Biased allies? Poe vows ‘fair’ Mamasapano probe

MANILA, Philippines – “Even if majority here are allies of the President, it only takes one person to ask the right question.”

Senator Grace Poe addressed fears that the Senate probe into the Maguindanao clash will be compromised because most senators, including her, are allied with President Benigno Aquino III.

As chairperson of the Senate public order committee, Poe will be leading the investigation that starts next week. She said being allied to Aquino does not automatically mean most senators will cover up the truth behind the deadly encounter. 

Hindi naman lahat dito ay kaalyado ng isang grupo lamang. Sa tingin ko naman may mga iba naman sa amin who have maintained their independence. Even if we acknowledge the achievements of the President, we also have a sworn responsibility to uphold what we believe is true because our reputation is also at stake,” Poe said on Wednesday, February 4.

(Not all of us are allied with one group. I think there are some of us who have maintained their independence.)

Poe was responding to growing calls for the creation of a truth commission. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said any investigation by Congress will be under doubt because of the “political allegiances” of most of its members.

The senator pointed to the track record of her committee, which investigated plunder and graft allegations against now suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima. Purisima again drew controversy for his alleged involvement in the Maguindanao police operation.

“There are 21 of us who can investigate. Each can ask his or her questions…. We are directly elected by people so we are accountable to them. If the people say, ‘Oh, the Senate is biased,’ they know our personalities. They can easily hold us accountable,” she said.

A rumored contender for higher office in 2016, Poe ran under Aquino’s 2013 Senate slate, and emerged as the surprise frontrunner. Yet she was critical of some Aquino allies and friends, including Purisima and Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya over poor Metro Rail Transit (MRT) services.

The Senate probe is among 8 investigations into the January 25 encounter between the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) and Moro rebels that killed 44 elite cops, at least 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and at least 7 civilians.

Questions remain about the role Aquino and Purisima played in the operation to arrest two international terrorists after the President admitted that he and the police chief were aware of the plan beforehand. The SAF allegedly did not coordinate with the top PNP and military brass, and the MILF.

The clash threatens to derail the government’s peace process with the MILF as Congress deliberates a bill to create an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao with greater powers.

Drilon to PNP, AFP: Shut up!

More questions on the incident arose on Wednesday after Napeñas and military chief Gregorio Catapang Jr held separate press briefings, with contradictory accounts of what happened.

Following the exchange, Senate President Franklin Drilon had a strong message for police and military officers. 

“They should shut up. I am asking them to shut up and speak only officially to the official bodies investigating this incident. Given their positions in government, the tense situation is not helped any by such batuhan (exchange),” said Drilon, a staunch Aquino ally.

Senator Francis Escudero sided with Poe on the need for the Senate to hold its own probe into the encounter. The House of Representatives, PNP, MILF, International Monitoring Team monitoring the ceasefire between the government and the MILF, the Commission on Human Rights, and the justice department are also conducting their own inquiries.

Escudero said the Senate and the House investigations are the only ones open to the public.

“If what the invitees to these investigating panels will say is the truth and nothing but, then it should be the same however many times and whenever they are asked in the various fora. Also, the panels will put to good test the veracity of testimonies from all concerned parties,” Escudero said.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III though said that the clashing versions of events highlighted the need for an independent fact-finding commission. The senator filed a bill on Monday creating the body.

“A truth commission can really ferret that out. We can complement each other, but the strategic, hard questions should be asked by the truth commission,” he said.

‘Build chronology’

Senator Ralph Recto suggested that the Senate probe use a “second to disaster” format in building the chronology of events, where “highlights of the operation are clocked.”

He said this format will show the inconsistencies and differences in the reports.

“If an army unit says they received the police’s message by this time but the police said it was two hours later, then and there we already know that there is a difference in the narrative,” said Recto.

Poe said establishing a timeline is one of the goals of her investigation.

“That’s why an investigation is important so we get all the accounts of the different individuals and study this. We want to know until when other groups were involved in this, and when exactly this operation was hatched,” Poe said. – Rappler.com