A FORMER police intelligence director urged the Senate to subpoena all the documents related to Operation Exodus, the covert operation that led to the deaths of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last year, to determine President Benigno Aquino III’s culpability in the debacle.
Retired police Chief Supt. Rodolfo Mendoza, president of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, issued the call one day before the Senate reopens its hearings on the Mamasapano massacre
“It is proper to determine… who directly approved the project and funding,” Mendoza said, adding that these documents could no longer be kept secret on the basis of national security and should be declassified.
In Mamasapano last year, the SAF contingent hunting two high-profile terrorists were pinned down and slaughtered by Muslim rebels, including fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front with which the government is in peace talks.
The Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Central Mindanao did not respond to the commandos’ pleas for artillery support and assistance.
In his Senate testimony last year, former SAF director Getulio Napeñas said he and former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima had briefed the President on Oplan Exodus.
The Senate committee on public order headed by Senator Grace Poe had found the President to be “ultimately responsible” for the deaths of the 44 police commandos, but the hearings were reopened after Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said he had new evidence of Aquino’s direct hand in the botched operation.
Mendoza said in particular that any documents that passed through the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa should be declassified and examined.
The ruling Liberal Party said Tuesday that it sees nothing wrong if the Senate plays an audio recording of a conversation between a ranking government official and a lawmaker that purportedly showed an attempt to cover up the events in Mamasapano so as not to endanger the passage of the Palace-backed Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress.
“I don’t know what the recording contains. But if that would help in the investigation and there is relevance and legal basis, why not?” said Rep. Barry Gutierrez, spokesman for the administration’s presidential candidate Manuel Roxas II.
But the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said it was considering legal action against those in possession of the recording, supposedly of a conversation between Peace Advisor Teresita Deles and Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“Anyone who recorded the audio without expressed permission from those identified in it can be prosecuted for violation of the law,” said OPAPP legal consultant Jomer Aquino.
Deles and Marcos Jr. denied as early as last year that they discussed a cover-up of the incident because of its supposed implications on the peace agreement between the government and the MILF, and on the proposed BBL.
On Saturday, retired police chief superintendent Diosdado Valeroso said that he has in his possession a digital audio recording of a conversation that took place “a day or two” after 44 members of the Special Action Force were killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao about an attempt to cover up the Mamasapano massacre.
“People who wanted again to hit the administration through the peace process, released and shared under false headline the recording of my meeting with Senator Marcos, making it appear that the conversation was about a whitewash and a cover-up instead of an innocent conversation about the incident in which it was clear that we were both trying to make sense of what happened, given the details available at that time, and concluded with an agreement to wait for more information,” Deles said in a statement.
Deles said she welcomed the reopening of the Senate investigation but cautioned lawmakers to make it factual—and said it should not affect the BBL being pushed by Aquino and the MILF.
“If we are going to reopen because there are issues still to be addressed, all questions should focus there. I am hoping that it will be factual and it will help to [give the] big picture of what really happened,” Deles said.
She reiterated that allegations about her attempt to cover up the massacre were false.
“It was a disservice then, as it is a disservice now to our people to mislead, confuse and lie to them,” Deles said.
The Senate panel reopens its investigation Wednesday, with Enrile promising to drop a bombshell that would directly link President Aquino to the deaths last year of the 44 police commandos.
Lawmakers were discussing whether to release the contents of the executive sessions on the Mamasapano clash that were never made public last year.
But Gutierrez cautioned against their disclosure, saying they could be used to ruin the chances of some presidential candidates.
“What’s their justification? In the end, it’s the decision of the members of the committee. I’m sure that the decision to declare an executive session was not taken lightly when it was done before, and so equally now, the decision to reveal the contents of the executive sessions should be done in a likely similar process, and we hope that it won’t be politicized for vested political interests of the personalities involved,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez had earlier said that Poe will use the reopening of the Senate proceedings on the Mamasapano massacre to benefit her ambition to become president.
The Mamasapano massacre took a heavy toll on the President’s trust and approval ratings last year. These ratings have gone up again in the last few months.
In the House, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., a staunch Aquino ally, said it was time for the country “to move on” one year after the Mamasapano massacre.
But he said it was also “time for the prosecution people to do their job thoroughly”—referring to the filing of charges against 90 Muslim rebels who took part in the massacre.
Belmonte said the House, which has not even released its report from last year, is unlikely to reopen its own investigation.
He said the joint House committees on public order and safety, and peace reconciliation and unity would release their report before Congress goes on break on Feb. 5.
“The chairmen assure me that they will release their report on the Mamasapano incident before we adjourn,” Belmonte said.
The joint committee conducted three hearings on the massacre last year.
The militant group Anakbayan on Tuesday urged the Senate to compel Aquino to attend the hearings and to reveal his role in the botched covert operation.
“Let’s stop the blame-game and denials. Aquino should admit his real role in the actual planning, preparations, and first-person directing of the Mamasapano operation. Unfortunately for Aquino, that would mean landing in jail after his term ends,” said Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo. With Joel E. Zurbano
Senatorial candidate Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez urged the President and his officials to be transparent and to resist the urge to cover up their role in the tragedy.
Romualdez also said the administration must “squarely and fortrightly” address the concerns of the SAF families, including the benefits and assistance due them.
Romualdez called on the President to stop blaming others for the botched operation and instead offer a blow-by-blow account of everything he did on the day of the Mamasapano massacre.
“Whether he accepts it or not, the buck stops at him since he was the commander-in-chief of SAF 44. There will never be a closure to the Mamasapano massacre unless President Aquino completes the picture,” he said.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. said the Justice Department owes it to the family of the victims, and to the public in general, to explain why a year after that tragic incident no formal charges have been filed in court against those responsible.
“Even if they are not formally invited to testify in the Senate hearing they can simply submit to us a report on the status of the case so we can all know why it’s taking them so long to file appropriate charges in court,” he added.
Newly appointed acting Justice Secretary Emmanuel Caparas earlier denied the department was sitting on the case and promised a resolution would be out soon. – With Joel E. Zurbano