PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to form a commission to look into the botched January 2015 Mamasapano raid in which 44 police commandos were killed will only produce “alternative facts,” the camp of former President Benigno Aquino III said Wednesday.
Playing down the President’s decision to revisit the ill-fated incident, former presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda denied Duterte’s claim that Aquino deliberately hid the truth about the covert operation, or that then peace adviser Teresita Deles had advised against reinforcing the police commandos for fear that this would violate the ceasefire with Muslim rebels.
“Alternative commission, alternative facts,” Lacierda said in a Twitter post.
Aquino, meanwhile, said he would answer questions directed at him by Duterte after checking the facts.
“There were a lot of points raised in yesterday’s speech, so we just wanted to make sure of our reply,” Aquino said after hearing a Mass celebrated for the 84th birthday of his mother, the late Corazon Aquino. “So I’ve been spending this morning checking on those facts.”
He said he would meet with his lawyers in the afternoon and have a statement released Thursday.
On Tuesday, Duterte said he would create a seven-man commission to look into the culpability of Aquino and his officials.
Duterte, in the same speech, asked Aquino to explain what really happened.
“Let it be brought in the open. It was an American adventure, with the cooperation of some. And apparently with your blessing,” Duterte said, describing the raid to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, as a CIA operation.
“You said ‘It’s my fault.’ But that’s not enough. Tell me how you sinned,” he added.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said that the investigation will look into the “criminal responsibility” of Aquino, who was commander-in-chief during that time.
Because Aquino’s political allies were partial in investigating the Mamasapano case, it was time to conduct another investigation to get at the truth, Panelo said.
“The Senate hearings found that the person ultimately responsible for the snafu [was] President Aquino,” he added.
Panelo also denied allegations that they were raising the issue to deflect attention away from a scandal at the Philippine National Police, in which crooked police kidnapped a South Korean businessman and strangled him inside police headquarters in Camp Crame.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the commission could shed light on unanswered questions.
Aguirre said among these questions are: Did President Aquino give an order to stand down and not to reinforce the pinned down SAF troopers? Why was it that the military fired phosphorous rounds only after most if not all of our SAF troopers had died?
“Last but most important of all, why were the mobile phones of all those involved in the planning and the directing of Oplan Exodus from President Aquino down to the officers not submitted for forensic examination?” he said.
Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, meanwhile, assured the families of the 44 police commandos slain in Mamasapano that the government would help send their children to school.
“As of Jan. 16 this year, at least 16 beneficiaries of the SAF 44 members have not yet filed or received their claim for educational assistance because the intended beneficiaries are not yet studying or their petitions for claim are still pending,” he said.
Sueno also called on all members of the Philippine National Police to remember and be inspired by the sacrifices of the SAF 44.
“Sacrifices such as those of the SAF 44 should not be forgotten,” Sueno said.
Duterte’s decision to create a commission to look into the Mamasapano case was welcomed by senators allied with the President, but criticized by those who oppose him.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Aquino can now be summoned to answer questions after he has lost his immunity from suit.
“How will it [the commission] arrive at the truth if there’s a person exempted from subpoena or being questioned?” he said.
He said the Senate was ready to help, but would not reinvestigate the case.
“If they need transcripts of our hearings here, we will give them to avoid repetition,” he said.
Senator Grace Poe welcomed the President’s creation of an independent commission that would look into the Mamasapano incident as she recognized the limitations of the Senate probe she conducted during the last Congress.
Her committee said Aquino was ultimately responsible for the death of the members of the police elite force.
“Given the nature and inherent limitations of a legislative investigation, it is the prerogative of the President to create a commission for its reinvestigation that may… add to what had been unearthed previously given the greater powers of the executive and under much different political circumstances,” she said in a statement.
Poe said the Office of the Ombudsman had “essentially adopted” the recommendation of the committee with the recent filing of charges against former Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima and SAF Director Getulio Napeñas.
Senator Panfilo Lacson also backed the creation of the commission, saying it’s the President’s prerogative.
“If the President feels that the investigation conducted by the Board of Inquiry is lacking, including the investigation conducted by the Senate, that is always his prerogative,” said Lacson.
He said a separate inquiry by an independent body could also pave the way for the filing of additional charges against those people responsible for the Mamasapano debacle and could be used to correct the mistakes and avoid committing the same mistakes in the future.
But Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Leila de Lima accused Duterte of using the Mamasapano massacre not only to “demonize” the past administration, but also to divert attention from the crisis of his own leadership.
“That’s just a diversionary tactic to mask the failures of his administration,” Trillanes said in a text message to reporters.
De Lima supported the stance of Trillanes, saying the second anniversary of the Mamasapano incident is again being used by Duterte to divert attention from the crisis his current leadership is facing.
“This appears to be the primary motivation of the President in continuously harping on the Mamasapano incident. It is to continuously demonize the past administration in order to cover up for his own lack of accomplishments and direction after six months into his term,” she added.
But De Lima said any further probe on the Mamasapano incident “is best conducted shorn of politics.”
“Duterte is the least qualified in directing such a probe given his propensity for prejudgement and to preempt the results of any investigation, as he himself has already declared the Mamasapano police action as a CIA operation,” she added.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on Wednesday said she scolded a chief records officer of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for the late filing of graft and usurpation raps against former PNP chief Alan Purisima and former SAF commander Getulio Napeñas.
She said the charges, filed on Tuesday, should have been filed in June last year before the Sandiganbayan.
Morales said she had asked the concerned employee to explain the delay in the filing of raps against the two PNP officials.
“I issued a show-cause order to explain within 24 hours why she should not be faulted for not filing the information contrary to the standing order of the Ombudsman that if you submit a case for filing, it should be within a reasonable time,” Morales said.
In April 2016, Morales found the two criminally liable for the botched operation to serve arrest warrants on Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Basit Usman in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano in Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2014.
Napeñas was found liable for taking orders from Purisima despite his suspension.
Purisima was dismissed from the service in June 2015, while Napeñas retired in July 2015. With Rey E. Requejo, Rio N. Araja and Maricel V. Cruz