Senate might ask DFA to explain US role in clash

Ayee Macaraig
Senate might ask DFA to explain US role in clash
Senator Poe says there is a suggestion to ask the DFA to explain deals with the US, following questions on the extent of American involvement in Mamasapano

MANILA, Philippines – It was a topic that prompted police officers to ask for an executive session at the Senate. Now, the role of the United States in the Mamasapano clash might be discussed in a public hearing.

Senate public order committee chair Grace Poe said there is a pending suggestion before her panel to invite the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), following questions about the extent of US involvement in the deadly encounter. Yet there is no motion to call the US embassy in Manila to the Senate inquiry.

Poe refused to confirm or deny if US involvement was discussed in the senators’ 3 secret meetings with police generals and police survivors of the clash, but some of her colleagues hinted that the issue was raised.

“There is a suggestion to call the DFA to explain the [bilateral] agreements of our country on these kinds of cooperation,” Poe told reporters on Tuesday, February 17.

Poe said that if the Senate decides to hold another hearing, this is when the DFA might appear before her panel.

Manila has several agreements with Washington covering counter-terrorism dating back to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. The longtime allies also signed a 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) allowing US troops to train and assist their Filipino counterparts, but not to take a combat role. (READ: Context: The US in PH anti-terror campaigns)

Poe described reports that Americans provided intelligence, and helped plan and execute the mission to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25 as “an ongoing question that we need to verify also.”

“Nobody is preventing anyone from asking that question in open hearing,” Poe said.

“But I will be honest. We have to be very careful when it involves diplomatic relations. We want peaceful ties with countries. We want their cooperation to be able to help us secure ourselves. We’re not trying to make more enemies but we also have to be accountable.”

She explained the senators’ decision to keep the discussions confidential. Only bullet points or selected summaries will be made public.

“It is not because we are trying to hide the information from you, we are just being careful. We are with you in wanting to know the extent of foreign involvement. If there’s nothing wrong, there is no reason to hide the information,” she said.

The Senate is investigating the clash that killed 44 elite cops, 18 members of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and 3 civilians. The supposedly ill-planned mission put the government’s peace process with the MILF in peril, after a historic deal signed in 2014, following 17 years of negotiations.

Senators are on their 3rd day of holding executive sessions, this time with resigned police chief Alan Purisima, and Philippine National Police (PNP) Intelligence Group Director Fernando Mendez.

The lawmakers first met with Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who survived the clash last Thursday, and with relieved SAF director Getulio Napeñas on Monday.

It was Napeñas who refused to answer US-related questions in 3 public hearings last week. Senators asked him why the SAF gave Marwan’s severed finger to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), not to local authorities, for DNA testing. (READ: DNA tests confirm Marwan’s death)

Accountability clear? 

Senators said that many details were revealed in executive session that gave them a “clearer picture” of what happened. They faced criticism for failing to ask hard questions on the role President Benigno Aquino III played in the operation.

Poe used a metaphor to describe the investigation.

Naniniwala ako in accountability pero sugat ito, sugat. Ang sugat tinitingnan natin talaga iyan para alam natin anong gamot ang puwedeng ibigay para gumaling iyan pero kung palagi nating kinukutkot, minsan mas lumalalim at lalong ‘di humihilom. Kaya nag-iingat din tayo na ang ating pagdinig ay hindi nahahaluan ng pulitikal na motibasyon lamang,” she said.

(I believe in accountability but this is a wound. We must look at the wound to know what medicine to use, but if we keep picking at it, it becomes deeper and does not heal. That’s why we are careful to avoid political motivations from affecting the probe.)

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr said it is clear where accountability lies, but with the volume of details the committee got, senators will have to compare one testimony against the other.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, the President’s cousin, said the chief executive already owned up to the incident in his February 6 address to the nation. The President then said that the slain SAF troopers were his responsibility, and he will carry their death “to the end of my days.”

The senator said: “I am wondering why people say he should take responsibility when he already did. I’m not sure what else he needs to say aside from that.”

No BBL timeline yet 

While the Senate might soon conclude its investigation, Marcos remained non-committal about resuming hearings into the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). A crucial part of the peace process, the bill creates an expanded region in Muslim Mindanao with more powers and resources than the current one in place. 

The chairman of the Senate local government committee said he is waiting for the creation of a truth commission, aimed at conducting a separate, independent investigation. The bill creating this body has yet to undergo a single hearing.

“There are many things we have to study first,” Marcos said.

A supporter of the administration-backed BBL, Senator Aquino also said it remains difficult to predict the fate of the Bangsamoro bill.

“We can’t let go of the peace process and allow a part of our country to remain poor and conflict-torn. If the BBL is the way to achieve that, let’s work on the BBL. If it’s going to be a modified BBL, another measure or whatever, then we can discuss that but let’s do our best to achieve peace in Mindanao,” Aquino said. – Rappler.com

 

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