Senate to DFA: Explain US role in Exodus
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate committee investigating the encounter that resulted in the death of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25 will ask officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to explain the role US forces could play in assisting local troops.  

Sen. Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, has invited Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to today’s hearing amid reports that US troops were involved in Oplan Exodus to get Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted persons’ list with a $5-million bounty.

Poe said she wants to seek clarification on the US role in police operations in relation to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

“First of all, we want to know what is the implication of this kind of situation under those agreements? We don’t see any issue if they help us,” Poe said.

“I can’t understand why, if they have this type of involvement, why are they keeping it under wraps? Why can’t we reveal their presence if ever there was any. Is it because we don’t want other countries to know that other countries are aiding us?” she asked.

In a radio interview, Poe said there are many issues surrounding the US’ reported role in the covert operations that she wanted clarified, and if these are allowed under current agreements.

“If you look into history, the United States of America really had many operations in several countries,” she said, citing Pakistan and African nations.

Sources revealed that the US may have provided intelligence information to the Philippine National Police (PNP) with regard to the operations against Marwan. 

A US-manned surveillance aircraft was also spotted in the Mamasapano area on Jan. 24, a day before police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos assaulted Marwan’s hideout.

The same US aircraft supposedly hovered in the “battle area” as members of the 84th Seaborne Company and 84th Special Action Company (SAC) were trying to withdraw from hostile territory.

The police commandos launched an operation in Mamasapano to get Marwan and his Filipino cohort Basit Usman, who have been linked to the international terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Marwan was reportedly killed while Usman escaped.

In past hearings, some senators also expressed concern that the severed finger of Marwan was turned over immediately to the FBI when it could have been tested first by the National Bureau of Investigation.

PNP Board of Inquiry head Director Benjamin Magalong, of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, told senators in one of the hearings that Marwan’s severed finger was immediately brought by a SAF official to a waiting FBI team in General Santos City shortly after the extraction from Mamasapano.

Poe also wants to ask Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina about reports that the 16 firearms returned by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were cannibalized.

During the inquiry, Poe said she also hopes to determine what the PNP has been doing to ensure the speedy release of benefits for the families of the slain 44 SAF commandos.

Meanwhile, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said he will hold public hearings on the creation of an independent Truth Commission on the matter this Wednesday.

PNoy urged to tell the truth

Senators also urged President Aquino to tell the truth about what he knew about Operation Plan: Exodus from the planning stage to implementation, including how he directed ground troops who requested for reinforcement at the height of the clash.

“I think the President should tell all about his role in the Mamasapano massacre,” Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told The STAR. “The longer he waits, the less credible he is becoming,” said Marcos, chairman of the Senate committee on local governments, which is scrutinizing the provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Poe also called on the President to shed light on his role on the operations to give the public a clearer picture.

“The President has started talking about his actual knowledge of what happened and I am hopeful that he will continue to give the public more details,” Poe told The STAR.   

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara expressed his view that the truth will prevail, noting how every investigation – whether by Congress or the PNP – unravels the real story. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, John Unson

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