SENATOR Grace Poe said Thursday she would not change her committee report on the 2015 Mamasapano massacre, which found President Benigno Aquino III “ultimately responsible” for the death of 44 police commandos unless new evidence is presented during the reopening of Senate investigation.
The Senate committee on public order and illegal drugs, which Poe chairs, and the committee on peace, unification and reconciliation led by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, will reconvene on Jan. 27 to hear any new information or evidence in the case.
In an interview Thursday, Poe said she stand by the findings of her committee report, which were based on five public hearings, five executive sessions and 73 hours of full discussion attended by 37 resource persons, and 4,300 documents.
“I am confident with our committee hearings. If there is no new evidence, I will not change the orderly, just and impartial committee report,” Poe said.
In the report, Poe said the President must bear responsibility for giving consent to and failing to prevent the unlawful exercise of official functions by then suspended Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima in connection with Oplan Exodus, the ill-fated Mamasapano operation.
“He assented to Purisima’s unlawful exercise of official functions, particularly the latter’s “usurpation of authority or official functions. The President relied on and directly coordinated with the suspended PNP Chief, as it was shown that he continued to communicate with the latter on Oplan Exodus, based on testimonies and evidence presented in the public hearings,” said Poe in her draft report on the Mamasapano incident.
Oplan Exodus was the covert police operation to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and his henchman, bomb maker Basit Usman.
A copy of the draft report was submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman, which recommended to the Sandiganbayan the filing of charges against certain people. However, the President was not among them.
While Poe said there is strong evidence that the President consented to the participation of an officer who was suspended for corruption, she also acknowledged that “sometimes, legal implications, if the lawyers are good and the personalities are known, can easily get off the hook.”
The reopening of the Senate inquiry came after Senator Juan Ponce Enrile said he was unable to ask key questions during the hearings because he was detained at the time on plunder charges.
In his manifestation, Enrile cited the “critical period” of two days after the massacre in which the government failed to act.
“What happened to the government? Was it functioning? Was it in paralysis? Why was there a complete silence during this critical period? What happened to the entire instrument of government to maintain order in this country to protect the people? Was there a government in those moments?” said the 91-year-old senator.
He said he wanted answers to these questions because the government must serve the people with no interregnum.
“It must function every minute, every second of the day, of the week, of the month, of the year,” also said Enrile who was jailed at the PNP Custodian Center after being charged with plunder over the pork barrel scam.
Poe said they have yet to release a list of resource persons to be invited when the committee reconvenes on Jan. 25, exactly a year after members of the PNP Special Action Force were killed by Muslim rebels belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
She said they still waiting for a list from the senators, especially from Enrile, on the guests that should be called to the hearing.
Senate President Franklin M. Drilon expressed hope the reopening of the Senate investigation on the Mamasapano incident will not hamper the enactment of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law and the other legislative agenda.
“If reopening the Mamasapano will allow our esteemed colleague Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to ask questions that he deemed are important to ferret out the truth, then we support it,” Drilon said.
“We still have many proposed legislation to discuss and work on such as the BBL and the proposed salary hike for public sector workers, so I am hopeful that reopening the Mamasapano probe will not draw time, attention and energies away from our lawmaking duties,” Drilon said.
The Senate leader also expressed concerns that the passage of the BBL may again be put in peril due to the issues surrounding the Mamasapano incident.
He noted that the Mamasapano incident had created an immense political storm that seriously affected the peace process.
While Drilon gave assurance that the passage of the BBL will be the Senate’s top priority, he hoped that the ceasefire between the government and the MILF will continue to hold even if the current Congress fails to pass the bill.
He said peace process between the Philippine government and the MILF must continue to hold even if the 16th Congress runs out of time to pass the proposed Bangsamoro organic law.
Also on Thursday, the former chief of the SAF, Getulio Napeñas, slammed the President for blaming him for the death of the 44 police commandos, and denied Aquino’s suggestion that this was due to poor planning and execution.
“We’ve been running after Marwan for five years, then the government—including the President—will say we had poor planning and execution?” Napeñas said in Filipino in a radio interview.
Napeñas said he welcomed Enrile’s call to reopen the Senate investigation.
“If the planning and execution were poor, why did we accomplish our mission?” he said. “We reached our target without detection and compromise. My men were already withdrawing when elements of the MILF and BIFF fired at them, sparking a firefight,” Napeñas said.
President Aquino relieved Napeñas two days after the incident and blamed the mission leaders for failing to coordinate their actions with the military.
At a Board of Inquiry report said Aquino was culpable for the Mamasapano debacle, but the Palace blamed Napeñas and Purisima instead.
Napeñas said he was ready to answer any of Enrile’s questions.
“I believe that Enrile would not manifest for the reopening of the case if he had no basis for it,” Napenas said. “There were a lot of questions that weren’t answered.”
The leader of the independent minority bloc in the House, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, urged the government to speed up the resolution of cases filed against those responsible for the Mamasapano killings.
Romualdez, a senatorial candidate, said he hoped that as the country marks the anniversary of the Jan. 25 massacre, the families of those slain would finally get justice for the SAF 44.
The Palace on Thursday said it has always been honest and truthful during testiony before the Senate.
“In all instances, our government has been honest and truthful,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
“They have answered all questions, and President Aquino himself has several times faced the nation in order to answer all the questions,” Coloma said.
“Most recently, in September, he himself said there was new information which he wanted to know, and within the same week, this was discussed,” said Coloma.
Congressional allies of the President rejected Wednesday the reopening of the investigation of the Mamasapano debacle, calling it a waste of time and a political gimmick. With Sandy Araneta
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