By Sandy Araneta and Rey E. Requejo
THE Commission on Human Rights on Sunday assailed the Senate report on the covert Mamasapano operation in which 44 police commandos were killed, saying it was wrong to call it a massacre, and that “emotion rather than objectivity prevailed in the articulation of its findings.”
“While the commission commiserates with the families of the victims and acknowledges that the killing of the Fallen 44 was unjustified, categorizing the incident as a ‘massacre’ is excessive,” said the commission’s chairwoman, Loretta Ann P. Rosales.
“The mere use of high-powered firearms and mortars does not automatically equate to cruelty, inasmuch as it was not clearly established who, between the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), used what,” Rosales said.
“Moreover, this characterization also overlooks the fact that the SAF (Special Action Force) were armed, albeit outgunned. In other words, although their situation was dire, the SAF were not necessarily ‘helpless or unresisting,’” she said.
Rosales’ statement did not touch on autopsy findings that some of the police commandos had been shot n the head at close range, and that some were stripped of their body armor before being shot, suggesting that they were helpless when the Muslim rebels killed them.
Instead, Rosales defended the MILF and the government peace panel, and took the senators to task for criticizing them.
“The Senate report trivializes the maturity with which the MILF has chosen to deal with the situation,” Rosales said, noting that it had forged ahead anyway with the signing the protocol on the decommissioning of weapons and forces.
She also said the senators were mistaken in equating the MILF’s actions to insincerity in the peace process.
“The inability of the MILF leadership to control a few elements... has nothing to do with its sincerity in entering into peace negotiations. The actions of a few rogue members cannot and should not be interpreted as the actions of the whole,” she said.
Rosales also said she was dismayed by the senators’ characterization of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) as “suffering an excess of optimism” that blinded them from negotiating a fair deal for the government in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which has come under increasing attack in Congress over provisions that are said to be unconstitutional.
But Rosales said no court has passed judgment yet on the draft law, and that it was still in Congress so that lawmakers could review its provisions.
“Internal conflicts take time to resolve,” Rosales said. “In El Salvador, it took 12 years of fighting before the government and the Frente Faribundo Martí de Liberación Nacional managed to enter into the Chapultepec agreement. In Northern Ireland, two decades of violence preceded the signing of the Belfast agreement. The complexity of the situation in Mindanao is no different.”
Rosales also attacked the senators for failing to highlight the welfare of civilians who died in the firefight.
“One must not overlook the fact that, outside of the Fallen 44, there were five civilians and 17 MILF casualties, resulting in the death of a total of 66 Filipinos, including a child of 8 years of age,” she said.
The left-wing Bagong Alyansang Makabayan tore into Rosales for her statement.
“It is hardly surprising that Aquino’s ally from Akbayan is defending him... Rosales shouldn’t be lawyering for the President as she is the head of an independent commission,” the group’s secretary-general, Renato Reyes, said.
In a speech Sunday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima again shielded the President from liability in the Mamasapano incident, and insisting that there was no chain of command to violate in the Philippine National Police (PNP) because it is a civilian, not a military agency.
But she also said the President may have made “an error of judgment” in putting his trust in his good friend, the suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima.
“The President... has, time and again admitted that his mistake may have been to trust the wrong people, who ended up giving him inaccurate, if not outrightly false, information,” she said.
“But that is an error in judgment that one can only know from hindsight. As we all know, hindsight is 50-50 [sic], and it is so easy to play armchair President these days,” De Lima added.
De Lima, noting the difference between military and civilian organizations, said the President could not be held criminally liable for violating the chain of command in the PNP, a civilian agency.
“I mention this distinction not to minimize or lessen the President’s command responsibility in either scenario, if, when we speak of ‘command responsibility’ we speak of accountability. The President is, of course, accountable. No question about it,” she said.
Speaking at a Rotary Club function in Manila, De Lima again asked the public not to be so quick to judge the President, despite the damaging conclusions of the police board of inquiry and the Senate.
“The President should not be judged that easily because this President is a very responsible person and he has the interest of our country at heart,” she said.
The Palace said Sunday there was no need to create yet another fact-finding body to conduct an independent investigation, a move supported by some of the President’s allies in the Senate.