Senators clash over playing of Mamasapano tapes

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Franklin Drilon and Sen. Francis Escudero disputed yesterday the playing in a Senate public hearing of the audio recording of an alleged conversation between a government official and a lawmaker about attempts to cover up the massacre of the police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos during the encounter with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last year.

As Drilon attempted to block the playing of the audio recordings during the resumption today of the joint Senate committees investigating the Mamasapano inquiry, Escudero maintained that a third party who will play the recording may not be held liable under the Anti-Wiretapping Law. 

He contradicted Drilon’s stance that the playing of an unauthorized recording is punishable by law.

Escudero also batted for transparency in the wake of reports that the digital recording said to be in the possession of retired Chief Supt. Diosdado Valeroso contains voices of two top officials who discussed a possible cover up of the massacre of 44 SAF commandos in the Mamasapano encounter on Jan. 25, 2015.

The 44 members of the SAF were killed in the Mamasapano encounter after the raiding team killed Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

Valeroso, a founder of the Young Officers’ Union, was involved in the various coup plots during the Cory Aquino administration.  

He is a member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1982, which counts former PNP Board of Inquiry chairman, Director Benjamin Magalong, and retired Special Action Force (SAF) Director Getulio Napeñas, as members.

Although he did not directly point to Drilon, Escudero noted that some personalities have also tried to prevent the presentation as evidence of the so-called “Hello, Garci” tapes, which contained the alleged conversation of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with former poll commissioner Virgilio Garcillano about poll fraud operations in 2004.

Drilon, along with then allies of Arroyo, tried to block the airing of the Hello, Garci tapes. 

Drilon was also among those who advised Arroyo to issue the “I am sorry” statement in relation to the Hello, Garci scandal, before several Cabinet members belonging to the “Hyatt 10” resigned.

Escudero also cited the legal brief of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which said that the Anti-Wiretapping law prohibits only the recording and interception of private communications.

He did not discount the possibility that the recording could be released in public if the tape will not be played at the Senate hearings. 

“It is an embarrassment if the Senate will not listen to it when it has been played by the media or made available to the public,” he added.

Drilon reiterated yesterday that “no one is above the law and even senators who craft the laws of the land are bound to respect and abide by them.”

He stressed that the alleged Mamasapano audio recording is covered by the provisions of Republic Act 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Act.

“The Senate is not above the law. The senators should abide by the law. What I am saying is that the law is so clear and precise that it leaves no room for misinterpretation,” Drilon said.

Drilon explained that Section 4 of RA 4200 clearly states that “any communication or spoken word, or the existence, contents, substance, purport, or meaning of the same or any part thereof, or any information therein contained obtained or secured by any person in violation of the preceding sections of this Act shall not be admissible in evidence in any judicial, quasi-judicial, legislative or administrative hearing or investigation.”

“The law explicitly includes legislative investigations as among the forum wherein illegally obtained communication and information cannot be used in evidence,” Drilon said.

“The law makes no distinction and the basic principle in statutory construction is that where the law does not distinguish, we should not distinguish. The provision covers legislative investigations without any distinction as to whether it is open or executive session,” Drilon emphasized.

Drilon also clarified that he only brought up RA 4200 to enlighten his colleagues regarding the existing rules that govern the use of unauthorized recording in a public hearing “in order to guide the committee in deciding on the matter.”

“The laws are there to guide us and not to threaten us. As senators, we must commit to enforce the laws of the land. In a country where rules are hardly followed, we need leaders who respect laws and are ready to uphold and defend them without ifs and buts,” Drilon said.

“As members of Congress, we must be the first to follow the law. We should send a strong message to the people that the laws we have crafted cannot in any way be bent, and that all should follow them,” Drilon said.

Sen. Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, vowed that she would not be cowed by threats of Drilon that any senator who allows the playing of the digital recordings may be held liable.

“Sinabi na ni Senator Drilon na ito daw ay illegal, na hindi daw pwede, na ako daw ay pwedeng maging liable kung ito daw ay ipapakinig ko sa Senado, ako naman, ano ba itong mga batas na ito?” Poe said in a radio interview.

Poe said she would not be cowed into doing her duties as chairperson of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, the lead committee in the Mamasapano probe.

“Ang mga batas na ito ay para malaman natin ang katotohanan at magkaroon tayo ng hustisya. Itong mga anti-wiretapping or mga recording na ganito, kung hindi pwedeng ilabas sa publiko, pwede naming gawing basehan sa executive session,” she added.

As the Senate resumes today the Mamasapano inquiry at the Senate, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said that he is ready to prove his allegations that President Aquino had allowed the “slaughter” of the 44 SAF commandos in Maguindanao.

“The people have the right to know whether or not the highest leader was fit to exercise his powers,” Enrile told ANC News.

Enrile said he hopes to close the gaps in the Mapasapano encounter.

“I have my own material that I will present. I will prove eight specifications against the President,” he said, adding that the material will show what the President did and did not do at the height of the encounter.

Enrile revealed that his claims have not been previously taken up during the past Senate hearings. 

“All I promise is that I have materials to establish the role of the President in the Mamasapano operations,” he added, rejecting insinuations that he had personal motives in his expose.

– With Alexis Romero, Perseus Echeminada, Evelyn Macairan












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