MANILA, Philippines – Opposition senators visited their leader, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, in detention ahead of the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano clash.
Senators Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Gregorio Honasan II, JV Ejercito and Nancy Binay went to the Philippine National Police (PNP) General Hospital in Quezon City on Thursday afternoon, February 5, to visit Enrile, and the wounded Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who survived the January 25 encounter in Maguindanao.
Ejercito told Rappler that the detained Senate minority leader advised the senators on how to handle the Senate probe into the clash that put President Benigno Aquino III under heavy criticism.
“He said, ‘Don’t use this hearing to hit our political adversaries, the administration, or to gain political mileage because the people are outraged. People would really want to get to the bottom of it so keep in mind that what you want to find out is the truth,’” Ejercito said in a phone interview.
Sotto also told Rappler that the former defense minister asked for sobriety.
“He said it is better for us (in the minority) to remain quiet about the issue and just keep on working because there could be deep implications,” Sotto said.
Enrile, and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr have been in detention since June 2014 as they face plunder charges over the pork barrel scam. The 3 are accused of siphoning development funds meant for the poor to bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for multi-million peso kickbacks.
Sotto said the visit was not meant to be political.
“We visited because it’s almost [Senator Enrile’s] birthday. All talks were incidental.”
A controversial lawyer, politician and martial law administrator during the Marcos dictatorship, Enrile will celebrate his 91st birthday on February 14. (READ: At 90, Enrile a bundle of contradictions)
Ejercito said that the minority bloc meant to show their “moral support” for Enrile as he faces trial. He said the minority visits Enrile “once in a while.”
Enrile heads the opposition coalition along with Vice President Jejomar Binay and Ejercito’s father, former president now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
The neophyte senator said Enrile appeared to be in good health despite his age and illnesses, and remained updated on current events.
“He has been reading a lot, daily.”
‘Minority to listen first’
The Senate will begin on February 9 its probe into the clash that killed 44 SAF members, at least 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and at least 7 civilians.
Questions remain on the role Aquino played in the operation, and why his friend, resigned police chief Alan Purisima, was allegedly calling the shots. The plan to arrest top terrorists was not coordinated with the top police brass, the military and the MILF despite ongoing peace talks with the former rebel group.
Aquino faces calls to resign, and criticism for his perceived lack of empathy and sensitivity, and failure to condemn the killers of the SAF troopers. The President said he will wait for the results of the police Board of Inquiry before putting blame on the MILF.
Ejercito said the Senate minority will participate in the hearing but does not yet have a stand on the issue.
“We would want to listen first. We have no plans to pin down the administration or anything. We agreed to just listen first. We also want to find out the truth first,” he said.
The senator said Purisima should still face the Senate probe even if he already resigned. Aquino told the Cabinet about his resignation Thursday afternoon.
Besides Enrile, the minority bloc also visited Ejercito’s half-brother, Senator Jinggoy Estrada.
Yet Ejercito, who has had a long-running rivalry with his brother over San Juan politics, was not part of the group.
“I had to go somewhere else,” he said. – Rappler.com