MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president said Friday he has accepted the resignation of the national police chief, the first official to fall following the killing of 44 police commandos in the operation last month that may have killed one of Asia's most-wanted terror suspects.
Speaking in a nationally televised appearance after the government setback drew public outrage, President Benigno Aquino III also said the nighttime anti-terror raid on Jan. 25 should have been aborted because of fatal defects.
Police chief Gen. Alan Purisima, who participated in planning the operation, had been suspended last December for six months by an anti-graft court in a case unrelated to the anti-terror operation.
Aquino said the commander of the elite police Special Action Force members, who oversaw the covert attack in southern Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province, failed to coordinate the assault to ensure the safety of the policemen involved, including possibly arranging for military support. He said the commander could have aborted the mission on at least three instances especially because he knew there was no coordination with support troops.
"Why did it happen that there was no coordination?" Aquino said. "Why was the mission continued when it already drastically changed from the original plan, putting the lives of our troops in great danger?"
The head of the 120,000-strong military, along with the acting national police chief, Leonardo Espina, have said that they only were informed by the commanders of the police's elite commando force after the raid had begun and the commandos were already under militant fire in the marshy fringes of Mamasapano.
Aquino also appealed for continued support to the peace deal the government signed last year with the largest Muslim rebel group in the country, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, some members of which were implicated in the fighting that killed the police commandos.
"Let us remain focused on our goal: widespread and long-term peace," he added.
The FBI has reported that preliminary results of DNA tests showed a man killed by the commandos was the target of the operation, suspected Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan.
Aquino also vowed to catch Abdul Basit Usman, a top Filipino terror suspect who escaped. He urged the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to surrender Usman if he is within their territory or at least stand aside and allow troops to hunt him down.