Senate wants Ochoa, Roxas, retired generals in Mamasapano probe

MANILA, Philippines – The country’s “little president,” a Palace spokesman, the former interior secretary-turned-presidential candidate, and several retired and active generals are being asked to testify on January 27, during the Senate’s re-opening of its probe into a controversial police operation a year ago.

According to a document released by the committee on public order and dangerous drugs, the following lead the list of invited guests for its schedule probe into the controversial Mamasapano clash, the bloodiest one-day operation in police history:

The current and retired military and police generals invited are:

Several former and current SAF troopers, including junior officers involved in the controversial “Oplan Exodus,” have also been invited:

The Senate also summoned National Security Adviser and National Security Council Director General Cesar Garcia Jr.

On January 25, 2015, close to 400 SAF troopers entered the town of Mamasapano in Maguindanao to target terrorists wanted by both the Philippines and the United States. The operation triggered clashes between police and Muslim rebels in the area, leading to the death of more than 60 Filipinos, including 44 of the SAF’s own, 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters, and at least 3 civilians.

It took the Senate 5 public and 5 executive (closed door) hearings to conduct its probe, which resulted in a draft Senate committee report. 

Among the major issues discussed during the previous probe were:

Just one hearing? 

In a press conference on Wednesday, January 20, Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee probing the incident, said time would be given to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who called for the re-opening of the probe.

Enrile, defense minister under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ regime, called for the re-opening of the probe, citing new evidence and personal knowledge. When the Senate first held hearings on the clash, Enrile was detained in Camp Crame for his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.

The senator said he would be able to prove that President Benigno Aquino III did not do enough to save the SAF troopers during the controversial clash, one of the darkest days of the administration to date.

Poe said Enrile’s questioning might take roughly two hours.

The re-opening of the probe is controversial not only for its topic but for the supposed motivations behind it. Administration allies and the President himself claim politics is behind the Senate’s moves.

Aquino singled out Enrile, who he said has a personal grudge against him.

But Poe, who is seeking the presidency in 2016, had insisted that she wouldn’t allow grandstanding to happen during the probe.

Wala namang p'wedeng pumigil sa kanila kung gusto nilang lumabas doon, basta kapag nakita kong meron naman talagang dahilan para sila’y magsalita doon.... Pero kapag nakikita ko namang walang koneksyon, bilang presider ng meeting, siyempre, kasama rin naman natin 'yung ibang mga senador na magsasabi kung ito ba ay naayon o hindi,” said Poe on Wednesday, when asked if she would allow “surprise witnesses.”

(Nobody can stop them if they want to testify there, but they should prove that they have a good reason to speak during the probe. If I see that what they’re saying isn’t connected, as the presider of the hearing and alongside the other senators, we’ll decide if it’s right or not.)

Many of the personalities in the probe – from senators to invited guests – are seeking posts in 2016. At least 5 senators are running for vice president, while former SAF chief Napeñas is seeking a Senate seat.

Roxas is the standard-bearer of the ruling Liberal Party, which Aquino chairs.

Poe said she hoped invited Cabinet officials would attend, so the probe would close in the soonest time.

Ang aking dasal ay sana matapos na lang ito ng isang hearing dahil isa lang naman talaga. Kapag kausap ko sa mga ibang senador, lahat naman sila ay sumasang-ayon na ibigay na ang oras kay Senator Enrile at kung mayroon mang mga pahabol na tanong ay hindi na rin ganoon kalaki o kadami,” she added.

(I pray that this ends with one hearing because that’s really all we need. When I talk to the other senators, all of them agree that Senator Enrile be given the time, and if they have further questions themselves, these won’t be too many.) –