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âRody govât fishing for alternative factsâ
An “unshaken” Aquino, meanwhile, is preparing his legal defense against accusations raised by President Duterte on Tuesday that he should be held ultimately liable for the raid.
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‘Rody gov’t fishing for alternative facts’

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2017 - 12:00am

Mamasapano: Noy consults lawyers

MANILA, Philippines – The Duterte administration is contriving an “alternative commission” and using “alternative facts” in its effort to pin the blame on former president Benigno Aquino III for the Mamasapano raid, former presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said yesterday.

An “unshaken” Aquino, meanwhile, is preparing his legal defense against accusations raised by President Duterte on Tuesday that he should be held ultimately liable for the raid.

“There were a lot of points raised,” Aquino told reporters after mass held at the tomb of his parents at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City yesterday to mark Corazon Aquino’s birth anniversary. He was referring to Duterte’s remarks before relatives of the 44 police commandos killed in an encounter with Muslim rebels in a cornfield in Mamasapano, Maguindanao exactly two years ago yesterday.

Lacierda denied Duterte’s insinuation that Teresita Deles, at the time the presidential adviser on the peace process, had asked Aquino to order the military to stand down just to save the peace talks with the MILF. Deles has herself denied the allegation a number of times.

Despite Duterte’s tirades, the former president “looks unshaken because he knows someone’s watching over him,” Aurora Corazon “Pinky” Abellada, one of his sisters, said, referring to their mother, former president Cory Aquino.

The Aquino family commemorated yesterday the 84th birth anniversary of Cory.

The former chief executive was to meet with his legal counsels yesterday afternoon to craft a statement, scheduled for release today.

He said he and his legal team would double check facts as he admitted spending most of his time yesterday verifying the information mentioned by Duterte.

The Special Action Force (SAF) policemen were leaving Tukanalipao town after killing Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, when they encountered guerrillas belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The former president said he was happy that the “press now bothers to get the other side” unlike during the martial law years.

In a meeting with the families of the slain SAF members at Malacañang on Tuesday, Duterte said he wanted his predecessor to answer questions about the Mamasapano operation which investigating bodies did not ask when Aquino was still in power.

Lacierda again denied Duterte’s insinuation that then presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles had asked Aquino to order the military to stand down just to save the peace talks with the MILF. Deles has herself denied the allegation a number of times.

Aquino’s late mother had served the country as president from 1986 to 1992.

The Aquino matriarch died in 2009 of colon cancer.  A civilian-led military uprising in February 1986 – now called EDSA people power – forced the dictator Ferdinand Marcos into exile and catapulted her to power.

Aquino also expressed confidence that the people would continue to remember what his parents had fought for that led to the EDSA revolution.

“From two years ago, he (Noynoy) already told us he could sleep well with the decisions he made,” Abellada said.

From Manila Memorial Park, the Aquino family proceeded to a small Italian restaurant on Sucat Road for lunch. The restaurant’s owner is the son of an Italian photographer who covered the 1986 EDSA people power revolution.

“The family was very serene, not at all in panic mode,” a source said.

“The Aquino children always feel at peace when they pray at their parents’ grave and there has never been a time when their mother Cory did not heed their prayers,” the source added.

The former president had spoken many times about the Mamasapano incident while he was in office.

He had sought understanding and provided assistance to the families of the fallen policemen as he narrated how he had been left in the dark during the operation despite his strict orders to then suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima and SAF commander Getulio Napeñas to coordinate with other police and military officials.

Aquino and the United States embassy had repeatedly denied any US role in the operation, contrary to Duterte’s allegations, and stressed the charges against him filed before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the incident were frivolous and absurd.

The ombudsman is still evaluating the charges against Aquino but has filed a case against Purisima and Napeñas for graft and usurpation of public functions.

Diversion

For some senators, President Duterte’s playing up the Mamasapano debacle was his way of demonizing his predecessor and covering up controversies and scandals hounding his six-month administration.

“The Mamasapano Commission is just to divert attention from the blunders of his administration,” Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said in a text message.

Sen. Leila de Lima said Duterte is using the issue to divert attention from the crises his current leadership is facing, “rather than to actually give justice to the SAF and Muslim civilian victims of that armed encounter.”

“This appears to be the primary motivation of the President in continuously harping on the Mamasapano incident. It is to continuously demonize the past administration in order to cover up for his own lack of accomplishments and direction after six months into his term,” De Lima said.

“Duterte is the least qualified in directing such a probe given his propensity for pre-judgment and to preempt the results of any investigation, as he himself has already declared the Mamasapano police action as a CIA operation,” she said, referring to the US Central Intelligence Agency by its initials.

She said a further probe on the Mamasapano incident should be devoid of politics.

The ombudsman, she pointed out, is in the best position to investigate the issue.

Any other investigation initiated by the President “will always be doubted for his obvious bias against the past administration,” De Lima stressed.

Senate President Pro Tempore Frank Drilon and Sen. Francisco Pangilinan said that while it was Duterte’s prerogative to form the commission, the Mamasapano incident has been subjected to so many probes by various groups.

“It must be said, however, that the Mamasapano incident was already subject of a number of investigations in the past by the PNP, the Senate, the House and the ombudsman,” Drilon said.

Pangilinan said reopening investigation into the incident without new evidence would uncover nothing significant.

Probe to reopen?

Senators debated yesterday on whether or not to reopen the inquiry into the tragedy.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the justice committee, insisted on the holding of a new legislative investigation.

Sen. Grace Poe, who conducted the Senate inquiry into the incident as chair of the Senate public order committee in the previous Congress, said her panel has conducted a very exhaustive probe and expressed reluctance to reopen the investigation.

She said the ombudsman has essentially adopted the recommendation of the panel’s committee report with the recent filing of charges against Purisima and Napeñas.

“Our report was based on testimonies given by all available living persons/witnesses then whose attendance the committee had the power to require, and who were all involved or have knowledge of the Mamasapano police operation, as well as all relevant documents gathered after an exhaustive series of hearings,” Poe said.

“Given the nature and inherent limitations of a legislative investigation, it is the prerogative of the President to create a commission for its reinvestigation that may hopefully add to what had been unearthed previously, given the greater powers of the executive and under much different political circumstances,” she said.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III also told reporters he was not too keen on reopening the inquiry as the chamber has to focus on priority socio-economic bills.

Pimentel said the Senate is willing to turn over to the commission all documents and transcripts of the chamber’s inquiry.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara reminded Gordon of significant recommendations to the PNP based on the previous investigation.

Gordon’s motion was referred to the Senate committee on public order  now chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Lacson said he would review first the reports culled from the previous Senate investigation and from that of the PNP Board of Inquiry before making a decision. – With Paolo Romero

EDWIN LACIERDA
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