Palace on Mamasapano reopening: What’s new?
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2016 - 9:01am

MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino has claimed responsibility for the deaths in Mamasapano and the Senate and police investigations last year had been thorough. What else is left to find out?

Nothing new, according to Malacañang. 

“As far as we are concerned… the testimonies have all been put out. (We) have been forthright, so we don’t know what it is that they will come up with that is new… we will just have to wait and see,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said yesterday, referring to the reopening of the probe by the Senate on Jan. 25, the anniversary of the deaths of 44 police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos.

He pointed out that various statements of key players were taken during the investigations into the incident.

Lacierda said both the Senate and the Philippine National Police-Board of Inquiry (PNP-BOI) released their reports on the incident after extensive investigations.

President Aquino had also spoken on various occasions that he was not given accurate information to make the correct decisions when fighting broke out in the remote Maguindanao town on the morning of Jan. 25 last year.

Nevertheless, the President said he was responsible for all police and military operations being the Chief Executive, Lacierda said.

“In the various statements of the President, he has already said as much, that he took responsibility as commander-in-chief, that is not new. That has been stated, but investigations (for the culpability of those behind the deaths) are ongoing,” Lacierda said.

“We must remember that the President has also addressed the concerns not only of the immediate families of the SAF 44 but also the extended families who sought assistance… and we continue to address those concerns,” Lacierda said, referring to the slain Special Action Force members.

Lacierda added the Department of Justice also came out with a report and had filed charges against those allegedly responsible for the killing of the SAF 44.

Lacierda stressed the decision to reopen the investigation was legislative but “the people involved have all testified before the Senate inquiry.”

“I am not sure what more we can contribute. It has been the Cabinet members, PNP personnel, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) personnel have all cooperated. They have given their testimonies,” he said.

Motivation

Sen. Grace Poe on Tuesday announced the Senate would reopen the Mamasapano probe on Jan. 25, citing the need of some lawmakers, including Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, to clarify some issues.

Enrile said he has information different from the details established during the first Senate hearings. He said he gathered new evidence from some survivors, whom he met during his confinement in the PNP General Hospital at Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Enrile was placed under hospital arrest on graft charges for the pork barrel scam pending before the Office of the Ombudsman. He later managed to post bail.

Poe had said the reopening of inquiry would not affect the previous findings under Committee Report No. 120 which found President Aquino “ultimately responsible” for the deaths of the 44 police commandos.

Almost 400 police commandos had swooped down before dawn in the operation to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and local confederate Basit Usman in the remote village of Mamasapano in Maguindanao on Jan. 25.

But after killing Marwan, the SAF commandos were ambushed by heavily armed Muslim rebels and villagers.

A total of 44 policemen were killed and 12 others were wounded in the attack. Eighteen rebels and five civilians were also killed.

Operation Plan: Exodus went haywire after operatives supposedly failed to coordinate properly with the military, as then SAF commander Chief Supt. Getulio Napeñas’ plea for reinforcement was apparently ignored by his military counterparts.

Both the Senate and the BOI reports found the President ultimately responsible for the incident but Aquino disputed these, saying his side of the story must also be considered.

Malacañang maintained that Aquino did not break the chain of command nor could he be held liable for command responsibility as the BOI stated because the PNP, being a civilian organization, need not follow such a rule and that he was commander-in-chief only of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The President also said he asked then PNP chief Alan Purisima and Napeñas to coordinate the operation with authorities, including the AFP.

“We do not wish to impute any motivation on the reopening. Sen. Grace Poe already has a report done but it was not yet voted on the floor of the Senate,” Lacierda said.

As regards the report of the House of Representatives, Lacierda said it would be up to congressmen to decide on its release because everything was public knowledge anyway.

Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting prodded the House leadership to release the report on the congressional inquiry into the Mamasapano incident.

He said the joint House committees on public order and safety; and peace, reconciliation and unity that conducted the inquiry have yet to issue a report to the plenary since wrapping up the investigation in April last year.

“The House never properly concluded the investigation on the matter,” Tambunting said.

Negros Occidental Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer, chairman of the committee on public order and safety, bristled at Tambunting’s insinuations, saying the panels have made a draft report but it was still being circulated and reviewed by members of the two committees.

Ferrer though admitted he was also not too keen on releasing the draft report, saying it could be used for some political agenda.

BOI chief Director Benjamin Magalong stood by the panel’s findings on the incident.

Magalong, however, said they are reviewing the pieces of documents and other evidence to be able to answer the questions to be raised by the senators in the event the reinvestigation pushes through.

Cooperate

Napeñas, who figured prominently in the botched police operation, welcomed the reopening of the probe by the Senate.

According to Napeñas, the first congressional inquiry made by Poe into the incident failed to ferret out the truth, claiming the senator was trying to protect the President.

“In the first phase of the Senate investigation it was okay but it went the other way around and it seems she (Poe) was trying to protect President Aquino,” Napenas said.

Aquino sacked Napeñas following the public outcry over the incident.

According to Napeñas, he was prevented from naming who should be held responsible during the Senate hearing.

“In the end, we are at fault,” Napeñas told The STAR.

He said the SAF under his leadership was accused of poor planning and poor execution of Oplan Exodus.

“How can they say it was poor planning and poor execution when we accomplished our goal to locate and neutralize Marwan?” Napeñas said.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) also welcomed the reopening of the Senate probe.

Government chief negotiator with the Muslim rebels Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said OPAPP saw it as “ an opportunity to further clarify our long-standing protocols on the conduct of law enforcement operations.”

She said deliberations on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law and the Senate committee investigation on Mamasapano should be decoupled.

“The Bangsamoro peace process is, after all, addressing a much bigger and longer problem that has caused divisions between the Filipino majority and the minority population, with the end in view of bringing to an end the armed conflict,” Ferrer said. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Paolo Romero, Alexis Romero

ACIRC AQUINO ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES ATILDE JAN LACIERDA MAMASAPANO PLUSMN PRESIDENT PRESIDENT AQUINO SENATE
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