‘Stand down’ order key issue

A LEFTIST lawmaker insisted Sunday that President Benigno Aquino III could have ordered Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. to stand down while police commandos battled Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25, leading to the death of 44 of the Special Action Force (SAF) members.

“The main issue now here is did President Aquino order the AFP that no artillery or aircraft support be conducted so as not to endanger the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)?” said Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares.

The question is just one of the many questions that President Aquino must answer if he wants closure on the Mamasapano incident, Colmenares said.

“We cannot just move on because there so many unanswered questions and these should be answered for the victims and their families to attain justice. Answering these questions would be the first important steps towards truth and accountability and we hope that President Aquino discerned these insights during the Lenten season,” Colmenares said.

In at least five televised hearings and several executive sessions at the Senate, military officials insisted that the police had not coordinated with them on Operation Exodus, the ill-fated mission to capture or kill two major terrorists.

The Mamasapano debacle led the Commission on Appointments to defer the confirmation of Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, whose judgement and ability to manage a crisis were called into doubt.

A police board of inquiry established that President Aquino knew and approved of Operation Exodus, as presented to him by then suspended police chief Alan Purisima and then commander of the SAF, Getulio Napeñas.

Senior Supt. Fernando Mendez Jr., acting chief of the Philippine National Police’s Intelligence Group, provided the information on which the operation was based. He, too, is facing confirmation to the rank of general.

The debacle in Mamasapano and the involvement of fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with which the government is talking peace, has thrown a wrench in the administration’s efforts to pass the BBL, the lynchpin in its peace agreement with the MILF.

Lawmakers, angered by what happened in Mamasapano, have also questioned the constitutionality of several of the BBL’s provisions.

While the administration has called for the passage of the BBL in the interest of peace, Colmenares said true peace cannot be achieved without justice.

“Genuine peace is always based on truth and justice. The President does not only owe this to the victims of the Mamasapano incident but to the whole country as well. Evading this opportunity now will just let this issue fester and may even aggravate it,” Colmenares said.

The House of the Representatives had conducted only one hearing so far on the Mamasapano debacle and its investigation will resume on April 7-8.

“Of course we want President Aquino to attend the hearings this week but if he chooses not to, then there are other options for him to tell the whole truth, one of which is to submit a sworn affidavit categorically answering our 20 questions regarding the incident that we submitted last week,” Colmenares said.

“It must also be noted that these questions have not been answered by the President and they are the very questions that 80 percent of us Filipinos want answered, based on the latest Pulse Asia survey,” he added.

“As it is, there are many inconsistencies on the Mamasapano incident that only President Aquino can answer,” he said.

Among them are: 1) President Aquino’s approval of Oplan Exodus; 2) the problem of coordination between the SAF-PNP, AFP and between the departments; 3) the involvement of suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima;l 4) the issue of President Aquino’s command responsibility; 5) the involvement of the US, and 6) the issue of AFP assistance to the SAF commandos.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte has consistently ruled out the need for Aquino’s presence in the House probe, saying the President has already “sufficiently explained” his role in the police operation.

“I wish for an end to unproductive criticism and faultfinding that will only result in a pained and divided nation,” Belmonte said in his Easter message.

“I wish for us to achieve genuine peace and growth that stems from shared efforts and hard work coming from each of us,” Belmonte added.

Malacañang has earlier insisted that most of the 20 questions listed by the Makabayan bloc have already been answered by the President.

“If anyone looks at the questions posed by the Makabayan bloc, most of them have been responded one way or the other by the President,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

“The question is: why are you asking these questions again? You don’t want the answers the President gave, one reason, or you are not satisfied with the President’s statement or there is a line that you want the President to state, to say,” Lacierda added.

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