Duterte to create a commission to probe Mamasapano tragedy

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 Jan) — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the creation of a seven-person commission similar to the Agrava Commission that investigated the 1983 assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. to investigate the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano Tragedy that left 66 persons dead — 44 of them from the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police, 17 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces and five civilians.

Duterte told relatives of the 44 slain SAF members during a dialogue in Malacanang Tuesday afternoon that he would appoint people of “integrity and honor” and give them until the end of the year to submit its findings so “(we) can have the truth” about what happened.

Fellow police officers carry the caskets of slain police commandos to transport them home aboard Philippine Air Force C-130 planes in January 2015.  MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

Earlier in his speech, however, he said former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has to “answer to the nation” for the tragedy that was “an American adventure with the cooperation of some and apparently with your (Aquino’s) blessing.”

He asked why the SAF was deployed there when it is trained for urban settings and the Army is practially surrounding the Mamasapano area. ” And why was it under wraps? At bakit ninyo itinago na actually it was an operation of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency of the United States)?”

Duterte said it was not enough for Aquino to have admitted responsibility for the tragedy.

“Sabihin mo sa Pilipino, sabihin mo sa akin kung paano ka nagkasala? At anong ginawa ninyo, bakit why you fed the soldiers to the lion’s den, to be eaten by death?,” he asked.

“What went badly, horrible result was ….  Hindi kasi lumabas ang totoo eh (The truth did not come out),” he said.

Duterte said he will appoint “men of integrity and honor” and would choose “mostly the justices of the Supreme Court, maybe a few from the civilian sector, maybe a lawyer.”

“I will bestow upon that commission the powers that (were) exactly given to Agrava Commission, ‘yung panahon sa pagkamatay ni Aquino and let us see. Maybe I’ll just give them … at the end of the year and they can have the truth,” Duterte said.

The President said he wants to know what happened “from the time the plan was maybe being hatched, who were the guys who went to President Aquino to talk about this thing?”

He said the board can call the US Embassy in Manila to ask “What was your role there” and to whom was the reward money of 5 million US dollars (PhP 220 million at the January 2015 exchange rate of 44 pesos to one US dollar).

PD 1886

Using his martial law powers, then President Ferdinand Marcos created the fact-finding board “with plenary powers to investigate the tragedy” through Presidential Decree 1886 issued on October 14, 1983, barely two months after the assassination of Aquino.

The board, he decreed, ” shall be independent from the three departments of the Government, to determine all the facts and circumstances” behind the killing,

The fact-finding board, later referred to as Agrava Commission, was chaired by then retired Court of Appeals Justice Corazon Juliano Agrava. Its members were lawyer Luciano Salazar, businessman Dante Santos, labor leader ErnestoHerrera, and educator Amado Dizon.

PD 1886 gave the Board the power to “review the evidence already submitted and determine which to accept and which to hear anew; to issue subpoena or subpoena duces tecum and other compulsory processes requiring the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of any evidence relative to any matter under investigation by the Board.”

It also provided that findings of the Board shall be made public and that if the findings warrant prosecution of any person, “the Board may initiate the filing of the proper complaint with the appropriate government agency.”

A year later, in October 1984, the Agrava Commission blamed the Aquino killing on a military conspiracy but two reports were submitted — the Minority Report by Chair Agrava and the Majority Report by the members. Agrava’s report said Air Force General Luther Custodio and six soldiers plotted the assassination while the Majority Report said it was a wider conspiracy of 26 persons including the Armed Forces Chief of Staff then, Gen. Fabian Ver.

Several bodies conducted a probe on the Mamasapano Tragedy, among them the  Philippine National Police’s Board of Inquiry, the Senate Committee, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Special Investigative Commission, the Department of Justice, the House of Representatives and the Commission on Human Rights, the International Monitoring Team.

President Rodrigo Duterte meets boy whose father was among 44 Special Action Force trooper killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015. The President met with the families of the fallen police officers at the Heroes Hall in Malacañan Palace on January 24, 2017, a day before the second anniversary of the tragedy.   ROLANDO MAILO /Presidential Photo

Duterte also ordered PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa and Local Governments Undersecretary for Police Matters Catalino Cuy to “study the matter very carefully” why only two of the slain SAF members were given medals of valor when all of them died. “Give me the result within, probably at the end of the month,” he said.

“Tutal nandiyan na ‘yung records hindi naman kailangan mag-imbestiga-imbestiga. Look at the records of the Senate and everything. And if you think as a soldier that the 44 deserve the Valor, then recommend it and I would give it to them. All of the soldiers, the 44,” Duterte said.

He announced he would also set “A Day of Remembrance” for the SAF 44. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)