Binay: Aquino should not appoint truth body members

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Jejomar Binay opposed lawmakers’ proposal to have President Benigno Aquino III appoint members of the Mamasapano truth commission, saying this will undermine the body’s independence.

While Binay welcomed senators and representatives’ move to create a fact-finding commission to look into the Maguindanao clash, he objected to the provision in the bill that states that President shall appoint the 3 members of the body.

“Having the members appointed by the President as proposed by several administration senators will certainly cast doubts on their impartiality. It could fuel speculations that the investigation will lead to a whitewash even before the probe has started,” Binay said in a statement on Tuesday, February 3.

The opposition leader and 2016 presidential aspirant added, “We need to ensure that the investigating body, from the start, is seen as an independent body.”

Binay’s comments came a day after administration-allied legislators filed a bill creating a commission that will investigate the January 25 encounter between  Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) troopers and rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that left 44 SAF troopers and at least 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) dead.

Saying he trusts Aquino’s leadership, Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said on Monday that in all truth commissions in the Philippines or in the US, the president is the appointing power.

Guingona admitted though that he anticipated questions about the provision because Aquino had said he knew of the operation beforehand.

The President said last week that he talked to now relieved SAF commander Getulio Napeñas Jr about the plan to serve arrest warrants to two international terrorists, Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir or “Marwan,” and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman.

Aquino had evaded questions on whether he authorized this specific operation, which the SAF did not coordinate with top police officials, the military, and the MILF despite an ongoing peace process and coordination mechanisms in pursuing criminals in MILF areas.   

Questions also linger on the role that Aquino’s friend, suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima, played in the operation following reports he was calling the shots.

The encounter threatens to derail the government-MILF peace process as lawmakers deliberate on the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will create an expanded autonomous region aimed to bring peace and development in Muslim Mindanao. Two senators withdrew authorship of the measure in the wake of the clash.

‘IBP should lead search committee’

Binay said that instead of having the President appoint the members, a search committee must be formed led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

A lawyer, the Vice President said the IBP must conduct consultations to determine who are most qualified to be members of the commission.

“I further propose that the Catholic Church and other religious groups become part of this independent fact-finding commission, which should include former chief justices of the Supreme Court, and other eminent personalities who are not identified with the administration or any political organization,” he added.

Under the bill of Guingona and Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Aquilino Pimentel III, the truth commission shall be composed of one chairperson and two commissioners.

The proposed measure set the following qualifications of the chairperson and commissions:

The bill also said that on top of these requirements, the chairperson must be a lawyer with at least 10 years experience practicing law.

Guingona recommended that nominees include former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr, former Senator Wigberto Tañada, and Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio “Tony” La Viña.

Besides lawmakers, several civil society groups expressed support for a truth commission to ensure an independent and credible investigation.

Malacañang has rejected the proposal, pointing out that separate investigations are already being conducted by the PNP Board of Inquiry, the MILF, Congress, and the International Monitoring Team overseeing the government and the MILF’s ceasefire agreement.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that the PNP probe must not be “prejudged as a whitewash.”

Binay has become vocal on the Mamasapano clash, calling for the creation of the truth body and criticizing Purisima’s silence on the issue.

While a member of the Aquino cabinet, the Vice President heads the opposition coalition and takes policy positions contrary to the Chief Executive’s.

He is himself the subject of a Senate investigation into alleged corruption, and two plunder complaints before the Ombudsman. Yet he refused to face the Senate probe, rejecting it as a bid of his political rivals to pull down his popularity.  – Rappler.com