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March 18, 2015

THE MANILA BULLETIN ONLINE: Mamasapano investigation Truth Commission sought; Poe opens Senate probe today

A  senior  administration  congressman  has  filed  a  bill  creating  a  TruthCommission empowered to subpoena the President and has asked PresidentAquino  to  certify  the  measure  urgent.  Rep.  Sherwin  Gatchalian  (NPC,Valenzuela City) also wants the body that would investigate the Mamasapanoincident to finish its job within one year.Gatchalian filed House Bill  5404 which will  create the Mamasapano TruthCommission that will be patterned after the Davide Commission which wasassigned to investigate the series of coup d’etat against the government ofPresident Corazon Aquino in the 1980s.The five-man Mamasapano Truth Commission will  be an independent fact-finding panel that will conduct an investigation into the brutal killing of 44police  commandos  of  the  Special  Action  Force  of  the  Philippine  NationalPolice (PNP) as well as the death of 17 Muslims in an armed encounter inMamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25.

SENATE PROBE ON TODAY

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares, head of the SenateCommittee on Public Order, will hold its initial hearing today, Feb. 9.Director  General  Alan  Purisima,  resigned  PNP  chief,  has  confirmed  hisattendance in the hearing. Also appearing at the Senate probe are Interiorand Local  Government Secretary Manuel  “Mar” Roxas II,  acting PNP chiefLeonardo Espina, and relieved PNP-SAF chief Supt. Pascual Napeñas.Two  survivors  of  the  deadly  clash  –  Supt.  Raymond  Train  and  and  PO2Christopher  Lalan are also set  to appear at  the probe, along with ArmedForces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Pio Catapang, Jr. and Lt.General Rustico Guerrero of the AFP Western Mindanao Command, SecretaryTeresita  Deles,  the  Presidential  Adviser  on  the  Peace  Process  (OPAPP),Defense  Secretary  Voltaire  Gazmin;  Justice  Secretary  Leila  de  Lima;  Prof.Miriam Coronel Ferrer who headed the Government Peace Negotiating Panelfor talks with the MILF; and Gov. Mujiv Hataman, chair of the AutonomousRegion in Muslim Mindanao (ARMMM).

SPECIAL POWER

Unlike  similar  bills  filed  by  Malacanang-allied  congressmen,  Gatchalian’sproposal calls for the grant to the Truth Commission of a special power to callPresident Aquino, whose alleged role in the police operations in Mamasapanohas become the subject of much speculation.Gatchalian said persistent reports that Aquino was the one who gave the“go-signal”  for  the  Mamasapano  raid  should  be  explained  by  the  chiefexecutive himself.

The Valenzuela  lawmaker  urged  Aquino to  certify  the measure  an urgentadministration bill. ”Being a public servant, it is of utmost importance for thePresident  to  have  the  truth  commission  institutionalized  at  the  shortestpossible time given the clamor for truth by his bosses. As many people say:Justice delayed is justice denied,” Gatchalian said.“The President should also attend the proceedings of such commission if histestimony is needed and truthfully answer the questions of the panel.  Heshould lead by example,” he added.“The  Mamasapano  Commission  will  be  responsible  for  investigating  thepreparation and implementation of the SAF operation, the real sequence ofevents on the ground during the incident itself, and any other occurrencesmaterial  to  the  identification  of  the  accountabilities  and  liabilities  of  allparties either directly or indirectly involved in the incident. In pursuit of thisresponsibility,  the  Commission  shall  be  vested  with  broad  investigatorypowers,” Gatchalian said in his explanatory note.In case there is sufficient basis to believe a party is liable for human rightsviolations, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, the Commission is alsotasked  to  endorse  to  the  Office  of  the  Solicitor  General  the  filing  ofcomplaints  in  competent  international  courts  such  as  the  InternationalCriminal Court in The Hague.

Under the bill the head of the commission should be a retired Supreme Courtjustice while the other four members should be come from the academe,clergy, or any respectable and duly licensed profession.

COME CLEAN

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero said yesterday that Malacanang and the UnitedStates embassy should come clean and address the rumors that the US isinvolved in the police operation launched by the PNP SAF in Mamasapano,Maguindanao.The Senate Committee on Public Order should also look into the reportedpresence of American troops during the clash between the SAF personneland the MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), he said.“Definitely the role — or the non-participation — of America in this issueshould be settled once and for all. That should be part of our goal for thesearch for truth,” Escudero said.What is puzzling, Escudero said, is why US helicopters were used to airlift thewounded Filipino commandos.

There have been reports a US drone was circling around the area while theclash was going on. An American soldier was also reportedly killed during theencounter.Lawmakers  should  ascertain  whether  the  Philippine-United  States  VisitingForces Agreement (VFA) was violated, Escudero said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said that if indeed the US assisted the Philippines inthe operation, it should be welcomed.“US support is essential in our fight against terrorism. So, on the assumptionthat the US assisted in the operation to get Marwan by providing geospatialintel or medical evacuations, we should welcome it,” Trillanes said.Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter  Cayetano urged the US government toconsider  granting  the  $5-million  bounty  for  the  head  of  Malaysian  bombexpert Zulkifli bin Hir to the families of the slain 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) and the other wounded commandos.“If indeed it is confirmed that Marwan was killed, I am of the belief that thefamily  of  those  who  were  part  of  the  operations,  and  those  other  SAFmembers who were wounded benefit from the reward,” Cayetano said.

COVER-UP?

Meanwhile, Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said some Palace officialsare purportedly laying the ground for a grand cover-up to hide what reallytranspired in the Mamasapano clash.To  this  day,  Marcos  said,  the  government  has  not  yet  presented  theoperational plan which contains an intelligence packet and an approval orderfor “Oplan Wolverine.” According to Marcos, this packet will show exactly who was in command andwho signed the papers which gave the SAF troopers the signal to proceedwith  their  mission  to  arrest  international  terrorists  Zulkifli  bin  Hir  alias“Marwan” and Abdul Basit Usman.In an interview over Radio DZMM, Marcos said the unwillingness on the partof  authorities  to  present  the  document  is  worsening  speculations  andallowing the unresolved issue to fester,

Marcos, who chairs the Senate Committee on Local Government, said he isready to resume the Senate hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) ifthe government gives the Senate a truthful  and believable report  on theMamasapano incident. He suspended the hearings on the BBL following theMamasapano incident.

DOJ PROBE

1-BAP party list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, who served as justice secretary duringthe Ramos administration, said yesterday that the Department of Justice’sfive-man  special  investigation  panel  should  be  given  “more  than  twomonths” to finish its probe into the January 25 bloody clash in Mamasapano.“It will take the DOJ more than two months to get to the bottom of the tragicincident and, depending on how Director General Purisima will cooperate indiscovering the truth, we may or may not find out what really happened,” hesaid.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has ordered the DOJ special panel to submitits final report of findings and recommendations “not later than 60 days.”Magadalo  party-list  Rep.  Francisco  Ashley  Acedillo  and  Deputy  MajorityLeader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle against Corruption (CIBAC) party list,however, disagreed with Bello, sayin g the two-month deadline for the DOJ tofinish its SAF probe is “reasonable.”

Congressman Acedillo said a Truth Commission would be the perfect entity todeliver “punitive” and “corrective” action on both the MILF and PNP as far asthe January 25 inncident is concerned.Rep.  Gary  Alejano,  who  like  Acedillo  is  a  former  Magdalo  solider-turned-lawmaker, said, “The problem of an independent investigation body is theauthority. By whose authority would it act?”House  Speaker  Feliciano  “Sonny”  Belmonte  Jr.  underscored  this  line  ofthought last week when he stressed that Congress should be the foremostbody to investigate the Mamasapano issue “and not retired magistrates.”

JOINT PROBE SOUGHT

LPGMA  party-list  Rep.  Arnel  Ty  on  Sunday  urged  President  Aquino  III  toinitiate another inquiry into the January 25 incident, this time involving theDepartment of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Departmentof Justice (DOJ) as a team.Ty,  a  deputy  minority  leader,  said  a  “joint  comprehensive  investigation”between  the  two  agencies  would  be  akin  to  the  one  launched  in  theaftermath of the 2010 Luneta hostage-taking fiasco.Currently, the DILG — through a PNP Board of Inquiry — and the DOJ — viathe  National  Bureau  of  Investigation  (NBI)  and  the  National  ProsecutionService (NPS)– m are conducting two separate probes.. Two separate probesare a waste of time and resources, considering that a unified inquiry is viablethrough a simple presidential directive,” he said.

POLICE HUNTING USMAN

Police are now even more determined to get suspected bomb expert BasitUsman who was able to escape the bloody police operation last month, ChiefSupt. Generoso Cerbo, Jr., spokesman of the PNP, said yesterday.In his address to the nation on Friday, President Aquino vowed to get Usmanand asked the MILF to either help the government in getting him or step outof the way.Aside  from Usman,  police  are  also  on  the  lookout  for  all  the  suspectedbombers who trained under Marwan and Usman.All police forces in Mindanao are now on highest security alert status to avertany retaliatory attack from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF)which is reportedly coddling Usman, Cerbo said.

GOV’T RELUCTANT

The Philippine government is reluctant to ask the US to give the multimillion-dollar reward offered for information on a terror suspect to the families of theFallen 44.Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. saidthe government has no authority to intervene with how the US will distributeits reward for the downfall of Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.Earlier,  some  groups  proposed  that  the  bounty  on  Marwan  should  beextended to the families of the policemen killed in the line of duty. BayanMuna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the reward money may help compensate forthe loss of the policemen’s families.

US  embassy  officials  however  reportedly  made  clear  that  only  civilianinformants are eligible for any bounty offered by the US government.  Noofficer  or  employee  of  foreign  governments  may  receive  the  rewards  ofjustice,  they  said.  (With  reports  from  Genalyn  D.  Kabiling,  Ellson  A.Quismorio, Aaron B. Recuenco, and Charissa M. Luci)

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