LP's Erice on Mamasapano probe: Tool vs Aquino, Roxas
MANILA, Philippines – “Kung yung mga patay eh hinuhukay para lang matuloy yung kandidatura eh, ilang bangkay pa ba ang huhukayin (If they're willing to dig up the dead just so their candidacy pushes through, how many more bodies do we need to dig up)?”
Liberal Party spokesman Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice on Thursday, January 7, made the statement in response to reporters' queries on the possible motives behind the re-opening of the Senate probe into a controversial police operation exactly a year after.
“[Hindi] natin maiaalis ‘yung duda dahil ‘yung mga mangunguna ay mga kandidato (We can't remove our doubts because the ones leading the probe are candidates in 2016),” Erice told reporters in a chance interview at the party headquarters in Cubao, Quezon City.
Asked if he thinks the probe will be used against President Benigno Aquino III and his anointed candidate, former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II, Erice did not flinch and said, “As a tool against the President and to promote their own candidacies."
The Senate is set to re-open the probe into the bloody “Oplan Exodus,” a Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) operation that resulted in the death of a terrorist wanted by both the Philippines and the United States.
But success came at a high price. At least 60 people, including 44 of the SAF’s own, died during clashes between cops and Muslim rebels in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao.
In the aftermath of the controversial operation, public sentiment toward Aquino turned sour. He was strongly criticized for his supposed indifference towards the families of the slain cops, his role in the operation, and for supposedly allowing his friend, then PNP chief Alan Purisima, to be part of the operation despite his suspension.
'Like squeezing calamansi into old wounds'
Erice said there would be no problem if the Senate probe was based on new evidence not presented in previous hearings.
“Handa naman ang pamahalaan na sumagot dito. [Kung talagang] may mga bago na impormasyon na makakatulong positively, bakit naman hindi? Pero kung eto ay para lang sa pagsusulong sa pagbubuhay ng kampanya, at eh kawawa naman, nakakalungkot naman ang mga naulila ng ating SAF 44 dahil talagang prone sila sa agitation ng iba’t ibang sektor dito sa ating lipunan,” he added.
(The government is ready to answer questions. If there’s really new information and it will help, why not? But if this is a means to just advance and fire up one’s campaign, then it’s sad for the orphans of the SAF 44 because they’re prone to the agitation of different sectors.)
The resumption of the probe was prompted by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who was detained at the PNP General Hospital at the time of the clash, and the initial Senate investigation because of his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.
Enrile, who was defense chief of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, said he has "personal information" and "new evidence" on the clash.
SAF survivors were also hospitalized at the PNP General Hospital the same time as Enrile.
Erice said the Senate panel conducting the probe should not allow itself to be used to revive painful memories of the families of the SAF 44.
“Kasi yung sa huli, kung sinisingil yung pamahalaang Aquino, sisingilin din natin yung kumite na nagsimula nito. Ano ba yung naikontribute ninyo para mas maayos yung sitwasyon? Baka naman mangyari eh, parang binubuhay niyo lang, sinasariwa ninyo yung sugat, gusto niyo pang pigaan ng kalamansi, para may mga taong lalong masaktan para sa sariling pulitikal na interes,” added Erice.
(In the end, if they ask the Aquino government to be accountable, we should also hold accountable the committee that started this. What did you contribute to improve the situation? It might turn out that you're just reliving and re-opening old woulds, squeezing calamansi into those wounds, so that some people would get unnecessarily hurt even more, all for the sake of self-interest.)
Politics and the SAF 44
But the re-opening of the case in 2016 takes a more political undertone with the national elections fast approaching. The chairman of the committee leading the probe, Senator Grace Poe, is now a presidential aspirant.
At least 3 senators who also participated in the probe – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, and Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr – are all running for vice president.
The former SAF chief, retired police director Getulio Napeñas, is running for senator under the party of opposition standard-bearer Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Roxas, whom Napeñas kept in the dark under “orders” from Purisima, is now the standard-bearer of the ruling LP.
The LP is well aware that any attacks on Aquino or dips in his approval ratings directly affect Roxas who, after all, is running on the promise of continuing the Aquino administration's gains.
“Sinasabi nila noon, yung presidential endorsement walang epekto. Pero nagkamali sila. Nakita nila na after na-endorse ni Pangulong Aquino si Mar Roxas, talagang umakyat ang ratings ni Secretary Mar kaya nung nakita nila ito, pinipilit nilang pababaain yung ratings ng Pangulo. Kung pwede ngang isisi yung pagkamatay ni Bonifacio, isisisi nila kay Pangulo at kay Secretary Mar Roxas para bumaba yung ratings,” said Erice.
(They once said that a presidential endorsement has no effect. But they were wrong. They saw that after President Aquino endorsed Mar Roxas, his ratings went up. So after they saw this, they wanted to bring down the President’s ratings. If they could, they’d blame the President and Mar Roxas for the death of Bonifacio, just to bring down their ratings.)
They’ve seen this before. In presidential preference surveys released in December 2015, Roxas registered either a dip or a tepid rise, coinciding with a dip in Aquino’s net satisfaction ratings. (READ: Roxas suffers first survey dip post-endorsement)
Aquino’s net satisfaction ratings hit their lowest in March 2015, just as probes and investigations into the controversial operation wrapped up, but bounced back in June. The latest Pulse Asia Research Incorporated survey results showed that Aquino is the most appreciated and most trusted official in the country.
Various bodies found that Aquino bypassed the PNP’s chain of command and faulted him for failing to brief Napeñas on the implications of the operation on the ongoing peace process in war-torn Muslim Mindanao. (READ: Cheat sheet: The truths and lies of Mamasapano)
The Senate committee’s draft report pinned the blame on Aquino and insisted he should take “responsibility” for the carnage in Mamasapano. That same draft report was signed by at least 21 senators but did not go into plenary for deliberations.
Exodus was scrutinized by different bodies, from the PNP’s Board of Inquiry, the Senate sub-committee, the House of Representatives, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the International Monitoring Team (IMF) and eventually, the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The DOJ’s probe eventually led to the filing of charges against at least 90 individuals for the death of 35 troopers from the PNP’s 55th Special Action Battalion (SAC). Cases against persons behind the death of the 9 PNP’s 84th SAC personnel have yet to be filed.
One year on, however, there have been no convictions and arrests in connection with the 2015 clash. – Rappler.com
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