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US involvement in massacre questioned

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WHILE senators scrambled to defend President Benigno Aquino III in the just-concluded Mamasapano hearing, the testimony of the officials involved showed the real and direct involvement of agents of the United States, youth activists chargedThursday.

“It has been established that the bloody offensive was a US-backed operation and that US agents, possibly from the notorious Central Intelligence Agency, were directly involved. No less than the puppet President Aquino was tapped to direct the operation, said Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo

“Clearly, Aquino has committed treason,” Crisostomo said, adding that Aquino “secretly implemented an illegal offensive, tapped a suspended official, broke the chain of command and the ceasefire agreement with the Bangsamoro which led to the death of more than 60 Filipinos, 44 of which his own government’s police operatives.”

Show of force. Members of militant groups together with retired Supt. Diosdado Valeroso, center, link arms to show their unity and to urge the senators not to be cowed by Senator Franklin Drilon’s statement challenging the legality of the audio recording in the possession of Valeroso. Lino Santos

“Blood is on Aquino’s hands. We should make sure that he be prosecuted and jailed,” he said.

Crisostomo said the US government and the operatives who implemented the offensive should also be held responsible.

“We demand full disclosure of the role and extent of the US intervention in Mamasapano,” he said. “We cannot have more bloody offensives and killings to happen, and more lives to be sacrificed on the altar of the US terror war.”

The League of Filipino Students, on the other hand said, the reopened Senate reinvestigation of the incident white washes Aquino III’s accountability.

“It was like watching a horrible circus act,” said LFS National Chairperson Charisse Bañez said of  Wednesday’s  hearing.

“It is revolting to watch how several senators allied to the administration are shamelessly trying to whitewash the accountability of BS Aquino in the Mamasapano debacle,” she said.

The student group slammed how the reopening of the Senate probe was being used by the majority of the Senate to “deodorize” Aquino.

Bañez said that this is an insult to the victims of the Mamasapano operation and the Filipino people.

“Asking us to believe that Aquino was just misinformed by the text messages he received or that he had a limited participation and liability in the operation is like asking us to boil the ocean. It is impossible and unacceptable,” said Bañez.

“He had knowledge of the operation and allowed its execution despite the flaws and violations to our sovereignty, peace process, chain of command, etc. In the first place, the operation would not have happened if Aquino didn’t give a go signal,” Bañez said.

She said that while questions about coordination between the police and the military are significant, there are principal issues that must be addressed.

“Former chief PNP-Special Action Force [SAF] Getulio Napeñas himself already stated that the US was involved in the operation. He said that the American government provided intel, training, equipment, medical evacuation, and investigation. There are also accounts of direct involvement of US forces during the firefight. We cannot let this slide,” said Bañez.

Bañez said that it is clear that the botched Mamasapano operation heavily involved United States participation from start to finish.

She said the death of the SAF 44 was caused by “the towering servility of the Aquio regime to the US.”

“Our countrymen were thrown to the lions… for the sake of an operation directed and funded by the US. Their lives were taken from them just to satisfy the interest of the American government,” said Bañez.

“No one in the government has the power to give permission to the US military force to operate other than the Philippine President. He allowed this operation and took part in crafting the plans on how to execute Operation Exodus,” she said.

But the Palace  on Thursday  denied allegations by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile that the President “compartmentalized’’ the ill-fated Mamasapano operation.

“It is not true that this was an insulated incident, [that it was] compartmentalized, that the President was the only one who knew the whole story,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a press briefing. “This was part of the whole intelligence situation which was actively monitored by the whole government.”

Coloma said what the President knew was the concept of Oplan Exodus, which aimed to neutralize two high-value terrorist targets, as presented to him by Napeñas.

Over 60 people, including 44 SAF elite troopers from the PNP were killed in the gun battle with Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters rebels and private armed groups.

Marwan, who was then listed as one of the Most Wanted Terrorists by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and had a $5-million bounty on his head, was also killed in the Jan. 25, 2015 operation.

The Mamasapano incident created a political firestorm that sent the President’s popularity ratings to their lowest level and has threatened the peace process between the government and the MILF.

During the reopening of the Mamasapano probe  Wednesday, Enrile accused Aquino of excluding government, police, and military officials from the operations.

Senator Francis Escudero said one year after the bloody incident, law enforcers were continuing to point fingers at who should take responsibility for the death of the 44 police commandos.

“I believe that command responsibility is important. It seemed that all of them have command responsibility, but nobody would want to admit liability,” Escudero said.

The joint hearing  on Wednesday  once again highlighted the lack of intelligence, poor planning and coordination, and failure of communications between and among government agencies to ensure the success of the operation from the beginning up to the extraction of the last SAF trooper trapped in the area.

Dubbed Oplan Exodus, the operation successfully took down wanted international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, but left 44 members of the police commando dead as they were making their way out.

Escudero said it would have been more acceptable if at least one of these security officials admitted command responsibility for what had happened in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2015.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV criticized Napeñas for putting the blame on the Armed Forces of the Philippines, when his own men also failed to provide support to the embattled elite police commandos.

Napeñas has repeatedly criticized the AFP for refusing to provide artillery support. He said the other SAF troopers could not help the 55th Special Action Company, which acted as a blocking force, because of the intensity of the fighting in Barangay Tukanalipao.

However, Staff Sgt. Whilmer Jaranilla, team leader of the 61st Division Reconnaissance Company, stood pat on his assertion that the 130-strong 41st, 42nd and 45th SAC were just waiting near the river and resting beside banana trees.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.  on Thursday  decried the Department of Justice’s shabby treatment of the family of the 44 commandos of the Special Action Force commandos slain in the Mamasapano massacre.

He noted that in the first e-mail sent to him dated Dec. 8, 2015, the SAF 44 kin, whom he did not name for security reasons, complained about the cancellation of the scheduled preliminary investigation on the Mamasapano case on  Nov. 11 and 27.

The complainant cited the Nov, 27 hearing that was cancelled despite the presence of the representatives of 35 SAF commandos from the 55th Seaborne Company as well as the lawyers of some of the respondents.

“Many of the families of the slain SAF 55 are from Visayas and Mindanao. We were travel weary and we spent money for our fare in going to Luzon and hotel accommodation only to be informed later that the hearing is cancelled,” the letter sender said.

In a subsequent e-mail to Marcos, dated Jan. 18, 2016 the SAF 44 kin said they were again told the scheduled Jan. 14, 2016 hearing was cancelled because the case was already submitted for resolution.

“If this is how we treat those that have given their lives in defense of the country, what is the fate of the ordinary citizen?” Marcos said.

Marcos said that upon receiving the first e-mail, he immediately wrote then acting Justice Secretary Alfredo Caguioa on the status of the preliminary investigation but he has yet to receive any response. “More than a month has passed since I wrote the DoJ to endorse that e-mail for appropriate action but until now I have not received even a cursory reply to assure me that they would attend to the matter,” Marcos said.

With the appointment of Caguioa to the Supreme Court, Marcos had also urged his replacement, Undersecretary Emmanuel Caparas to prioritize the resolution of the Mamasapano case, noting that a year after the tragic incident no case has been filed in court against the suspects.

He said no word or gesture can assuage the pain of the families of the slain policemen.

“Only justice will bring that. Only justice will do,” Marcos said.


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