SAF44 Senate probe redux

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 - The Philippine Star

For all intents and purposes, the reopening of the Senate investigation into the Mamasapano incident achieved nothing but merely reopened old wounds. If we are to believe the public pronouncement of Senate minority leader Juan Ponce-Enrile, he achieved though his objective to help speed up the slow grind of justice for the 44 troopers of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) killed in that botched Oplan Exodus on January 25 last year.

The Senate probe into the Mamasapano incident was reopened upon the formal manifestation by Enrile who failed to participate during the first public hearings last year. While undergoing plunder trial for the alleged “pork-barrel scam,” Enrile was then under “hospital detention” at the PNP General Hospital located inside PNP Headquarters at Camp Crame in Quezon City.

It was during his hospital detention that Enrile got to interact with some of the wounded SAF troopers involved in Oplan Exodus who were treated there, including grieving families of SAF men. Call it fate, but it was the opportunity that fell on the lap of the opposition leader.

As far as Enrile is concerned, he still subscribed to the failure of leadership by President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III that caused the tragic end of the 44 SAF troopers in Oplan Exodus. Though decimated, they succeeded to kill Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, the principal subject of the warrant of arrest of the SAF mission.

Senate president Franklin Drilon led administration allies at the Senate, aided by the top military and police brass summoned to the public hearing the other day, in circling the wagons around President Aquino in the face of Enrile’s perorations against their embattled Commander-in-chief.

During and after the Senate hearing, Aquino allies all pointed to ex-SAF chief Getulio Napeñas as solely responsible. President Aquino immediately relieved Napeñas as SAF chief after the bungled police operation. They pinned the ex-SAF chief even after erstwhile PNP director-general Alan Purisima admitted anew having acted as go-between of Napeñas and President Aquino while he was then serving the Ombudsman’s six-month suspension.

Presenting their findings before the media three months after they wrapped up the first Senate probe, Sen. Grace Poe rendered her Committee Report pointing to President Aquino as “ultimately responsible for the outcome of the Mamasapano mission.” The PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) earlier came up with almost the same conclusion.

A day after the latest Senate hearing, newly installed acting Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Emmanuel Caparas announced his intention to prosecute to the fullest all those involved in the killing of the 44 SAF troopers. After three hearings, the DOJ-then headed by Secretary Leila de Lima – concluded on December 17 its preliminary investigation of 90 commanders and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and members of other private armed groups tagged in the killing of 44 SAF troopers in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano that fateful day.

All the accused, mostly identified as “John Does,” were slapped with charges of direct assault with murder and theft. The theft charges were related to high-powered firearms, mobile phones and other personal valuables stolen from the dead SAF men.

DOJ prosecutors subsequently filed criminal complaints against 13 MILF commanders and six BIFF commanders. On January 14, they terminated the preliminary investigation proceedings. Apparently inspired by the last and final Senate probe into the Mamasapano incident, Caparas initiated his own reopening of the case.

“Please expect us to resolve that, give us three to four weeks to be able to do that,” the acting DOJ secretary told media yesterday. At least, the timetable set by Caparas for himself still falls within the remaining months in office of the outgoing administration.

Caparas’ vow to bring elusive justice to the widows and families of the slain SAF44 would do well to help his nomination to the Aquino Cabinet. He must be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments before the 16th Congress adjourns on February 5 as most lawmakers will hit the campaign trail for the May elections.

Caparas took over from former justice secretary and now Supreme Court (SC) associate justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa. Prior to his new post at the High Court, Caguioa replaced De Lima when the latter resigned from DOJ in October last year to run as one of the 12 senatorial candidates of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) of President Aquino. Incidentally, both Caparas and Caguioa are former classmates of Aquino at the Ateneo de Manila University from grade school to college.

Thankfully, as chairperson of the Senate committee on public order that looked into the Mamasapano incident last year, Poe declared this case closed. The House of Representatives which did their own legislative inquiry last year into the same case have not made public up to now their final Committee Report, if they even had one submitted.

Summarizing the key points raised at the Senate hearing last Wednesday, she put everyone on notice no new information came out to warrant a revision or amendment of the final Senate Committee Report she rendered last year.

Twenty-one senators signed the Poe Committee Report and by that number, it was good as approved without going through plenary debate.

At the end of almost seven hours of public hearing, Poe declared the final Senate Committee Report stands as submitted.

Poe boldly said last year, President Aquino should own up responsibility for the botched Oplan Exodus. That was deeply etched into the President’s psyche from then on. Her standing up to President Aquino swept her onto the top spot in presidential mock polls last year. Now, she is facing several disqualification cases in the coming presidential race. 

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Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan and ex-SAF chief Getulio Napeñas are guests today at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate.













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