MANILA (2nd UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday raised questions hounding the Mamasapano carnage which claimed the lives of 44 elite policemen two years ago, as he announced that he will create a commission to probe who should be held accountable for the massacre.
"I will appoint men of integrity and honor. Kung tanggapin nila (if they accept), then I’ll choose mostly justices of the Supreme Court, maybe a few from the civilian sector, maybe a lawyer," Duterte said in a speech in Malacanang.
"They will be independent in all aspects. They are free to summon and as president, sa executive department, I will order you to honor the process.I will bestow the commission the powers exactly given to the Agrava Commission," he added, referring to the fact-finding commission created to investigate the assassination of Aquino's father, Benigno Aquino Jr.
Duterte revealed this as he lamented that several questions continue to haunt him with regard to the bloody clash between Philippine National - Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, Moro rebels and private armed groups.
He said questions about the Mamasapano incident must be fully resolved so that the families of those who died in the massacre will finally be able to move on.
“There were a lot of investigations from the lower house of Congress, Senate, pati sa inyo, opisina niyo (including in your office). But all of these investigations unfortunately left a void,” Duterte said, addressing his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
“Unless we address the issues and find the reasons why, then makapagpahinga na ito ang pamilya ng SAF 44 (then the families of the SAF 44 will finally be able to rest). Otherwise, they will bring to their grave the hurt and agony that they had to endure losing a husband, a father, a brother,” he added.
Duterte met Tuesday with widows and relatives of most of the slain SAF troopers, who are hoping to obtain justice under the new administration. The meeting happened on the eve of the second anniversary of tragic police operation.
The Mamasapano massacre dealt a serious blow to the credibility and popularity of Aquino, as the operation which led to the deaths of 44 elite policemen was carried out allegedly under the orders of a suspended police chief Alan Purisima.
Purisima was known for being loyal and close to Aquino.
The main target of the anti-terror raid, Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, was killed, but at the expense of the cops who clashed with private armed groups, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and even the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which at the time was in peace negotiations with the government.
In his speech, Duterte questioned why SAF troopers were sent to do the job that the military should normally take.
“Bakit pinadala ang SAF when SAF is geared, organized into the service to meet the challenges of urban terrorism. Urban is urban. Dito lang iyan sa siyudad. But maybe on special occasions, they are sent to augment the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Duterte said.
“Bakit niyo tinago iyan? And why the police? Why not the army with the artillery.”
Getulio Napeñas, who was head of the SAF at that time, had said in congressional hearings that part of the reason the military was kept out of the loop was that previous military-coordinated attempts to get Marwan failed due to leaked information.
Napeñas had blamed the military for failing to send reinforcements to the beleaguered SAF troopers, even as he defended the so-called ''time on target'' plan where the military was only informed of the operation to neutralize Marwan right before the actual operation on January 25, 2015.
The AFP, for its part, said the SAF's failure to coordinate with them caused the bloodbath, where the police commandos were outnumbered by Moro rebels and other lawless elements in the corn field of Mamasapano.
Duterte also pointed to reports that the government, through the advice of then peace adviser Teresita Deles, decided not to send military reinforcement for the SAF troopers in Mamasapano to prevent a collapse of the ceasefire with the MILF.
“Why did you enter into an operation which was really placing in jeopardy the lives (of the troops) because at the end of the day, you would have decided not to send any?” Duterte said.
“Kayo nagputukan, pinigilan niyo because alam niyo and alam ni Deles you would have violated (the ceasefire).”
Duterte also claimed that the US led the operation to get Marwan, noting that it was American forces who supposedly processed the Malaysian terrorist’s finger.
“And why was it under wraps? Bakit niyo tinago na actually it was an operation of the CIA?” Duterte said.
“Kaya far from the highway, nandoon ang chopper and you had to delude the nation that after the Marwan finger was cut, it was delivered dito sa Crame for the forensics, when as a matter of fact, ang helicopter, ang nagdala doon sa just for validation, to confirm that it was indeed Marwan.”
In a related development, the Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday sued Napeñas and Purisima for graft and usurpation of authority.
Purisima and Napeñas were accused of violating Section 3(a) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, as well as Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code.
Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code states that “there must be a clear showing that the person being charged had performed an act pertaining to any person in authority or public officer of the Philippine government, under pretense of official position, and without lawfully being entitled to do so.”
Section 3(a) of Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, on the other hand, considers as a criminal act “persuading, inducing or influencing another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations duly promulgated by competent authority or an offense in connection with the official duties of the latter, or allowing himself to be persuaded, induced, or influenced to commit such violation or offense.”