Philippine Senate's Mamasapano report touted to be 'more hard-hitting'

MANILA, Philippines-The Senate report on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano clash will be "more hard-hitting" than the report of the Philippine National Police board of inquiry (BOI), a Senate source told the Inquirer on Monday.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to speak to the press, said the Senate report would be released Tuesday.

"It's a blunt presentation of the facts concerning all the personalities involved," said the source, who has seen the Senate report.

Unlike the police report, the Senate report will point out the "liabilities" of the people involved in the disastrous Special Action Force (SAF) counterterrorism operation, the source said.

The Senate report, the source said, is hard-hitting in that it is more "editorial" compared to the police report, which consists of factual statements about the incident.

Sen. Grace Poe, head of the joint investigative committee, is calling a news conference Tuesday to present the report, the source said.

Last week, Poe promised the families of the 44 SAF commandos who were killed by Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, that she would submit the committee report this week.

She said the report was based on five public hearings, five executive sessions and 73 hours of full discussion attended by 37 resource persons and agencies. The report was also based on more than 4,300 documents, she said.

No sacred cows

Poe also promised that there would be no sacred cows, and said she hoped it would strengthen the families' confidence in the Senate.

According to the source, the Senate report was more complete than the BOI report because the committees were able to talk to more people.

The source said, however, that the Senate committees were also unable to access certain information.

The board of inquiry report released on Friday said it was President Aquino who gave the go-signal for "Oplan Exodus," the SAF operation to take down terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan," Basit Usman and Amin Baco.

Aquino, the BOI report said, broke the PNP chain of command by allowing suspended Director General Alan Purisima, a personal friend, to have a role in the planning and execution of the mission.

The report said the President, Purisima and the sacked SAF commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, kept the mission to themselves, not informing even the PNP officer in charge, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, about it and the military was informed only when it was already too late to save the pinned down SAF commandos.

Palace defence

Malacañang rejected the BOI findings, declaring on Saturday that the President was not part of the PNP chain of command and that he could deal with any official in the executive branch.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also said the chain of command was a military concept that did not apply to the PNP, a civilian organisation.

On Monday, De Lima reiterated that the President could not be held criminally liable for bypassing the PNP chain of command.

"As of now, I cannot see that the President can be held criminally liable. We're not yet talking of the fact that he's supposed to be immune from suit. It's not within our jurisdiction or authority to investigate anything like that in so far as the President is concerned," De Lima told reporters.

According to De Lima, Aquino's role in the SAF operation was as Chief Executive, not Commander in Chief.

"As Chief Executive, he can deal with anybody, with subordinates, and even private individuals. That's the prerogative of a Chief Executive. He doesn't have to be constricted [by a] chain of command that he has to follow," she said.

De Lima said the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the Mamasapano incident was focused on the criminal liability arising from the findings of the PNP board of inquiry, the Senate and other investigative bodies.

Earlier, De Lima said the investigation would be expanded to include the possible liabilities of Purisima and Napeñas.

"That is part of our ongoing evaluation," she said.

Political crisis

The Mamasapano clash and the disclosure that Aquino had knowledge of it have sunk his administration in deep political crisis with only 500 days to go before he steps down from office.

An administration ally in the House of Representatives suggested on Monday that Aquino revamp his Cabinet to regain lost political capital.

Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice said executive reassignments might help stop the erosion of support for Aquino.

Erice said, however, that Aquino could not be held liable for the Mamasapano incident, although the President might have made mistakes.

"I believe that he can tap anybody he trusts to help him in accomplishing things. It might be an error of judgment," he said, referring to Aquino's allowing Purisima to have a role in Oplan Exodus.

It was Purisima who told Napeñas not to inform Espina and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas about the mission.

Purisima said it was he who would inform the military, but when he did, the SAF commandos were already at the verge of getting wiped out by guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM).

Forty-four SAF commandos, 17 MILF rebels, and three civilians were killed in the daylong gun battle.

Little to no effect

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he expected the PNP board of inquiry report to draw a fresh flurry of criticism against the President, but with little to no effect.

"His opponents, critics and the [attention seekers] will continue to harass him [but to] no avail," Belmonte said.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he agreed with many of the conclusions of the board of inquiry, including the finding that Aquino broke the chain of command.

Marcos said Aquino created his own chain of command, which included Purisima and Napeñas, causing the confusion that led to disaster in Mamasapano.

He said he also agreed with the BOI finding that Aquino knew about Oplan Exodus from the start.

Marcos said Aquino should clarify Purisima's role in the operation, although there was no way the President could be compelled to make a disclosure.

"We still hope that he can clarify exactly what his role was and what were the reasons. I think his role in the entire Oplan Exodus, the planning and the execution, is clear. But what is the reasoning behind [it], why?" he said.

"And I say maybe the President knows something that the rest of us do not know and that would have encouraged him to handle this the way that he did. But what is that reason? Now, there is no way to keep it secret anymore," Marcos said.

Nation wants answers

Marcos also pointed out that the President should realise that the people also want to know why he broke the chain of command.

Marcos said the President's explanation would help the peace process by bringing back the people's confidence in it.

Asked to comment on the stand of the Palace and the DOJ on the chain of command, Marcos said: "If you don't have chain of command in the uniformed service like the PNP, you can't have a police force with no chain of command. It simply does not work. Who will give orders? Who will follow? Who will be followed?"

"That is a totally illogical contention that you can have a police force without a chain of command," he said.

Reminded that the Palace position was that it was only the military that has a chain of command structure, Marcos said that the police force has a hierarchy and that its officers have ranks.

"A private has to follow a lieutenant," he said, adding there should be a chain of command in an organisation "otherwise it's chaos."

Marcos also disagreed with the view that President Aquino has the prerogative to break the chain of command.

"The Commander in Chief is precisely the Commander in Chief because he is at the top of the chain of command by definition. If not, he is not the Commander in Chief," he said.

President not part of PNP

Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo, spokesman for the PNP, said that the PNP manual on "fundamental doctrine" does not mention the President.

"The President is not covered by the organizational structure in the PNP," Cerbo said.

Also joining the chorus for the President to explain Purisima's role was former Sen. Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr.

"The President has to explain that very clearly. Why was Purisima there?" Pimentel said in a phone interview.

Pimentel said the participation of Purisima in Oplan Exodus was the "Achilles' heel as far as the legal process is concerned."

"So there is a need to explain why a suspended police official had a role in the Mamasapano operation," he said.

But Pimentel agreed with the Palace position that the "chain of command refers to the military establishment and not the police."

Under the Police Act, the police are separate from the military and that it's the Department of the Interior and Local Government that has jurisdiction over the police, he said.

On the constitutional provision that states that the President is the Commander in Chief of all the armed forces, Pimentel said that armed forces there refers to the military.

He said the framers of the Constitution wanted to get away from the Marcos decree that put the police and the military together.

Be man enough

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said he disagreed that the President was bound by the chain of command.

He said President Aquino had the prerogative and could order subordinates "to coordinate laterally and directly."

Trillanes also said Napeñas should be man enough to accept he made a mistake and apologise to the families of members of the slain police commandos.

He said Napeñas was the overall commander of the operation.