PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he would form a commission to look into the culpability of former President Benigno Aquino III and other top officials of the previous administration for the botched January 2015 Mamasapano raid in which 44 police commandos were killed.
His order came as the Office of the Ombudsman filed graft and usurpation charges against former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former PNP Special Action Force commander Getulio Napeñas, also in connection with the Mamasapano debacle.
Speaking before the relatives of those killed in the Mamasapano operation on Tuesday, President Duterte accused Aquino of hiding the truth about the botched raid, which he described as a CIA operation.
“I will create a commission of seven. I will appoint men of integrity and honor. If they will accept, I will choose mostly justices of the Supreme Court and few of the civilian sector, maybe a lawyer,” Duterte said.
“They will be independent in all aspects. They are free to summon and as President, the executive department, I will order you to honor the process,” Duterte said.
“We will bestow on the commission the powers exactly given to the Agrava commission,” he said, referring to the board led by former Court of Appeals Justice Corazon J. Agrava, which investigated the assassination of Aquino’s father, Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.
“Maybe I will just give them [until] the end of the year, then we can have the truth,” Duterte added.
On Jan. 25, 2015, 44 SAF commandos and several civilians died in an encounter with Muslim rebels in a covert operation to neutralize terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir and Abdul Basit Usman in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Zulkifli Bin Hir, a bomber also known as Marwan, was shot dead during the operations. Usman escaped but was killed in another operation months later.
Although the commission has not yet been formed, Duterte concluded that contrary to the claims of the Aquino administration, US soldiers were involved thoroughly in the police operations.
Addressing Aquino, Duterte said: “It was an American adventure with the cooperation of some and apparently with your blessing…You fed [SAF troopers] to the lion’s den.”
During Senate hearings, it was revealed that the botched incident was being monitored using surveillance drones to get real-time information on the movement of troops. It was also agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who received proof of Marwan’s death through his finger that was delivered by the SAF.
While the police commandos were being killed, Duterte said, no military reinforcements were sent because then Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles had reminded them of the possible effects this would have on peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front—a claim Deles later denied.
“Why did you not even send a single rocket?” the President asked his predecessor in Filipino. “Why did you enter into an operation which was really placing in jeopardy the lives [of the police commandos], because at the end of the day, you would decide not to send any more?”
Even while Purisima was serving a six-month suspension imposed by the Ombudsman over a questionable contract, he was taking orders from Aquino, Duterte said.
“I asked the police. ‘Come here. Tell me the truth.’ They were taking orders from Purisima, obviously under your authority.”
He also said Aquino’s televised address accepting responsibility for the operation was not enough.
Duterte also chided the former president for condoning the corruption inside the PNP under his man Purisima.
“You were so dependent on Purisima for everything and you even forgave him for all of his sins of corruption,” he added.
In separate three-page charge sheets, the Ombudsman said both Purisima and Napeñas were liable for administrative offenses, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
Purisima “willfully, unlawfully and criminally” influenced Napeñas to violate the chain of command and his suspension order on him, the Ombudsman said.
A bail of P10,000 was recommended for each case filed against the two ex-police officers.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales earlier rejected the plea of Purisima and Napeñas to dismiss the finding of probable cause against them.
On Jan. 25, 2015, SAF members entered Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindano to serve arrest warrants for a high-ranking terrorist, Zulkifli Abdhir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit.
A total of 44 SAF commandos died in the corn fields of Mamasapano along with 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and three civilians.
According to the Ombudsman, Purisima had no authority to run the operation codenamed Oplan Exodus due to his suspension.
The filing of the cases came on the second anniversary of the Mamasapano debacle.
Deles on Tuesday denied interfering in the decision to send or not send reinforcements during the Mamasapano fighting.
“Thank God I’m in Kathmandu and Mt. Everest stands by the truth! I hope media will remind him that I already went through the grill on that,” Deles said in a text message sent to reporters.
Leftist groups welcomed Duterte’s creation of a commission on the Mamasapano case.
“Two years after the Mamasapano operation, justice has yet to be served, as the real mastermind behind the operation—the US government—has yet to be held accountable,” Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago said.
The extent of the United States’ role in the botched Mamasapano operation needs further scrutiny, especially with President Duterte’s recent revelation, Elago said.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday said the sacrifices of the SAF 44 were not in vain because they led to the election of President Duterte.
In an event in Malacañang honoring the 44 Special Action Force policemen slain in Mamasapano, Maguindanao two years ago, Cayetano described the deaths of the SAF 44 as both sad and glorious.
Cayetano said it was sad that blood was shed, but he added that the incident was also glorious because it resulted in a president who understood the situation in Mindanao.
“It is also glorious because it has produced a man, President Rodrigo Duterte, that understands both peace and war, that understands the barrel of the gun, but also understands how to put together people in peace,” Cayetano said. With Sandy Araneta