Philippine President Aquino takes responsibility for deaths of 44 in botched raid, but no apology

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Thursday took responsibility for a bungled security operation in January that left 44 police commandos dead, but offered no public apology for the clash that has become his biggest political crisis in years.

Since the secret mission, Mr Aquino's approval and trust ratings have plunged to their lowest level in five years, and a peace process with the country's largest Muslim rebel group has stalled. "As president, I am fully responsible for any result - any triumph, any suffering, and any tragedy - that may be borne of our desire for lasting security and peace," Mr Aquino said in a speech to graduates at a police academy south of Manila. "To every Filipino who has felt failure or has been hurt because of the events related to this operation: It is with the abiding humility that I ask for your deepest understanding."

However, he offered no public apology as demanded by families of the slain policemen.

This month, a Philippine senate panel and a police report separately found Mr Aquino responsible for the bungled mission to capture Malaysian militant Zulkifli bin Hir.

The reports said Mr Aquino had allowed a suspended police general, who was also a close friend, to supervise the mission, and said he had kept other officials in the dark about it.

Mr Aquino disputed the findings of the two reports, saying he was not personally interviewed by senators and police investigators.

"How can guesswork, instead of facts, help clarify this issue?," he asked.

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