LEFTIST lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc insisted Monday that President Benigno Aquino III appear before a congressional panel investigating the covert Mamasapano operation in which 44 police commandos were killed.
In a letter to House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. dated March 30, the seven-member bloc listed 20 questions they would want to ask the President whom they said had consistently lied about the failed operation.
“In light… of the findings of the Senate committee on public order and the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry, it is necessary for the House of Representatives to investigate... issues raised but not completely resolved by the said bodies… An analysis of both the Senate and BOI reports will lead to the conclusion that it is only the President himself who will be able to shed light on these matters,” the group said in the letter.
Belmonte, however, refused to budge from his decision not to invite the President to attend the hearings set for April 7 and 8.
“We certainly cannot insist on the Presidents presence legally. I believe most of the points raised by Makabayan bloc have already been answered by the President in his various pronouncements,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard.
The joint House committees on public order and peace, reconciliation and unity, chaired by Reps. Jeffrey Ferrer of Negros Occidental and Jim Hataman-Salliman of Basilan, respectively, will resume the probe next week after more than 100 House members signed a resolution urging them to do so.
But Ferrer also rejected the demand of the Makabayan bloc to invite Aquino to the hearings.
“I will respect their decision if they will be the one to invite the President, but as for the committee on public order and safety, the issue has already been resolved,” Ferrer said in a text message.
Hataman-Salliman said the joint panel will not entertain any motion to invite the President during next week’s hearing.
“That’s out of the question, Hataman-Salliman said. “We already decided on that in the first hearing (in February). In fact they have raised the same motion and it was objected to by the chair.”
The Makabayan bloc’s 20 questions center on the President’s decision to allow his friend, then suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima, to participate in the planning and execution of the covert Mamasapano operation, as well as the extent of the US involvement in the mission.
The questions are:
1. Why did you authorize or allow the participation of then PNP Chief Alan Purisima in Oplan Exodus even though you were fully aware that he was already suspended at that time?
2. If he were only an “expert adviser,” why did you say that you ordered him to coordinate with PNP OIC [Deputy Director General Leonardo] Espina and AFP Chief of Staff [General Gregorio Pio] Catapang and that he did not follow said order?
3. Why didn’t you, as the commander-in-chief, direct Espina and Catapang to support the SAF, instead of delegating the task to a suspended official?
4. When you let a suspended official head an operation, received reports from him, and ordered the SAF director [Director Getulio] Napeñas to report to him, did you not violate the chain of command?
5. Did you not violate the suspension order issued by the Ombudsman against Purisima when you allowed the latter to head the operation?
6. What did you and Purisima talk about during the Jan. 9 meeting at Bahay Pangarap, after Napeñas left and before Purisima told Napeñas, “Sabihan mo na ang dalawa [referring to Secretary Manuel Roxas II and PNP OIC Gen. Espina] kapag andun na. Ako na ang bahala kay Catapang”?
7. How many times did you text Purisima and other officials about the operation on Mamasapano? What are the contents of these messages, if any? Was there an instance that you made voice calls to Purisima and other officials on the matter? We also request for the transcripts of these voice calls.
8. You said that you were irked at Purisima because you could not make sense of his conflicting texts. Why did you not call him to clarify matters? Why did you not call other officials such as General Catapang and AFP generals involved in the rescue or even Secretary Roxas or General Espina to know what was happening?
9. You were aware of the probability of “pintakasi,” that the SAF troopers will be attacked by any and all armed locals in the area. Why did you not order coordination with the CCCHH even just hours before the operation was launched? – With Sandy Araneta
10. WESTMINCOM Commander [Lt. Gen. Rustico] Guerrero testified that you were getting updates throughout the day at his headquarters in Zamboanga. Who were the officials updating you and what was the information they gave you?
11. With all the updates/information you receive[d] in the morning about the SAF engagements, why did you not get a sense of urgency to mobilize necessary forces and resources to reinforce and rescue the SAF commandos?
12. What were your orders to Guerrero or Catapang, if there were any? Did you issue any pronouncement to them or any one to consider the peace process with the MILF in implementing the rescue operations?
13. Were you aware that the CCCHH was working towards a ceasefire in the middle of the fighting? When were you informed of this?
14. Did you give any orders to stand down? Did you not give order/s to Catapang and/or Pangilinan not to fire the artillery in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where the 55th SAC were engaged with the MILF and other armed locals in consideration of the peace talks with the MILF?
15. Why was there no air support during the Mamasapano operation? Were you aware that two helicopters and two airplanes could have provided air support to the SAF were deployed to secure you in Zamboanga?
16. What can you say about Napeñas’s statement that you left them hanging (“iniwan kami sa ere”) and that this is the highest form of betrayal? General Napeñas claims that the agreement in the Jan. 9 meeting was “time on target.” Did you expressly disapprove “time on target coordination” and order Director Napeñas to coordinate with the AFP one day or more before the operations?
17. Why did you say, in response to a question after your first speech on Jan. 28, that Purisima was “involved up to the point in time, directly, that he was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman,” when facts show he was actively involved in the planning and actual execution of Oplan Exodus while suspended?
18. Why did you allow US intervention -- from the planning, funding, training, ISR, and during the very conduct of the operation and the subsequent evacuation, as is obvious from the presence of six
Americans at the tactical command post? Why did you find it necessary to work with the US, but not with DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, PNP [OIC Director General] Espina or AFP Chief Gen. Catapang?
19. What is your legal basis for allowing this intervention by the US military in a PNP law enforcement operation -- a purely internal matter –- even though this is not covered by the MDT, VFA, and EDCA?
20. What was the extent of the participation of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines in the Mamasapano operations?
The leader of the independent minority bloc in the House, meanwhile, said the Palace was in panic mode, as evidenced by the President’s call to convene a “national peace summit” of private citizens to pressure members of Congress to pass the legally flawed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“That’s an abdication on part of the Palace which have lost all credibility to push the BBL,” said Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.
“The President is aware that he is facing uphill battle in Congress to pass the BBL. That is why he is now tapping a group of citizens’ leaders who are known for their integrity, credibility and wisdom to do the PR job,” Romualdez said.
“Anything that the President does is suspect. He needs to deodorize it and put a new council to have credibility,” Romualdez added.
Romualdez, who wants the unconstitutional provisions removed from the Palace-drafted BBL, said he nonetheless welcomes the convening of a National Peace Summit to be headed by Manila
Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former ambassador Howard Dee, Chief former Justice Hilario Davide Jr., and youth leader Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.
“A BBL that Congress will pass should be constitutional. We are opposing the present version that Malacanang submitted to Congress,” Romualdez said.
Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza urged the leaders of the newly formed peace council to coordinate with Congress.
He said the constitutional flaws in the BBL could not be solved by a public relations roadshow.
The Palace on Monday said it cannot predict what the outcome of the debates on the BBL will be, but said the National Peace Summit would enable people to view the draft law through the “fresh eyes” of its conveners.
“These are people who are not involved in the peace process. In fact, these are men and women of integrity chosen to enlighten all stakeholders,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Laciersa.
Lacierda described the summit as “an independent discourse and an independent discussion,” but said it would not supplant Congress.
He said the summit’s main goal was to inform and educate the public about the BBL.
Lacierda said he had no information yet on when the summit would be convened, or who the other participants will be.
Lacierda said the Palace hoped that Congress would look on the summit as being complementary to the legislative process.
Addressing questions of the BBL’s constitutionality, Lacierda said that the government’s peace negotiators worked “within the flexibilities of the 1987 Constitution.”
“If you recall, the first press briefing of then-peace panel chairman Marvic Leonen already spoke about making sure that the negotiations should be done within the flexibilities of the Constitution.... We subscribe to the position that the BBL was done within the flexibilities of the Constitution. We would not hazard or submit a bill, which from the very outset will be infirm, that’s why it was studied by the legal team also in the Office of the President,” Lacierda added.
He said the Palace was ready to explain to lawmakers “the constitutionality of those provisions” that were being questioned in Congress. – With Sandy Araneta