COMMENT: New Focus, Same Evidence

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 3 Feb) – Disregarding “new focus”, nothing new – nothing that can be considered new material evidence – came out at the 7-hour new inquiry on the Mamasapano debacle last January 26. Old issues were discussed with the same “resource persons” or “witnesses” a year ago. This was shown in national media reports – voluminous, repetitious, corroborative, incremental.

At the end of the 7-hour hearing, Committee Chair Sen. Grace Poe said there were no new details to change the committee report a year ago. Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, on whose behest the inquiry was reopened, admitted, “There will be no changes in the findings. I just focused on the role, responsibility and accountability of the President in the debacle,” he said. Philippine Daily Inquirer, in its January 29 editorial, packed it in two words: “Enrile’s dud” – that is: Enrile’s promised “explosive evidence” puffed.

Eight Points

Of his “new focus”, Enrile said: “I would like to make it on record that I have evidence: one, that the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, was actively and directly involved in the planning and preparations of Oplan Exodus; two, that on the day of the actual operations, he was monitoring the operations while he was on his plane going to Zamboanga City; and three, that while the operations were going on, and Special Action Force troopers were being slaughtered, he did not do anything at all to save them.”

He enumerated eight points charging that Aquino:

(1) actively, directly participated in the planning and preparation of Oplan Exodus;

(2) deliberately compartmented Oplan Exodus to himself and then suspended Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima;

(3) was the approving authority;

(4) was fully aware of what was going on during the Mamasapano mission;

(5) blatantly disregarded command systems of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines;

(6) intentionally and directly dealt with the person who before and at the time was not an active part of the command system of either the AFP and the PNP;

(7) did not do anything to prevent the SAF 44’s killing;

(8) shielded himself from any accountability and deliberately hid behind Purisima.

These were serious charges against the President. Were they really new?

Reiteration and Elucidation

Enrile said he had “evidence”. However, instead of presenting the evidence outright, he asked the Poe Committee to invite resource persons and witnesses; through the press and television, he appealed to those who were “on-the-know” of the Mamasapano debacle to come. Did he really have “evidence”“explosive” as earlier described in the media – or was he implying that last year the Committee failed to elicit the “explosive evidence” from the witnesses?

The Committee invited the same personalities from the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines who testified at the hearings last year. Essentially, they were asked the same questions; they reiterated or elucidated the same answers.

Item 1: In his questioning, Enrile would like to mitigate the blame on Police Director Getulio Napeñas but other Police and AFP generals elucidated their earlier testimonies to pin down Napeñas as incompetent.

Item 2: Enrile chastised the retired AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang for “prioritizing chain of command over [the lives of] SAF men” that as a consequence, he failed to send AFP reinforcement; to order helicopter and artillery support for the 55th SAC commandos pinned down in the cornfield; and, to inform President Benigno Aquino III about the situation in Mamasapano, a duty that properly belonged to the Philippine National Police.

In effect, Enrile wanted Catapang to give direct orders to the Army 6th Division and to take over “Operation Exodus” from the PNP. He wanted Catapang to order the firing of the artillery without knowing the exact location of the 55th.

The dressing down was least expected from a former secretary of defense. He was inconsistent – wanting Catapang to do what he charged the President of doing in the 5th of his 8-point charges above.

Was AFP reinforcement needed? In all, 392 SAF commandos were sent to Mamasapano. Only 42 of the 84th SAC were to get Marwan; 36 of 55th SAC were the blocking force. Three companies – the 45th, 42nd and 41st – were to secure the withdrawal route. The other units were to secure the Maharlika Highway (BOI Report, p.73). There were more than 300 SAF commandos that could have reinforced the 55th but not ordered to.

Evidently, Enrile did not read the report of the PNP Board of Inquiry.

Item 3: While not among the 8-point charges against the President, the involvement of the United States government was the most elucidated in media reports. Napeñas categorically stated that the US government and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) were part of “Oplan Exodus”.

The elucidation must have been more from last year’s Senate Committee executive session records rather than from Enrile’s questioning of Napeñas. On request of Enrile, the Senate released “the transcript of the minutes of the joint committee investigation’s closed-door sessions on Feb. 12, 16, 17, 23 and 24, 2015” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 30, 2016: US aided SAF raiders only; No help came for pinned troopers).

Media last year reported the US involvement; so did portions of the Senate Committee Report and BOI Report. The transcript confirmed all these. Most telling, however, it disclosed “the American failure to help the 55th Special Action Company (SAC), the blocking force that was pinned down by Moro rebels on a cornfield after the mission backfired”.

Napeñas revealed during the executive sessions that the Americans from Joint Task Force Philippines monitored the movements of the 84th SAC” that killed Marwan and carried his cut finger but not the pinned down 55th.

Reopening Necessary?

All of the above came out in last year’s investigations. The 8-point charges against the President are conclusions that could be drawn from the BOI Report and the Senate Committee Report. The Senate Committee report found the President “ultimately responsible” for the death of the 44 SAF commandos. In his speeches and public statements, the President owned the responsibility. The BOI Report did not say so directly but tended toward the same conclusion.

Enrile’s focus on the “role, responsibility and accountability” of the President is not new.

Where then was the necessity of reopening the inquiry? Poe said, “Nabigyan lang natin ng respeto at pagkakataon ang isang senador na magtanong dahil wala siya noong mga unang pagdinig.” (We just gave one senator due respect and opportunity to ask questions since he was not around during the first hearing.)

That, too, is not new – political diplomacy, accommodation, camaraderie, or the like.

Enrile was well pleased. He told reporters he was satisfied with the outcome of the hearing – of his having been able to prove “responsibility and accountability of the President,” based on the text messages between the Chief Executive and his officials. “That’s enough. I have already established the role of the President.”

This One Is New

This portion of the January 27 MindaNews report by its editor-in-chief Carolyn O. Arguillas (Napeñas: US gov’t, CIA part of “Oplan Exodus” to get Marwan) is the only one new. We have not come across this in our more than a thousand pages of Mamasapano media reports on file or read of it in the investigation reports.

This portion of the MindaNews report reveals two issues about Marwan:

First: When Enrile asked Napenas what the US government’s interest was over Marwan, he replied, “giving justice for people who died in Bali. More than 200 perished including Americans.”

Second: The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in its March 5, 2015 report, “Killing Marwan in Mindanao,” said Marwan was over-rated.

[Note: We break with notations how the IPAC report rated Marwan. – ppd]

[What Marwan is] “Marwan by all accounts was not a leader in Mindanao and had no special bomb-making skills; those he had were in sharp-shooting. A tendency to panic in crisis situations made him unwanted in battle.”

[What Marwan is not] “He was never a member of the once-feared terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), though he had been radicalised by its Malaysia-based members and occasionally worked with them.”

[Marwan as a radical] “He was a senior member of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, never its leader.

[Marwan and the Bali bombing] “Despite many reports suggesting he was involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, he had no role whatsoever, and in any case was already in the Philippines when they took place.”

[Marwan a burden] “He was often more a burden than an asset to those who helped hide him.”

If Marwan was as IPAC rated him, why did CIA rate him so highly as to merit a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture dead or alive?

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate. You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])