Police report on mission against Muslim rebels speculative: Aquino's spokesman

MANILA (REUTERS) - A spokesman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Saturday rejected findings of an official police inquiry about a clash that puts serious doubt on the government's peace process, describing it as speculative.

On Friday, the national police report said the president approved a bungled mission against Muslim rebels that led to the deaths of 44 police commandos. That report piled more political pressure on the beleaguered leader.

The clash last January eroded the trust the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim guerrilla group, had in the government and cast doubt over their peace process, its chairman Al Haj Ebrahim Murad told Reuters this week.

Aquino's spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, said the report was full of innuendos and speculation because police investigators did not interview the president about his role in the secret mission to get Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

"We must, therefore, separate the facts from potentially hastily-made conclusions and opinions," Lacierda, who is also a member of Aquino's political party, said in a statement.

"The Board of Inquiry (BOI) should have allowed the facts to speak for themselves. The BOI in its efforts could have asked the president to clarify matters. The president would have answered any questions they may have had," he said.

The killings outraged politicians, some Catholic bishops and the public and Aquino has faced calls to step down. It has also stalled the peace process with the MILF.

A panel of police generals interviewed about 300 witnesses during a 45-day inquiry and concluded the president had violated the chain of command and allowed a suspended police general, who is a close friend, to oversee the secret mission.

But Lacierda said Aquino should not be faulted because he was not part of a chain of command.

"The president as chief executive cannot be subordinated to an internal process within the national police when he has control and supervision over all its members, regardless of rank," he added.

He said Aquino's orders were disobeyed by the suspended police general, Alan Purisima, and the commandos' ground commander Getulio Napenas. These two officers should be held liable for the fiasco, not the president, he added.