MANILA, Philippines – Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday, July 24, urged the Senate to reopen its probe into the deadly Mamasapano clash, even as he criticized the Ombudsman’s decision to initiate administrative adjudication and preliminary investigation against junior officers of the police’s Special Action Force (SAF).
Six months after the deadly encounter, even Vice President Binay weighed in on the outcome of the various investigations, saying President Benigno Aquino III should have been held liable as well.
Cayetano said he was “very surprised” that the Ombudsman charged the junior officers with neglect of duty, along with former police chief Alan Purisima, and former SAF Director Getulio Napeñas.
“Just think about it: if you are a police officer, police superintendent, or colonel, if you do not follow orders to take out terrorists Usman or Marwan, you will be charged with insubordination. Now, if you follow but the operation is imperfect and many died but you got the terrorist, you will still be charged,” Cayetano said in a statement.
Cayetano was referring to the January 25 encounter between SAF members and Moro rebels in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao. The SAF was on a mission to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, and Filipino bombmaker Abdul Basit Usman.
The SAF killed Marwan but the encounter led to the death of 67 Filipinos, among them 44 elite cops. Usman escaped, and later died in a firefight in May.
The Mamasapano clash endangered the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a key priority of President Benigno Aquino III. The rebels said the SAF violated coordination mechanisms while the police and lawmakers accused the MILF of an “overkill.” It was the worst crisis to hit the Aquino administration.
A staunch critic of the MILF, Cayetano said that the Ombudsman’s decision sends a “chilling and demoralizing effect” on the police force.
The senator also scored the recommendation for being “unjust.”
“There has not even been an ounce of justice served to our valiant SAF members, their families, and our people for this gruesome massacre, and now it is the valiant survivors who are facing cases. Is this not the height of injustice and callousness where the victims instead of the perpetrators of this massacre are the ones being blamed and persecuted?”
Still, the National Bureau of Investigation last week filed charges against over 100 members of the MILF, its breakaway group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and private armed groups. The charges included “direct assault with murder” for the killing of the SAF, and theft for the loss of the commandos’ firearms, gear and personal belongings.
Cayetano was dismayed over the conflicting reports of the Department of Justice, the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry (BOI), the military and the MILF over the encounter.
Poe non-committal on reopening probe
Cayetano wrote Senate public order committee chairperson Grace Poeon Thursday to recommend reopening the Senate inquiry.
“Our Valiant [SAF] 44, the survivors of the operation, their families and the Filipino people who are all clamoring for justice and truth deserve nothing less from us,” he said.
Yet Poe did not commit to conducting more hearings into the issue, after releasing a committee report in March. The report was a result of 5 public hearings, and 5 closed-door sessions.
Poe said that her stand is to have the Senate discuss the report in plenary for “full deliberation to determine if there really is a need for further public hearings.”
“As an alternative however, Sen. Alan Cayetano’s suggestion may also be discussed in the caucus that is traditionally held by the Senate membership days after the [State of the Nation Address on July 27]. This could be another way to get the consensus of the Senate as a whole on the matter,” she said.
Poe and Cayetano made headlines for their participation in the Mamasapano probe. They are both considering running for higher office in the 2016 polls.
Cayetano tagged the MILF as a terrorist group, and blamed it for the encounter. He said justice for the death of the 44 elite cops should be a “prerequisite” for peace talks with the MILF.
As head of the Senate probe, Poe was perceived to show independence for the report that held Aquino “ultimately responsible” for the mission.
The Commission on Human Rights though criticized the report for calling the clash a “massacre,” for failing to highlight the death of civilians, and its “skewed understanding” of the peace process.
Binay hits Aquino, Poe
Vice President Binay also questioned the Ombudsman’s recommendation.
The opposition standard-bearer said the Ombudsman should not have spared Aquino because the BOI and Senate reports showed that he broke the police chain of command by allowing his close friend, Purisima, to actively participate in planning and executing the mission even while on suspension for corruption charges.
“The exoneration of the President of any criminal offense for his active planning of the doomed police mission raises more questions and doubts to a public seeking for a just closure to this tragedy,” Binay said in a statement.
The Vice President also attacked Poe for letting her committee report “gather dust” after creating “noise” with its findings. Binay said Poe did not yet even bring the report to plenary.
“Is this how public officials, who claim righteousness and independence of mind, pay tribute to the extraordinary heroism of our befallen government troops?”
Poe said in June that she will no longer present the report in plenary because the Ombudsman received its recommendations.
Binay has been criticizing Poe since she emerged as a possible presidential bet. The neophyte senator overtook the Vice President in presidential surveys in June as Binay continues to face a barrage of corruption allegations.
Poe has yet to finalize her 2016 plans but her allies said she will run for president as an independent candidate. – Rappler.com
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