Calls for the resignation of Philippine President Benigno Aquino snowballed on Wednesday as about a thousand people marched to the presidential palace to demand "truth and accountability". Protesters carried placards calling for the president to be held accountable for the deaths of at least 64 people, including 44 police commandos, during a bungled raid on a suspected terrorist hideout in the province of Maguindanao on January 25. The social justice group New Patriotic Alliance, or Bayan, accused the president of violating the chain of command by placing a suspended police chief in charge of the operation. The group said Aquino also violated the peace agreement with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) when he failed to inform the government and rebel peace panels about the operation. "For these crimes, Aquino has to go," said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes. Reyes said the president has become "the greatest stumbling block to truth and accountability". Former president Fidel Ramos, an ex-army general, said Aquino should answer for lapses in the chain of command. "The fault goes all the way up there to where the buck stops," Ramos said in a television interview. "Unless that is resolved, we are going to have more such fiascos not just by the incumbent but in the future," Ramos said. In an address to the nation last week, Aquino admitted that he knew about the police operation but blamed the chief of the police commandos for failing to coordinate with other police units and the military. Some 300 police commandos were staging a raid on the lair of suspected terrorist bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and rebel leader Basit Usman when they encountered scores of MILF and other Moro rebels in the area. Various groups, including families of the slain police commandos and at least two Catholic bishops, have called on Aquino to step down, saying that the president should take responsibility for the deaths of the 44 policemen. "I ask that he should step down.... He is not competent enough to run the affairs of government," said Archbishop Romulo dela Cruz of Zamboanga. Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa agreed with Dela Cruz, saying Aquino "should step down to give way to a new government". "I call for a revolution, but not the bloody kind. Let everybody go to the streets and demand that [Aquino] step down," Arguelles said. Oblates missionary priest Jun Mercado, a leading peace advocate in Mindanao, told ucanews.com that he "personally believes" Aquino should resign.
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"He is not man enough to own up to the responsibility and be accountable for the slaughter. He acted irresponsibly by abandoning his duties when he saw the operation had turned awry," the priest said. Mercado said Aquino showed "insensitivity" when he failed to meet the bodies of the 44 slain commandos at the airport and when he arrived late for the necrological service on Friday. "His speeches spoke more of himself.... It is coming out that [Aquino] is not only incompetent and insensitive but he lives in his own world," the priest said, adding that the president "should resign or be taken out of office". The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), however, said in a statement that it cannot join calls for the resignation of Aquino. In the statement on Wednesday, conference president Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said that while "some members of the Philippine Catholic hierarchy" have echoed calls for Aquino's resignation, the conference has "not arrived at a collective position". However, the prelate said the CBCP "fully supports" the creation of a truth commission to investigate the incident, which has threatened to derail the peace process between the government and the MILF. The presidential palace said Aquino "remains committed to finishing his term" amid the calls for his resignation. "He has an oath of office and he wants to keep this oath.... He is doing his best in performing his duties and he is determined to do his utmost until the last day of his term of office," said palace spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr. Various civil society groups have vowed to continue holding rallies in the days leading up to the first month anniversary of the botched raid, which coincides with the 29th anniversary of the 1986 "people power" uprising that ousted former strongman Ferdinand Marcos. The peaceful revolution swept into power Aquino's late mother Corazon Aquino who initiated talks with various rebel groups in the country.