Senators are calling for the creation of an independent commission which will investigate the death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) officers in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
On Feb.2, Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate committee on peace and reconciliation filed a bill calling for the creation of a Truth Commission. The bill was co-authored by Senators Bam Aquino and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. Representatives Sitti Turabin Hataman, Jorge Banal, and Marcelino Teodoro will also file a similar measure at the House of Representatives.
The SAF44 are elite personnel of the PNP-SAF who died in a firefight with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Jan. 25.
The Truth Commission will be composed of a chairman and two members who will be appointed by President Aquino. Guingona said he is considering former Supreme Court chief justice Hilario Davide Jr., former senator Wigberto Tañada and Ateneo de Manila University School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña to sit as members.
Truth commission can summon Aquino
In a report, Guingona said the fact-finding body would have extensive powers to issue subpoena to persons and compel the presentation of documents and other compulsory processes during the course of its investigation.
President Aquino can be invited to shed light on what really transpired prior to the SAF’s mission. Aquino was reported to have knowledge of the mission and has his approval.
If person summoned to testify in the commission refuses without lawful excuse, he or she will be cited in contempt and will be penalized, to obey a subpoena or give testimony or produce documents for inspection.
The Palace is reportedly cold on the proposal. It noted that the Board of Inquiry led by the PNP, MILF and the Senate are “enough to get the truth of what exactly occurred in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.”
On the other hand, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said that it should be a joint congressional panel that should investigate the Mamasapano clash and not the Truth Commission. “I really think that Congress is the proper party (to conduct the investigation). The Congress has inherent powers… We have the process, rules, everything is in place. We are the proper party, not some retired justices,” Belmonte was quoted as saying in a GMA News report.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna expressed fears of whitewash in the Board of Inquiry investigation. In a statement, Senior Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares said the PNP Board of Inquiry, composed of PNP Generals, is not expected to objectively investigate the killing of the 44 SAF personnel “considering that they will investigate not just the involvement of US forces but also President Aquino and suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima who are their superiors.”
“President Aquino has practically pre-empted the Board of Inquiry during his televised speech by washing his hands of any responsibility and blaming the SAF forces for failing to coordinate with other units until it was too late. There is no way that the Board will find President Aquino accountable for the botched operation after that speech,” the lawmaker said.
Colmenares also said that the Truth Commission should come from independent and credible persons in the likes of former Chief Justice Renato Puno to lessen fears that the investigation will not be whitewashed to favor President Aquino and Gen. Purisima.
“Members of the PNP and other security forces who know what really happened in Mamasapano and in the preparations leading to the operation should come forward and tell the truth about those accountable for the botched operations. Those PNP personnel who want to give justice to the 44 slain SAF men must come out and tell all about the incident, otherwise the case could be whitewashed with the blame mainly pinned on the hapless SAF,” Colmenares added.