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Aquino OKs release of texts

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has given his consent to release a transcript of the text messages between him and resigned Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima during the Mamasapano operation on Jan. 25.

“President Aquino has been unwavering in his support for truth-seeking regarding the Mamasapano incident, and encourages any action that would contribute to arriving at the truth at the soonest possible time,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte in a statement released Friday.

“The President—through Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr.—gave his consent to a request from the Senate concerning the release of transcriptions of SMS conversations between him and General Purisima in the early hours of Jan. 25, 2015. This is in keeping with upholding the dignity of the office and maintaining the principle of separation of powers and respect for a co-equal branch of government,” the statement added.

The Palace cautioned lawmakers to remain focused on the primary mission to uncover the truth and not let the process “be abused by those who might be inclined to take advantage of the occasion to advance personal motives.”

Asked if the President would testify before a congressional inquiry, Valte said it was up to the legislators to determine how best to get Mr. Aquino’s side, given that he was the head of a co-equal branch of government.

Radio dzMM on Friday said the House of Representatives would try to invite President Aquino to testify on the covert Mamasapano operation, in which 44 police commandos were killed by Muslim rebels, including fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with which the government is in peace talks.

Youth Against Corruption and Poverty party-list Rep. Carol Lopez said congressmen have already agreed to resume the Mamasapano inquiry on April 7 and 8.

Lopez said the House will strive to invite the President to the inquiry after the police board of inquiry failed to interview the President.

But Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said that inviting the President to attend a congressional probe “does not sound realistic.”

Another House leader who asked not to be identified added: “They can always invite the President of the Republic. But the question is, will he attend? Can they compel him to attend the probe? He won’t apologize or take responsibility for the fiasco and you will ask him to go to Congress? What for?”

Lopez said it was imperative that the House resume its probe on the Mamasapano massacre because the police board of inquiry and the Senate investigation left many questions unanswered.

Among these were reports that some government forces were ordered to stand down when they were asked to reinforce the beleaguered police commandos in Mamasapano.

Other issues included the role of the United States in the botched operation and questions about the nationality of the chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohagher Iqbal.

She said the House could adopt findings of the board of inquiry and the Senate that they found “acceptable.”

Earlier, 1–BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, a member of the House minority bloc, said the President should go to Congress to clarify issues raised against him.

“If I were the president I will go to the House. He should no longer wait for an invitation,” said Bello, a former peace negotiator.

Bello, a member of the Cabinet during the administration of President Corazon Aquino, Mr. Aquino’s mother, said a voluntary appearance before the House could defuse public anger over his mishandling of the Mamasapano operation.

“Whether we like it or not, the people have already made their verdict on the issue. The President may attempt to reverse the situation,” Bello said.

Bello said the Filipino people would want to know from the President what his exact orders to heads of the PNP-SAF were and to whom he issued the orders.

The military on Friday accused the MILF of violating its ceasefire agreement with the government by recruiting and training fighters at a government property they seized and converted into a training camp in Iligan City.

Local officials in Iligan City earlier expressed alarm over the influx of members of several indigenous tribes who were being recruited for military training by the MILF’s 103d Base Command.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, chief of the Armed Forces Public Affairs Office, said “inter-agency mediation and protocols” have been sought to resolve the issue peacefully.

A statement released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said it was already investigating the case.

Teresita Deles, the head of the office, and chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer have come under fire for defending the MILF in the Mamasapano incident and for giving away too many concessions in the negotiations with the Muslim rebels.

Col. Gilbert Gapay, commanding officer of Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, said the Higaonon chieftain, Deodato S. Abungan Sr., had filed a complaint about the training camp before the Iligan city council.

“They alleged that MILF fighters under Abdul Sango Amoran of the 305th Guerrilla Unit recruited 85 Higaonon tribesmen and Maranaws from Bukidnon and brought them to the camp from May 16 to 31 last year,” Cabunoc said.

The ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF prohibits such activities.

In the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said justice for the 44 police commandos slain should be the government’s highest priority.

“The families of the victims want no less than swift justice. They are not asking for anything else. They are not hoping for other things than to see the culprits behind bars,” he said.

Marcos said he agreed with the Senate committee report on the Mamasapano operation that said the commandos were murdered by fighters from the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

“That’s why the Department of Justice should hunt them, charge them, and jail them,” Marcos said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said there were many non-controversial and unchallenged recommendations from the police board and the Senate reports that the government can act on immediately, including granting the Fallen 44 a posthumous promotion.

He added that the police board findings that the commandos had dud ammunition and faulty radios merited an official probe of the PNP procurement process.

Other logistical deficiencies bared by the Mamasapano operations was the lack of air assets to provide support and medical evacuation, Recto said.

Opposition Senator JV Ejercito, commenting on a recent survey showing that 79 percent of Filipinos were dissatisified with Aquino’s explanations about the Mamasapano operation, said Mr. Aquino should address allegations that the Armed Forces were asked to stand down and not fire on the Muslim rebels because the government did not want to compromise the peace process.

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