PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III’s allies in the House crushed attempts by opposition lawmakers Tuesday to invite the Chief Executive to a hearing to answer questions relating to the covert operation in Mamasapano in which 44 police commandos were killed.
When the hearings into the Mamasapano debacle resumed, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares moved that the President be invited to Congress to tell everything he knew about the ill-fated operation.
“This is a very reasonable motion. I hope our members in the majority will not put this to a vote,” Colmenares said.
Colmenares also demanded that the 20 questions prepared by the Makabayan bloc in the House be sent to the President.
With Palace allies dominating the panel, however, Colmenares’ motion was voted down.
Reps. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. of Cavite City and Rodolfo Farinas of Ilocos Norte said it was not legally tenable for Aquino to attend the House hearings.
Barzaga, who was deputized by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., said inviting the President to Congress was of “transcendental importance.”
“It would create far reaching consequences which would affect the very foundation of our democracy, and the separation of powers among the three branches of government,” Barzaga said.
Should Congress compel the President to attend the House hearings, then Congress “would be the most powerful body,” he said, creating a “dangerous precedent.”
Farinas said the President could only be made to answer questions directed to him through an impeachment proceeding.
Another staunch Aquino ally, Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, said the opposition merely wanted to humiliate the President.
Members of the leftist Makabayan bloc slammed the majority decision.
“It is deplorable that the majority big guns in the Mamasapano hearing acted like President Aquino’s lawyers and defenders at the expense of truth and accountability,” Colmenares said.
“This is not a court proceeding and President Aquino is just being invited or urged to at least answer the 20 questions raised. We will still persevere in the hearing to prove that it is only President Aquino who can answer our questions on his responsibilities and accountabilities,” Colmenares added.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said that President Aquino’s spin-doctors must now be very pleased that the “yellow-washing” of the Mamasapano bloody debacle continues with the refusal of the House majority to even send formal written questions to the President.
“Only the President can personally and officially answer the 20 questions raised by the Makabayan bloc and no one else. We are challenging then President Aquino to voluntarily answer those questions under oath. Otherwise, his so-called commitment to seek the truth is empty and a lie,” Zarate said.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said that Aquino’s absence “bodes ill for the outcome of the investigation.”
“The point here is that the House leadership has not even tried to invite the President, when it is very clear that his testimony is vital to ferret out the truth,” Ridon said.
Ridon also slammed Barzaga for warning of the “far-reaching consequences” inviting the President would have.
“How can the President’s presence in a formal congressional investigation endanger the pillars of democracy? Isn’t the separation of powers there for each branch to provide checks and balances in the functions of the other branches?
“Representative Barzaga and the administration stalwarts are just clearly doing the dirty work of saving the President’s neck in today’s hearing. Clearly, they don’t want the process of exacting the truth to proceed with ease. If we want to ferret out new details today, we need to launch a staunch table battle,” Ridon said.
The legislator also castigated President Aquino for not voluntarily appearing before the joint House panels.
“Aquino’s passive response to our open invitation for him to personally participate in today’s hearing speaks volumes of his character as leader and commander-in-chief. This is like a second chance for him, but he remains hardheaded. For him, he’s above everyone, even Congress.”
Ridon said Aquino could have opted to answer the Makabayan bloc’s questions in writing.
“But his royal highness Mr. Aquino did not even dignify even one of our 20 questions with an answer. What a President indeed.”
A presidential spokesman said there was no need for the President to address the 20 questions since the House had turned down a proposal to send them on to the Palace.
“According to two reports I’ve read, they have actually voted it down,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. “So, for us, we don’t have to discuss this anymore.”
The joint panel on Tuesday ended almost eight hours of hearing without establishing who should be held accountable for the botched Mamasapano operation.
At least 34 lawmakers, led by House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., attended the resumption of the hearing.
Present during the hearing were Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II,
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) headed by its officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines led by Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr., Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) head Teresita Deles, and the chairperson of the government peace panel Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.
The families of the slain Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were also present in the hearing but no lawmaker asked them questions.
Resigned police chief Alan Purisima this time denied involvement in Operation Exodus, contradicting his previous statements in which he recounted briefing the President on the covert operation.
This time around, he said he had no participation in the operation to capture international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
“The SAF conceptualized Oplan Exodus. I was not present at the planning sessions of the SAF,” he told the panel.
Purisima’s statement also contradicted President Aquino’s admission that he tapped the suspended police chief, and that they had at least three meetings to plan the mission.
The police board of inquiry had taken the President to task for breaking the chain of command when he went to the suspended police chief, instead of the OIC.
Also during the hearing, sacked SAF commander Getulio Napeñas belied the report by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that it was the SAF men who fired first, leading to a 12-hour gun battle in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Napeñas also disputed the findings of a report by the MILF that the Moro group only acted in self-defense when the SAF commandos opened fire.
Napeñas said the first explosion came not from SAF but from an improvised explosive device planted around the hut of Marwan. – With Sandy Araneta