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PNoy scolds SAF widows

Journalists barred from Crame meet

MEETING for the second time with the families of the police commandos slain in the secret Mamasapano operation on Jan. 25, President Benigno Aquino III again grieved the bereaved families when he scolded them for needling him about justice for their slain loved ones.

Aquino made an unscheduled visit to the headquarters of the Philippine National Police  Wednesday night to check on the government assistance given to the families of the 44 slain police commandos.

Meeting with the widows. President Benigno Aquino III meets with the
families of the 44 police commandos who were killed during a clash
with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25. The
meeting was held the the police headquarters in Camp Crame.
Malacañang Photo Bureau
Not all of the families of the 44 slain police commandos were present during the meeting, but Aquino, who arrived a little before 6 p.m., talked to each of the families gathered at the PNP Multipurpose Center, and left at midnight.

However, a representative of one of the families told broadcaster Anthony Taberna of radio station dzMM that the one-on-one talks turned into an open forum where the families repeatedly asked pointed questions about how the government will deliver justice for their slain loved ones.

Aquino was apparently disturbed by the repeated questions and blurted out: “Anong gusto ninyo, kunan namin ng fingerprints ang lahat ng MILF? [What do you want us to do, get the fingerprints of all members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front?]”

The remark, Taberna said, angered the families who were growing impatient at the slow pace of the investigation.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. denied that there was such an incident, but journalists who were barred from covering Aquino’s dialogue with the families said they could hear loud and heated words from women from behind the closed dooes of the PNP Multipurpose Center.

“We heard some raising of voices inside the room,” one of the journalists present said, but he could not make out what the words were.

PNP officials present declined to provide details, saying only that the families were there to get the benefits due them.

Several Cabinet officials, inlcuding Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, and National Housing Authority General Manager Chito Cruz, preceded Aquino’s arrival.

Also present were acting Health Secretary Janette Garin, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Patricia Licuanan, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Presidential Management Staff head Julia Abad, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chief Joel Villanueva.

The visit was not on the President’s original schedule, and Camp Crame officials were taken by surprise.

After Coloma denied the incident, the Palace issued a that only said the bereaved families “also had the chance to raise to the President other concerns.”

The Palace said Aquino was there to ensure the government is meeting its commitments and to check the status of the assistance being provided by the concerned agencies to the bereaved families.

The assistance being given to the relatives of the slain SAF troopers includes employment, education, housing, health, and livelihood, apart from the monetary assistance from the President’s Social Fund.

Aquino and the relatives of the fallen policemen had their first meeting on Jan. 30 at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. During the meeting, the families shared with the President their requests for assistance.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said Aquino made an accounting of what he knows of the Mamasapano debacle during his visit with the grieving families, speaking with the families of 42 of the 44 slain police commandos.

“The President allotted time to listen to the sentiments of the families of the fallen SAF 44. They continue to ask for clarification on what really happened, so the President gave an accounting of what he knows and what he understood to have happened in Mamasapano,” Coloma said.

He said Aquino would decide if another national address were required “at the right time.”

He asked for understanding from the public, saying the President is listening to his allies and critics alike, but would like to first see the complete report of the police board of inquiry.

Calls for Aquino’s resignation have snowballed, the latest of which came from members of the academe banding together to launch the Save Our Nation, Aquino Resign Movement.

“This only goes to show that we have a vibrant democracy where differing opinions are allowed. We understand there are some sectors who are angry or who are losing patience and faith in the government because of what happened in Mamasapano,” Coloma said.

“But we trust that once the truth is unmasked, we will have a healing process and a determination to face this challenge as a stronger republic,” he added.

Aquino earlier admitted receiving news on the Mamasapano clash in the morning of Jan. 25 while he was in Zamboanga City, but his Cabinet secretaries and various police and military officials who attended congressional hearings on the Mamasapano incident would not say who informed the President of the carnage.

“We are all tired since Sunday. It was early morning when I was informed of the result of the operation against Marwan. And while we were discussing the Zamboanga bombing, reports (on the Mamasapano clash) were coming in,” Aquino told SAF members on Jan. 31 at Camp Bagong Diwa.

But Roxas II, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief Gen. Pio Catapang and various officials from the military and the police have testified before the Senate hearing that they did not inform the President of the clash while they were all in Zamboanga City.

Resigned PNP chief director general Alan Purisima said he would need to seek clearance from the President before disclosing any information on what happened in Zamboanga City.

Coloma earlier said there was no effort to hide any vital information on the clash from the public.

“We are guided by the principles of transparency and accountability,” he said.

In the House of Representatives, the independent minority bloc led by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said there was nothing wrong if the United States extended help to the Mamasapano operation that killed international terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan.

Romualdez said there was no need for the Palace to hide the alleged US involvement, as there was nothing unusual for one country to receive help from an ally for a counter-terrorism campaign.

The congressman recalled that he even sought help from the US government after super typhoon Yolanda devastated Tacloban City in November 2013.

“It’s the height of stupidity not to ask for help,” Romualdez said. “It’s a global nation that we live in today.”

The head of the police board of inquiry, Director Benjamin Bagalong of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has expressed willingness to allow the panel to interview MILF fighters to shed light on the Jan. 25 clash in which 44 police commandos were killed, many of them shot at close range.

He said a team of CIDG personnel would be going to Mamasapano next week, to question the MILF fighters concerned.

Two weeks after the board was formed, Magalong said, the inquiry had gathered nearly 400 sworn statements and was “more than 70 percent complete.”

“Basically, we know what happened—from mission planning to the execution to termination,” Magalong said.

He vowed to made public the findings and submit the report on Feb. 26.

“It is what the public has been waiting for,” Magalong said.

Resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima has yet to submit his own sworn statement on the covert operation that he allegedly led.

Deputy Director Leonardo Espina will also be requested to submit his own statement along with AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr.

At the same time, the PNP demanded that the MILF surrender wanted terrorist Abdul Usman Basit, who escaped the Jan. 25 raid that killed Marwan.

In a joint press briefing with the Armed Forces, Espina said the MILF should surrender Usman Basit to the authorities.

“We expect that all the demands and requests that we have given to the other party vis-a-vis the surrender of Basit Usman to the government as well as all those who will be held and are accountable for killing of my people, our people, will be surrendered by the other party,” said Espina.

Nearly a month after the Maguindanao clash, the MILF has not provided a list of their combatants involved in the incident.

On Wednesday, the MILF returned 16 firearms taken from the dead SAF troopers at the clash site to the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation ofHostilities during ceremonies at the Army’s 6th Infantry Division at its headquarters in Maguindanao.

But Espina said if the MILF is sincere about attaining peace, it had to surrender Usman Basit and its fighters who were involved in the Mamasapano clash.

Catapang agreed, and urged the MILF to return all 63 weapons taken from the slain commandos.

Roxas said they could not be sure if the MILF still had any of the firearms, noting that there were also members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and private armed groups involved in the fighting. – With Maricel V. Cruz

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