President Aquino skipped on Thursday the ceremony in Villamor Airbase honoring the elite policemen killed in a failed counter-terror operation in Maguindanao, drawing the ire of netizens who slammed his insensitivity.
Instead of attending the arrival honors for the 42 of the 44 Philippine National Police – Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) members, Aquino led the ribbon-cutting in Mitsubishi Motor Corporation’s new assembly plant in Laguna.
Palace officials defended the move, saying the welcome ceremony for the slain cops was not in the President’s schedule.
“Wala pong ganoong kaganapan, ‘yung ‘mas pinili.’ Talaga pong wala sa kanyang schedule ‘yan (Villamor event),” Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a report.
The coffins carrying the remains of the 42 slain cops was flown to Manila through three Air Force planes from Maguindanao on Thursday, four days after the tragic “misencounter” between SAF commandos and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels.
The 44 cops slain in Mamasapano town were part of a 400-commando-team sent to hunt down terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, a top suspect in the 2002 Bali bombings. The US had placed a $5 million bounty on his head.
Netizens meanwhile expressed anger and dismay over the President’s absence in the arrival honors for the slain commandos, making the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo the top trending topic on Twitter worldwide on Thursday night.
Twitter users compared President’s absence in key moments in the nation’s big tragedies with his attendance of a celebrity wedding, a television show hosting, and the screening of the film which starred his nephew “Bimby” Aquino.
“He can make time for flashy weddings and crappy movies, but why is he a no-show in this grave hour?” a parody account of author Bob Ong said on Twitter.
But the Palace downplayed criticisms, saying the sentiment is not shared by the majority.
“Sa amin pong monitoring ay hindi naman ‘yan majority view,” Coloma said in a Palace briefing.
Ganunpaman, isinasaalang-alang lahat ng mga pananaw, bagama’t naiiba, at patuloy pa rin ‘yung panawagan at paghimok sa lahat ng mga mamamayan na ilagay po natin sa unang posisyon ang kapakanan ng ating buong bansa,” he added.
The Palace also appealed to members of the PNP not to push through with their planned mass leave of absence for the 44 slain commandos.
Previously, the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) alumni association threatened to call for mass leave among the 4,000 PNPA graduates if justice would not be served for the slain policemen.
“A mass vacation leave would be the extreme move from us to dramatize our anger over the incident,” PNPA Alumni Association Inc. chair Retired General Tomas Rentoy III said in a report.