Truth body to ‘reconcile’ Mamasapano reports

MANILA, Philippines – With different agencies and groups about to finish their reports into the Mamasapano incident, is there still need for a truth commission?

Senator Teofisto Guingona III and some academics are still pushing for a bill creating a truth body but said its immediate mandate is to “reconcile” the reports of the bodies looking into the January 25 clash.

“There are so many groups investigating this so there must be a reconciling body that will piece together everything,” Guingona said after a Senate hearing on the bill on Wednesday, February 25, exactly a month after the incident.

Guingona’s bill was initially meant to create a fact-finding commission but the senator admitted that with various probes wrapping up, creating another body to do its own inquiry is no longer necessary. The bill was proposed in the first days after the encounter.

Co-author Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said though that it will be up to the members of the truth commission to decide if they still want to hold their own hearings.

“It’s not good that we put blinders on the members. It will be their call,” said Pimentel.

The chairman of the Senate peace, unification and reconciliation committee, Guingona approved the bill at the committee level, and will present a committee report before the Senate plenary next week. Prospects of the bill are unclear because lawmakers in the House of Representatives are reportedly no longer keen on having a truth commission.

A day before the hearing, the Senate wrapped up its own investigation into the Mamasapano clash. The Philippine National Police (PNP) Board of Inquiry and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are also about to conclude their investigations. At least 4 other bodies have their own probes into the clash.

The mission to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan sparked the worst security crisis of the Aquino administration, and threatens to endanger the government’s peace process with the MILF.

In an encounter after shooting Marwan, 44 elite cops died, along with 18 MILF members and at least 3 civilians.

The Senate inquiry showed “an undeniable breakdown of both leadership and command and control in the PNP,” where resigned police chief and presidential friend Director General Alan Purisima led the operation even while on suspension for corruption charges.

‘Crisis of public institutions’

All resource persons in the hearing hailing from universities and NGOs nationwide agreed that a truth commission is still necessary. Details on its scope, form, and timeframe have yet to be determined.

University of Santo Tamos political science professor Edmund Tayao said that only an independent truth commission will address public distrust of the parallel investigations, especially with the role of President Benigno Aquino III in question.

“There is a crisis of public institutions in the sense that how the public will still accept the results of investigations. Even with established institutional mechanisms, there is always a way out. Even if it’s the commander-in-chief, it appears that if power was delegated, the issue is solved,” Tayao said.

Lawyer Raul Villanueva, dean of the Xavier University College of Law in Cagayan de Oro, suggested that the Senate expand the membership of the commission from 3 to 5.

“It should have a retired Supreme Court justice as chair, and members include one from the Muslim community, one from the private sector, a retired police officer with unquestionable moral character, patriotism and with no connection with the current leadership, and a member of the Department of Justice,” Villanueva said.

“The truth commission will centralize all various probes into Mamasapano. The public is in a quandary as to which investigating panel to follow. If we centralize, this will help address that perception,” the dean added.

For Nasser Marohomsalic of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo should be the chairman of the truth commission. “His integrity is beyond question. He is also a peace connoisseur.”

Guingona though has yet to settle the issue of who should appoint the members of the truth commission. In his bill, the President will be the appointing authority but critics including Vice President Jejomar Binay said this will compromise the independence of the body.

“There are also recommendations that the appointment and nomination should be made by other groups so we’ll take a look at that,” the senator said.

Separate truth body for ‘historical injustice’

Other resource persons pointed to the need to go beyond the Mamasapano incident, and investigate historical injustices against the Moros.

Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan, executive director of the Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia, proposed that the Senate create a body that will investigate other incidents starting with the massacres in the 1970s that MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal enumerated in a Mamasapano hearing.

“Pursuing a truth commission that only dwells on Mamasapano may deepen wounds it seeks to heal. We recommend a truth commission that provides a wider discourse on truth, justice, reparation,” Lidasan said.

Under Lidasan’s proposal, this truth commission will be included in the Bangsamoro Basic Law under the mechanism on transitional justice. “There has to be a broader scope of understanding the historical situation in Mindanao." 

Pimentel said that the proposal can be the subject of a separate bill or resolution.

Marohomsalic echoed the call for a wider truth body looking into the so-called Moro problem. He also pushed for a bill that proposes teaching Muslim history in public universities and colleges.

He said: “How can we reconcile the majority (Catholics) with the minority (Muslims), when the majority do not know our history, our past? How can you reconcile with us, if you do not know us?” –