Administration presidential candidate Mar Roxas, who claimed he was kept out of the loop about the ill-fated police operation that led to the massacre of 44 policemen in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last year, will be among those invited by Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile when Senate resumes its investigation of the incident on Jan. 27.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma will also be questioned by Enrile about the incident, which claimed the lives of 44 Special Action Force members.
Malacañang, meanwhile, said it saw no reason why the reopening of the investigation of the Mamasapano would affect the political plans of Roxas, its endorsed candidate and Liberal Party standard-bearer.
“The President’s stand is clear. In all instances he has done all that is right and just for our citizens, and regarding the ratings, that is not his priority,” said Coloma.
Senator Grace Poe, who is running for President like Roxas, promised she will not ask questions in the reopening of the investigation and will merely act as moderator.
Roxas was the secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, which has supervision over the national police, when the Mamasapano massacre took place.
The slain policemen were part of a larger force sent to carry out “Oplan Exodus,” the covert operation to capture Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and his Filipino associate, Basit Usman.
Poe is the chairman of the Senate committee on public order, which led the chamber’s inquiry into the Mamasapano incident.
Poe’s committee found President Benigno S. Aquino III ultimately liable for the death of the 44 police commandos who were killed by rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
In November, Enrile sought to reopen the Senate investigation, saying he was detained and unable to ask questions during the hearings.
Upon the approval of Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who heads the Committee on Rules, Poe scheduled the hearing for Jan. 27, one year and two days after the incident.
Asked if she would allow surprise witnesses, Poe said they cannot be prevented from appearing as long as they have reason to speak.
“But if I can see that there is no connection, as presider, I, together with the other senators, will say if they will be allowed or not,” said Poe.
She expressed the hope officials from the Executive will attend the hearings.
The senator revealed she is praying the hearing will be finished in just one day.
“When I talked to Senator Enrile, he told me he might be able to finish his questions within two hours,” said Poe.
Meanwhile, Malacanang on Wednesday denied the claim of Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. saying that the families of two slain members of the 44 SAF commandos have not received any aid from the government.
“All mandatory benefits stated in the law were already released by the National Police Commission and the Philippine National Police as of April 2015. [These include] special financial assistance, commutation of accumulated leave credits, monthly and back-earned pensions, burial and gratuity assistance, public safety mutual benefit fund,” said Coloma, in an interview over radio station RMN.
“Based on an updated report obtained by the Presidential Management Staff from the PNP, the total benefits received by the family of the late Police Senior Inspector [Joey S.] Gamutan was P2.5 million, not P2.6 million. Moreover, there is only one child-beneficiary of Napolcom scholarship benefits, and not two children,” Coloma also said.
Marcos cited reports quoting the widows of two slain SAF commandos, namely Virgie Viernes and Merlyn Gamutan, who said that they have yet to receive the aid pledged by the government.
“Almost a year has passed after the Mamasapano massacre and yet we continue to hear complaints from some of the kin of the SAF 44 that they have yet to receive the assistance the government promised to them,” Marcos said.
President Aquino, Coloma said, had told the family members that they will be able to receive help such as employment, housing, livelihood, skills training and other benefits.
Coloma said not only immediate family members of the 44 SAF victims, but also their in-laws, will receive the benefits and help from the government.
Senatorial candidate and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Wednesday appealed to the government to address the reported undelivered assistance to some of the widows of the 44 members of the slain SAF members.
Romualdez, the president of the Philippine Constitution Association, said it is “lamentable to hear the reported complaints of two SAF widows Virgie Viernes and Merlyn Gamutan about the undelivered assistance.”
Romualdez also reiterated his call for the concerned groups not to prejudge the resumption of the Senate inquiry by calling it politically-motivated.
“Pre-judging the Senate investigation as politically-motivated is baseless and unfounded without listening first to the course of inquiry. The initiative is more of extending ‘malasakit’ [compassion] to give justice to the victims. Let us allow the investigation to continue in the name of justice and ferret out the whole truth,” Romualdez pointed out.