Philippine President Aquino says he was 'fooled' about deadly botched commando raid

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Monday blamed a police general for giving him wrong information about a botched secret mission against Islamic rebels that led to the deaths of 44 commandos.

Mr Aquino is facing his biggest political crisis over the operation to capture a wanted militant with some lawmakers, Roman Catholic bishops, civil society groups and activists calling on him to resign. "It was very clear, I was fooled," Mr Aquino told reporters."The truth is, I was given the wrong information by the people who knew most what was happening. Unfortunately, the others who did not know anything could not give any further information other than very raw information."

On Jan 25, police commandos sneaked into a rebel area in the south to capture Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, an Al-Qaeda-linked bomb maker with a US$5 million (S$6.9 million) United States bounty on his head. The commandoes, members of the Special Action Force, were ambushed by Islamic rebels and 44 were killed.

The operation was led by General Getulio Napenas, who, Mr Aquino said, had deviated from a plan presented to him two weeks before the operation. He said "appropriate charges" would be filed against Gen Napenas for insubordination.

Mr Aquino met Christian church pastors at the presidential palace on Sunday in a special prayer meeting, without Roman Catholic bishops who have criticised him for allowing a friend to supervise the mission.

Mr Aquino did not say why the friend, Mr Alan Purisima, who had been suspended as national police chief on corruption allegations, had been allowed to be in overall charge of the operation.