Search for justice will spare no one—Palace

THE Palace assured the public Sunday there will be no sacred cows in the quest for justice for the slain 44 commandos of the Special Action Force amid fears of a whitewash in the final report of the police board of inquiry tasked to investigate the Mamasapano debacle.

“The government will make sure that justice is served, and based on the systems that we follow, the symbol for justice in our country is that of a lady with her eyes covered,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

“Justice does not favor anybody. What is needed is for the truth to come out and for our SAF 44 troopers to have the justice they deserve,” he added.

Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles played down a recent statement from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that it will only give the Aquino administration an executive summary of its own investigation of the Mamasapano debacle.

“The reality is that the power of and responsibility for law enforcement belongs solely to the government,” Deles said.

“The government of the Philippines through the Department of Justice will do case buildup and pursue justice through Philippine courts based on its own findings. Justice will be pursued with or without MILF inputs,” Deles added.

Earlier, a senior Palace official said President Benigno Aquino III will review the final report of the board of inquiry before it is made public.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said it would not be unusual for Aquino to task his legal team to go through the findings.

“As is his habit, (the President prefers) to go through it himself. Beginning from the report of the IIRC, to any major report that is submitted to him, he prefers to go through all the documents as well as the annexes before he makes his position known,” Valte said.

The board of inquiry, led by PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief Benjamin Magalong, looked into the operation against international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir in Mamasapano that led to an 11 hour firefight among the SAF troopers and armed members of the MILF, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and other private armies.

Ahead of the submission of the board’s report, Aquino already blamed sacked SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas for the botched operation.

Based on his own investigations and interviews of those who participated in the operation, Aquino said, there was a vast difference between what the police commandos found on the ground and what was expected under their plan.

He said Napeñas should have shown “situational awareness.”

“While studying what had transpired, precisely because the situation on the ground was so different from what had been envisioned in the plan, we saw that there were no fewer than three separate instances when the mission could have been aborted or postponed, or when the plan could have been dramatically changed. There was an even greater need for this, especially since he was well aware that no coordination had taken place regarding expected assistance, and since the Armed

Forces could render little aid, if at all, because they were not given sufficient time to prepare,” Aquino said.

“How and why did it happen that there was no coordination? Why did the mission continue, when it had deviated so far from the original plan, and our troops were already in grave danger? These, and many others, are the questions that plague my mind,” the President said.

The Justice Department said Sunday justice would be served not only to the 44 SAF commandos, but also to the 18 MILF members who were killed in the Mamasapano encounter on Jan. 25.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said, however, that justice could only be served on the side of the rebels if the MILF leadership cooperates with the Justice Department investigation.

“It would be better if they really cooperate so that our investigation is balanced, especially since they are claiming that they also lost 18 fighters and several civilians,” De Lima said.

De Lima has been asking for the MILF’s full report on the incident, which the rebels had submitted instead to the Malaysian government, which is moderating the peace talks.

“We are hoping at this point that the MILF will cooperate because really our thrust is to have a balanced, impartial, objective investigation. We want to hear the side of MILF and their account of the incident because we are expecting the BOI (board of inquiry) report as the version of the SAF,” the Justice Secretary said.

“There might be different versions of the story, so how can the DOJ come up with credible findings if we considered just one side?” she said.

Also on Sunday, Senator Nancy Binay urged the National Police Commission to promote the wounded members of the SAF who were involved in the Mamasapano fighting.

“Those who were injured and the survivors... are also heroes. Had they not accomplished their mission with the death of Marwan?” Binay said.

Senator JV Ejercito, on the other hand, criticized President Aquino for insisting on the mistaken notion that the peace effort in Mindanao and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law were one in the same. – With Rey E. Requejo and Macon Ramos-Araneta

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