DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 January) — Whatever happened to President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise last year to the families of the fallen SAF 44 that he would create a body similar to the Agrava Commission to investigate what really happened during the January 25, 2015 tragedy in Mamasapano, Maguindanao?
The tragedy that Sunday three years ago led to the death of 66 persons — 44 members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Forces (PNP-SAF), 17 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF) and five civilians — and spelled the death of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law under the Aquino administration.
“I will create a commission of seven kagaya ng Agrava Commission noon panahon ni Marcos,” Duterte said, adding he would appoint “men of integrity and honor,” mostly justices of the Supreme Court, Duterte told families of the fallen SAF 44 at the Heroes Hall in Malacanang on January 24, 2017, the eve of the second anniversary of the tragedy.
He said he would bestow on the commission the powers similarly given to the Agrava Commission.
“I will bestow upon that commission the powers that was exactly given to Agrava Commission” and “at the end of the year .. they can have the truth,” Duterte said adding the investigation should cover the time the plan was hatched, who were with President Aquino when they discussed the plan, “maybe you can call the Embassy of the America, what was your role there and to whom the (reward) money was given?”
The Agrava Commission, composed of five members, was created by then President Ferdinand Marcos to investigate the August 21, 1983 assassination of opposition leader and former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. as he stepped out of the plane that brought him home after a three-year exile in the United States.
Using his martial law powers, Marcos created the fact-finding board “with plenary powers to investigate the tragedy” through Presidential Decree 1886 issued on October 14, 1983.
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 after making the promise of an independent body to probe Mamasapano, Duterte has yet to create the Commission.
MindaNews asked Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on January 23 on the status of the “Agrava Commission” type of probe body Duterte promised last year.
“Will ask,” he replied.
MindaNews sent a follow-up query on January 24 and 25. Roque, who is with the President in India, replied at 3:32 p.m. on Thursday: “walang may alam on Commission” (no one knows about the Commission) but added he “will remind PRRD (President Duterte) on this trip.”
At the press briefing in India on Thursday, Roque said three years after the tragedy of Mamasapano, “the cry for justice for our fallen SAF 44 heroes remains alive” as justice “remains elusive.”
He said the President “does not wish a repeat of such a waste of lives and promising future of gallant Filipinos even as he vows to uncover the truth behind this botched operation and find a just closure for the bereaved families who lost a husband, father, brother, or son.”
Duterte last year told the families of the SAF 44 that he had several questions about Mamasapano, which happened under the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the assassinated senator’s son.
Addressing Aquino, he said, “I do not have any quarrel with you. I do not want to disturb your life now that you are retired and so with (former PNP Chief) General (Alan) Purisima and the others” but the many investigations conducted on Mamasapano “unfortunately left a void” as so many issues were left hanging and the families of the SAF 44 victims cannot rest unless the issues are addressed.
“Otherwise, they will bring to their grave the hurt and agony that they had to injure losing a husband, a father, a brother,” Duterte added.
Duterte said he had his own questions, among them:
- “Why was the SAF deployed to the area when SAF is organized for an urban setting,” didn’t know the terrain of Mamasapano and there is an Army division in the area with several brigades “practically surrounding the Mamasapano area.”
- “Why was it under wraps? And why did you hide the fact that it was actually an operation of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency of the United States)?
- Why was the finger of Zulkifli bin hir alias Marwan, a Malaysian high value target of the operation, delude the nation that it was delivered to Camp Crame for the forensics when it was actually given to the Americans “to confirm that it was indeed Marwan”?
- Why was there no coordination with the military? Why did you not coordinate with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) when there is an agreement on prior coordination in the pursuit of criminals in their areas? “It was really a violation. That is why na-stymie kayo”
- Why were the air assets not deployed from the nearby areas of Maguindanao, General Santos City or Davao City?
- “Why did you enter into an operation which was really placing in jeopardy the lives (of the SAF)?”
- “Where’s the five million (dollars reward money from the US state department)? Bakit tatagu-taguin ‘yang pera? So the five million went to whom? … who was so interested in the money?”
“Let it be brought to the open. It was an American adventure with the cooperation of some and apparently with your (Aquino’s) blessing,” Duterte said. He said it is not enough that Aquino said he would take full responsibility. “Sabihin mo sa Pilipino, sabihin mo sa akin kung paano ka nagkasala? At anong ginawa ninyo bakit you fed the soldiers to the lion’s den, to be eaten by death?” Duterte asked.
Duterte issued Proclamation 164 on February 21 last year, declaring January 25 a “Day of National Remembrance” in honor of the sacrifice of the 44 SAF personnel slain in Mamasapano.
Graft and usurpation of authority
On November 8 last year, the Office of the Ombudsman filed graft and usurpation of authority charges against former President Aquino before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the Mamasapano Tragedy.
Aquino was accused of conspiring with former PNP chief Purisima, who was then under preventive suspension, and then SAF chief Getulio Napeñas in implementing Oplan Exodus, the operation in Mamasapano.
In December 2014, the Ombudsman suspended Purisima and 11 other police officials for six months for alleged misuse of gun license couriers’ fees.
The information sheet said Aquino allowed Purisima to attend the January 9, 2015 meeting in Bahay Pangarap, where the top secret operation was discussed.
Aquino also reportedly instructed Purisima to coordinate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and was communicating with Purisima on January 25, 2015.
Aquino also reportedly “allowed himself to be persuaded, induced, or influence” to violate the PNP chain of command, the Ombudsman’s preventive suspension order against Purisima, and OIC chief Leonardo Espina’s order against Purisima and other suspended police officials to cease and desist from performing duties and functions of their offices.
In Manila on Thursday, January 25, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court to direct the Ombudsman to file homicide charges against Aquino instead.
Calida’s manifestation said 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide should be filed against Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)