Grace won’t inhibit from SAF 44 probe

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Grace Poe dismissed suggestions yesterday that she should inhibit from the reopening of the inquiry into the killing of 44 police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos on Jan. 25 last year in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Poe’s spokesman, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, assured the public that Poe would be impartial and fair as she has been since the start of hearings last year.

“While we respect Sen. Alan Cayetano’s offer to inhibit, we still maintain that inhibition is a voluntary decision,” the mayor added. “Knowing Senator Grace, she will have no problem inhibiting, but she cannot relinquish duties to her co-chair as well because he is also a candidate.”

In an interview in Pagadian City last week, Poe admitted she was satisfied with the results of the committee’s inquiry into the matter, but needed to allow the reopening so that the panel could accommodate Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile who earlier pushed for the resumption of the inquiry.

President Aquino also claimed last year that he had new leads on the incident, but this was later dropped.

Almost a year after the incident, Poe is also wondering what is taking the Department of Justice so long to file criminal charges against those who killed the SAF members involved in the implementation of Operation Plan: Exodus.

The operations aimed to neutralize terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir and Basit Usman but had gone awry after higher-ups were caught flat-footed on the covert operations launched by the SAF of the Philippine National Police, purportedly with technical support from US forces.

“Have there been cases filed against the suspected killers? And second, the most important is have there been benefits given to the families of the victims? That’s what we want to know,” Poe said in Filipino.

While the Senate’s committee report found the President ultimately liable for the incident, Sen. Francis Escudero thinks his liability should be left for the courts to determine.

“I will get the report of Sen. Grace… that the President is definitely responsible as commander in chief and president,” Escudero said.

“But only the court can determine.”

Amid calls for senators running for public office to inhibit, observers seek a question on who else would be left to investigate the matter.

Two senators, Poe and Sen. Miriam Santiago, are running for president; five senators – Escudero, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Gregorio Honasan, Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV – are vying for the vice presidency; and six more are seeking-reelection in May.

Honasan, running mate of Vice President Jejomar Binay, incidentally is vice-chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, which is on top of the Mamasapano inquiry.

Palace cover-up?

As this developed, Senator Marcos suspected Malacañang was trying to cover up other possible motives that might be uncovered once the Senate panel tackles anew the Mamasapano incident.

“So if Malacañang really has nothing to hide, it should welcome the reopening of the investigation. I believe a majority of the Filipino people sincerely want answers and would be discerning enough to recognize any attempt at grandstanding merely to score political points,” Marcos said.

Marcos lamented that the Palace is blocking the reopening of the case on its first anniversary on Jan. 25, also the date set for the grand welcome for newly crowned Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach.

He maintained he is supporting moves to reopen the Mamasapano investigation initiated by Enrile who claimed to have new information on the incident.

Among others, Marcos said he wants to find out why almost a year after no criminal charges in court have been filed against those responsible for the killings.

Cayetano to inhibit

Last Saturday, Cayetano sought for the inhibition of Poe from the reopening of the Senate investigation into the Mamasapano tragedy.

He vowed to also inhibit himself from the probe.

Cayetano, who is running for vice president, said all senators running for top posts should inhibit to ensure that the inquiry remains impartial and free from partisan politics.

 “It would be better if Sen. Poe passes it to the vice chair (of the committee) or to a senator who is not running, and she could just monitor the hearing. I would do the same,” he said.

Cayetano explained that he intends to have a counsel to ask questions on his behalf, a system, he says, the US Congress follows.

He said 80 percent of his questions would be from those directly affected by the tragedy, such as the families of the victims.

Cayetano sent a letter to Poe in July 2015 to reopen the Mamasapano case, only to be declined. Poe, however, accommodated Enrile when he made a similar request.

“If only the committee heeded my request, the Senate will not be reopening the inquiry so near to the campaign period and its intention will not be doubted by certain quarters,” he said.

‘Polluted source’

Meanwhile, former SAF chief retired Director Getulio Napeñas Jr. hit back at Liberal Party stalwart Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice for calling him a “polluted source” for the scheduled reopening of the Mamasapano probe later this month.

Napeñas, who is running for senator under the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, urged Erice to let the people and authorities decide whether or not he is a credible witness.

Napeñas headed the SAF operation in Mamasapano.

He said he is not sure if he would be invited in the re-investigation but would appear if called by the Senate.

Napeñas said he supports Poe’s call for the reopening of the Mamasapano probe in the Senate. – With Helen Flores












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