House probe shut down

Senate executive session fuels fears of whitewash

OPPOSITION lawmakers and militant groups accused Congress Monday of covering up the role of President Benigno Aquino III in the ill-fated Mamasapano raid in which 44 police commandos were slaughtered, after the House abruptly suspended hearings and the Senate went into a closed-door session on the massacre.

Fears of a whitewash grew intense after hearings in the Senate and the House came closer to the conclusion that resigned police chief Alan Purisima had secretly run the botched Jan. 25 operation with approval from the President.

In the House, a joint panel was supposed to find out Tuesday from Purisima if he reported directly to the President as the clash in Mamasapano was happening.

In an earlier hearing, Purisima had begged off answering the question and said he needed to seek clearance from the President.

Monday’s indefinite suspension of hearings prompted members of the independent minority bloc led by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez to press for the creation of an independent truth commission whose members would not be partisan.

Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, a member of the bloc, said the public could not expect an impartial hearing from both the House and the Senate because both chambers were dominated by President Aquino’s allies and party mates.

House leaders said the hearings were called off because last week’s session was “circus-like” and angered the public.

“Instead of the public getting the truth, the House members made the news because of the manner by which the panel conducted the hearing. They ended up debating among themselves,” said House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II after last week’s hearing wasted hours debating on why the hearing should be held.

The members of the President’s ruling Liberal Party tried to stop the hearing and wanted only a single session but Negros Occidental Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer and Maguindanao Rep. Hadjiman Hataman, chairmen of the House committees on public order and security and on peace and order,

respectively, were prevailed upon by Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia of the United Nationalist Alliance, Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco and Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat to continue the hearings until the truth about who was liable for the Mamasapano carnage was revealed.

The hearings were supposed to continue today and Wednesday until they were abruptly suspended.

While the House has held only one session, the Senate has had three public hearings and two executive sessions that were closed to the media.

House leaders and Hataman denied that the Palace put pressure on them, but opposition lawmakers accused President Aquino of twisting arms to get the House to stop its probe.

“This has the fingerprints of Malacanang all over it and part of the damage control of the Palace to save President Aquino from accountability,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.

“The Filipino people want to hear the whole truth on the Mamasapano incident and so far the probes both in the Congress and Senate point to President Aquino as the most accountable for the botched operation,” Colmenares said.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he discussed the suspension with Ferrer and Hataman and told the two that the panel should wait for the results of the investigation by a police board of inquiry before proceeding.

Caloocan City Rep. Edgardo Erice, said the board had given itself a one-month deadline, so the wait for the House hearings to resume would not be long.

But Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz criticized the suspension of the hearings.

“Stopping the probe will only fuel more problems and speculation and trigger people’s anger. The basic question of what did President Aquino and his officials know, when did they know it and what did they do with the information when they got it should not be left hanging,” dela Cruz said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Isagani Carlos Zarate also saw a whitewash in the works.

“As the road to accountability for the bloody Mamasapano incident now leads to Malacanang, President Aquino and his PR team are now doing everything to cover up the truth. The cancellation of the House investigations is a clear maneuvering by Malacanang to put a stop to the growing disenchantment of the people over President Aquino’s disastrous governance,” he said.

Senator Grace Poe, who is leading the Senate investigation, said she wanted answers to the alleged involvement of the United States in the Mamasapano operation.

She said although she preferred to end the probe after three hearings and two executive sessions, Poe admitted there were still several unanswered questions, including the role of the United States.

Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Ralph Recto have demanded to know what role the US played, citing the reported presence of US drones while the SAF commandos were engaged in a gunfight with Moro rebels on Jan. 25.

They also questioned the immediate submission of the index finger of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This was also the same view expressed by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, but Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he didn’t want to speculate.

“Let us find out again if the facts are the ones that will tell us what the situation truly was since the role of the US government was not clear. I know the US government helped in the training and provided equipment and intelligence. But their allegations that the Americans ordered the cutting off of Marwan’s finger did not coincide with what we have heard,” Marcos said.

Sacked PNP-Special Action Force Getulio Napeñas Jr. on Monday resumed his testimony before the executive session which lasted four hours. Purisima, who appeared for the executive session failed to testify due to a lack of time. He is scheduled to return tomorrow.

Poe offered no details of the executive session.

“They might lose trust in me if I reveal to you what were given to us in an executive session. We cannot talk about it,” she said.

The United States has consistently denied any role in the Mamasapano operation, except to provide assistance in transporting the dead and wounded.

Still, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said her department would also look into the persistent reports of US involvement.

On Monday, Cayetano gave media documents, dated between 2005 to 2007, indicating close links between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Marwan.

In the documents, he said, the US government detailed the e-mails by Marwan and his brother Rahmat Abdhir showing their relationship to the MILF. There was even a time that they even asked money from the MILF for the procurement of powerful firearms.

He said the brothers also indicated their closeness to some MILF commanders in the Philippines, and even said that Moro fighters are not only experts in bombing but also sniping.

Cayetano called on the government to negotiate peace with a Moro group other than the MILF.

“The government, including the Senate, should put common sense in dealing its investigation and dealing with the MILF,” said Cayetano, who withdrew his support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law after the Mamasapano massacre.

Cayetano said the documents he presented would bolster his assertion about the intimate relationship between Marwan and the MILF. With Maricel V. Cruz, Vito Barcelo and Rey E. Requejo



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