Senate may send questions to Aquino to wrap up inquiry on Mamasapano clash

The Senate may send questions to President Benigno Aquino III about his role in the Jan. 25 police operation in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, amid mounting calls for him to disclose what he knows about the operation that cost the lives of 44 police commandos, senators said on Friday.

Once the President comes clean on the operation, the committees could wrap up the inquiry into the Special Action Force (SAF) debacle, they said.

"That's possible. Nothing wrong with writing questions, but we should not be offended if he doesn't answer us," Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III told reporters in a phone-patch interview.

The committees on public order, peace and finance inquiring into the clash could send questions to the President in the form of "written interrogatories," Pimentel said.

Interrogatories are a list of questions.

Sen. Grace Poe said the President has begun talking about his knowledge of the incident, but the senators may course questions through his alter egos in next Monday's hearing.

She said she was hopeful Mr. Aquino would "continue to give more details."

"We are constrained by the principle of separation of powers.

Nonetheless, we may consider to course crucial questions through his alter egos in attendance during the hearing on Monday who may seek appropriate clearance, too, for the purpose," she said in a text message.

The President met anew with widows of the slain troopers last Wednesday night, but left key questions unanswered, including what he did after he was informed about the fierce firefight between the SAF troopers and Moro rebels.

The SAF rebels were killed when they ran into guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other private armed groups after taking down Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan."

Eighteen MILF guerrillas and five civilians were also killed in the clash.

Pimentel deferred to the three committees to make the decision.

"The chair of the committee can ask the senators if that is the route she's going to take-written interrogatories," he said, referring to Poe, chair of the committee on public order.

Pimentel, however, said the President's role was clear after hearing the disclosures of resigned Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima, relieved SAF commander Director Getulio NapeƱas, and two SAF survivors in executive sessions.

"We had additional information given by [Director General] Purisima," he said. "I will not divulge the details. Ask Senator Poe what she wants to disclose to the public."

Otherwise, based on Purisima's disclosures and Mr. Aquino's national addresses, "we can piece together what happened," he added.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the local government committee that conducted public hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), said the inquiry would be complete once the President gave his side of the story.

Marcos said the senators had pieced together the circumstances on the ground, but not the goings-on at the highest level of command during the mission to capture Marwan.

"It doesn't help that the President has not spoken on the matter. This is very easy.

He should tell us, instead of us speculating and asking others to tell us the story. Once he makes a credible explanation, our hearing is finished," he said in a radio interview.

Not crisis proportion

Both Pimentel and Marcos agreed that the public outrage has not reached a crisis and did not necessitate the President's resignation.

"I don't feel the clamour for a regime change," Pimentel said. "I could feel the disappointment, and BBL support has waned, but as far as people clamoring for changing the President, I don't feel it."

Marcos said: "Nothing will happen if he resigns. If at all, that will only foment disorder. I agree with a report: 'Don't step down, step up.' Step up to your responsibility. Step up to the country. And tell them exactly what is happening and what your role was in this Mamasapano massacre."

He said sending questions to the President was an option.

"But the President should show leadership and explain to the country all the facts," he said.

US involvement

Pimentel said Monday's hearing would also look into reports of US involvement in the Mamasapano operation.

"That will be very interesting. News reports said there were eight Americans sighted in the area. I have not heard anything like that in the executive sessions," he said.

He also cited reports that a drone was seen hovering over the area during fighting between the SAF commandos and the Moro rebels.

"Intelligence is different from presence," he said, responding to claims that the United States merely swapped intelligence information with the SAF on the presence of Marwan in Mamasapano.

Resource persons

For Monday's hearing, the committees on public order, peace and finance invited Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Defence Undersecretary Natalio Ecarma III of the Anti-Terrorism Council of the Philippines, Brig. Gen. Manolito Orense of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities as resource persons,

The committees also sent invitations to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, her MILF counterpart Mohagher Iqbal, military and police officials, among other resource persons.

"I will not confirm when it comes to diplomatic relations at this point but definitely it will be part of our committee report," Poe said when asked last week about the US role.

Marcos said it wasn't clear what role the United States played in the operation to capture Marwan.

"They played a role. Whether that role is acceptable or not is something we cannot say until we hear them. If they were conducting trainings, that's not a problem. If they're operating, that's another matter," he said.

By tending to clear its forces of any culpability, the MILF wasn't helping its cause, Marcos said.

MILF defending their homes

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, told TV5 that the MILF's investigation showed that the rebels were only defending their homes from the SAF troopers and should not be blamed for the debacle.

"If that will be their report, pin the blame on the PNP, it will not help the peace process. None of the MILF was massacred. None of them was wounded and shot, and taken on video at that," Marcos said.

Former Sen. Panfilo Lacson (@iampinglacson) tweeted that Palace's "tell all at the right time" statement is not helping the situation any.

"Telling the whole truth needs no proper timing," he said.