Lawyer: Not in Purisima's character to lie to Aquino

MANILA, Philippines – Resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima denied lying to his friend, President Benigno Aquino III, when he was giving updates on a controversial police operation that claimed the lives of 65 people, including 44 of the elite Special Action Force (SAF).

“It is not in PDG Purisima’s character to relay inaccurate information to the President. Throughout their decades of professional and personal relationship, PDG Purisima’s deportment towards the President has been one of utmost candor, honesty, loyalty and respect. At no time would PDG Purisima violate the trust reposed upon him by the President,” Purisima’s lawyer, Kristoffer James Purisima said in a Wednesday, February 25 press statement.

The 4-star general and the President go way back – Purisima was once a member of the Presidential Security Group and was once tasked to guard Aquino during the term of the late president Cory Aquino, the incumbent president’s mother. (READ: Purisima misled Aquino?)

Purisima, who is currently serving a preventive suspension order over a graft case, is under fire for his involvement in “Oplan Exodus,” a January 25 SAF operation that targeted Jemaah Islamiyah member Zulkifli bin Hir (alias “Marwan”) and bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman. (READ: More questions for Aquino, Purisima on 'Exodus')

After Marwan was killed and a DNA sample retrieved, the operation’s blocking force, the 55th Special Action Company, encountered fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and private armed groups.

Through his lawyer, Purisima said he saw nothing wrong with his role on January 25 – contacting the President and his classmates from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) who also happen to be the top officials of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“Notwithstanding his preventive suspension, Purisima believes that it is morally incumbent upon him as a police officer and as a responsible citizen of the Republic to come to the aid of his fellow PNP SAF troopers in their time of need. [He] believes that it is his moral duty and obligation to extend to the PNP SAF whatever assistance he can provide,” said his lawyer.

Aquino, Purisima text messages

In a Senate hearing, it was revealed that Purisima was giving Aquino updates during the January 25 operation from the time the 84th Seaborne Company killed Marwan at around 5:45 am.

At one point in their hours-long conversation via text message, Aquino asked Purisima why the SAF troopers were in trouble when “160 SAF troopers were directly involved in this operation plus provisions for other PNP and AFP units to assist.”

Relieved PNP SAF commander Police Director Getulio Napeñas had earlier decided to keep the AFP out of the loop in the operation, fearing leaks. Napeñas also decided not to inform PNP Office-in-Charge Deputy Director General Leonard Espina and Interior Chief Manuel Roxas II out of the loop, supposedly under the “commands” of Purisima.

Purisima told Aquino via text message past 8 am: “They [opposing force] are presently in contact with the reinforcing elements from BIFF. The containment forces are the ones in contact right now. They are now supported by mechanized and artillery support sir.”

The AFP’s troops were unable to enter the encounter area around this time since they did not know where exactly the SAF troopers were located.

The military was only able to fire white phosphorous at around 6:30 pm, in an attempt to rescue the 84th Seaborne Company which was trapped in a different location.

‘Good faith’

During a Senate hearing and in his lawyer’s statement, Purisima said he merely “relied on good faith” on information coming from Wesmincom head Lieutenant General Guerrero who at 8:03 am told Purisima that “ground tank infantry and artillery support are made available.”

Guerrero, a classmate of the police general from the Philippine Military Academy, said he merely meant military support was available but did not mean to say they were already helping the beleaguered SAF troopers.

Purisima’s lawyer insisted Guerrero’s message “refers to the coordinated efforts to use tank, infantry and artillery assets in support of our PNP SAF troopers.”

The former PNP chief added he was unaware that 6th Infantry Division chief Major General Edmundo Pangilinan had already turned down the SAF command’s request for indirect artillery fire.

“However, since PDG Purisima was already preventively suspended at that time and was not part of the PNP command line, it fell on those who were with the President on January 25 to brief the Chief Executive and provide vital information as they had direct contact with the ground commanders,” said Purisima’s lawyer.

Most of the PNP and AFP’s top officials only knew about “Oplan Exodus” the morning of the operation. In several legislative inquiries, top generals from the two forces said they were initially at a loss as to what was happening in Mamasapano. –