Thursday, 19 March 2015

Victims of the raid

Nguồn tin:

OVER the past five years, Filipino police and armed forces have tried and failed nine times to capture Zulkifli Abdhir, a Malaysian bomb-maker better known as Marwan, who was reportedly involved in the Bali bombings in 2002 that left hundreds dead. These repeated failures made Getulio Napeñas, a former head of the Special Action Force (SAF), an elite police squad, suspicious that members of the armed forces were leaking information about operations in advance.

So he organised a raid without them. On January 25th 392 SAF troops assembled at Mamasapano, a town in the Muslim-majority province of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, to capture Marwan and two other men, Usman and Baco, who are suspected of involvement in various bombings and kidnappings. The trio were protected by fighters from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a small secessionist group that split away from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the government in 2014. What was supposed to be a simple snatch and grab turned into a disaster: after a daylong firefight, 44 SAF troops were dead, along with 18 MILF fighters, at least five civilians and an unknown number of BIFF rebels. Marwan was killed; Usman and Baco escaped.

Benigno Aquino, the Philippines’ president, has not been quite so lucky. Since the raid he has endured the toughest stretch of his presidency. Ever since taking office in 2010, Mr Aquino had been unusually and durably popular. But since the botched raid he has gone from honeymoon to lame duck without the usual intervening period of normal government. Mr Aquino has consistently blamed Mr Napeñas for the carnage; Walden Bello, a former congressional ally of Mr Aquino’s, called that strategy “the latest development in the shrinking of the man from a credible president to a small-minded bureaucrat trying desperately to erase his fingerprints from a failed project to save his own ass.”

Two new reports pile on the agony. The first, released on March 13th by a board of inquiry commissioned by the police, found that the president had violated the chain of command. It said he had approved the raid, allowed Alan Purisima—who had been suspended as head of the Philippine National Police more than a month earlier—to participate in its planning and execution and “deliberately fail[ed] to inform” both Mr Purisima’s replacement and Mar Roxas, the interior secretary, of his actions.

The second report, released on March 17th by a senate committee, reached a similar conclusion. It said Mr Aquino “is ultimately responsible for the outcome of the mission” and urged him to “admit the mistakes he made.”

Mr Aquino will not do that. Nor is he likely to resign. Instead, he faces two lingering political threats. The immediate one is to peace in Mindanao. A campaign against BIFF has, according to the army, killed more than 120 rebels but displaced more than 90,000 civilians. A law aimed at ending the long insurgency by creating an autonomous political entity in Mindanao (see map) was meant to come up for congressional approval this spring. But in the wake of the Mamasapano raid, progress has halted: it has lost at least two sponsors, and members of Congress have been calling for more hearings.

The longer-term threat is to Mr Aquino’s legacy. Not only has his signature achievement—lasting peace in Mindanao, which no previous president had achieved—been imperilled. But if he continues to lose allies, popularity and credibility, potential candidates in next year’s presidential election will distance themselves from him. Not long ago Mr Aquino’s supporters considered changing the constitution to let him serve a second six-year term. Now it looks as though finishing one would be achievement enough.

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