” of PNPA alumni.

“I don’t regret my decision and action, and never will,” added Baxinela.

In an interview with reporters on Saturday, Rentoy said the alumni group was still “investigating” Baxinela for any possible violations. Rentoy had earlier said the alumni group could order Baxinela to be “ostracized” for his actions. – Rappler.com