Why the House of Representatives Should Continue the Mamasapano Hearings
Rep. Walden Bello
Feb 18, 2015
Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues:
It is unfortunate that the joint hearings of the Committee on Public Order and Safety and Committee on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity were cancelled by the House leadership. The much criticized disorder among House members during the Feb 11 hearing stemmed from the emotions coursing through the nation at this point. Our colleagues are not immune to these conflicting feelings roiling their constituents. The committee hearing was a microcosm of our society, and given the scale of the Mamasapano tragedy, it would have been unrealistic to expect our members to display their usual cool, courteous, collected demeanor.
Unearthing the Facts
Despite the so-called disorder, Mr. Speaker, the hearing did achieve some progress in terms of unearthing vital facts, like the fact that the president did not seem to be informed of the unraveling of the raid till very late in the day. In fact, the several days of hearings in the Senate and the House have gradually yielded the basic contours of the Mamasapano tragedy.
What are these?
The decisive element, it appears, was the deliberate withholding of information about the SAF operation from key people at the top of the PNP and AFP hierarchy. This withholding of information led to the fatal lack of coordination between the AFP and PNP in the mounting of a rescue effort when the operation began to unravel. Further, it led to chaos when the AFP, PNP, and the MILF tried to get the combatants to disengage.
The scenario that emerges is the following: To nab a notorious terrorist, those who conceived and implemented the operation chose not to inform the top people in the police and AFP leadership and ignored and subverted the procedures and mechanism for territorial access worked out by the MILF, the government peace panel, Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (ADHJAG), and the AFP. The MILF fighters responded to what they perceived as a large invasion force, and once the battle began, it became very difficult for their leaders to realize the intent of the SAF contingent and get their forces to disengage. If it took several hours for the AFP and the PNP SAF to coordinate their actions owing to the information and operations gaps, one can understand how much more difficult coordination was among the government peace panel, AFP, ADHJAG, and MILF leadership, all of who had limited information on the causes and progress of the encounter.
Having said that, it is nevertheless clear to this representation that the anti-SAF forces on the ground engaged in overkill and that some combatants committed acts that violated the universally accepted rules of engagement codified in the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, such as the execution of disabled enemy combatants.
More critical details remain to be extracted by future hearings, Mr. Speaker, but I think there is now sufficient testimony to show that President Aquino, General Purisima, and SAF Commander Napenas took unacceptable risks in keeping the Marwan operation a secret from key people in the police, AFP, and civilian leadership, and that they must own up to principal responsibility for the tragic consequences of their withholding vital information, including the deaths of 44 brave policemen.
Unearthing the US Role
There is still, however, one big lacuna in the investigation, and this is one of the key reasons why the Senate and House investigations must go on to the bitter end. I am referring to the role of the United States. From the beginning, Mr Speaker, the operation had the earmarks of a US-managed special operation. Getting Marwan was top priority for Washington. The quick insertion-neutralization-extrication method employed by the SAF is one that has been perfected by US Navy Seals. Heightening suspicions were the presence of a US chopper at the scene shortly after the encounter, allegedly to evacuate casualties, and the disappearance of Marwan’s index finger and its surfacing in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s laboratory.
The detailed accounts of US involvement by an anonymous SAF officer that appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday and today cannot simply be dismissed as speculative. What convinces me of their authenticity is the SAF officer’s revelation that the Americans insisted on the use of the 84th SAF Company as the assault team to snatch Marwan, opposing a fused contingent of the 55th Company and the 84th Company as conceived in the original Oplan Exodus. The Americans had their way: the 84th snatched Marwan while the 55th served as the blocking force, which was slaughtered. When I visited Camp Bagong Diwa to pay my respects to the dead SAF troops on Jan 30, I took the opportunity to interview a number of members of SAF. I was struck by how they referred to the 84th as an “elite unit.” When I asked why, they told me the 84th was a seaborne unit that specialized in the insert-neutralize-and extricate operations mastered by the US Navy Seals. Indeed, as one SAF member proudly told me, the 84th Seaborne had undergone special training by “retired” US Navy Seals. This prior revelation to me on Jan 30 made very credible the Inquirer’s claim in yesterday’s issue about the Americans’ insistence that the 84th SAF Company serve as the only unit to neutralize Marwan. It was their special unit in the Special Action Force.
Mr. Speaker, we are simply seeing the tip of the iceberg. Congress’ investigation of the Mamasapano tragedy has a long, long way to go.
The point is that with the increasing credibility of investigative new reports and curt denials coming from the PNP that the US was intimately involved in the operation, it becomes less and less viable to leave the investigation of this whole affair to the Executive, much less the PNP. We have to perform our constitutionally mandated duty of oversight over the Executive’s performance of its functions. To leave it to the Executive to investigate itself is not only to invite a cover-up; it is dereliction of duty on our part.
BBL and the Facts on the Ground
Allow me, Mr. Speaker, to proceed to another concern. Undeniably, the Mamasapano tragedy has destabilized the peace process. It is right to be angry. It is certainly understandable to call for a pause in the consideration of the Bangsa Moro Basic Law. But it is wrong to give up on the peace process, wrong to turn our backs on the BBL.
Mr. Chairman, both sides are tired of war. They want peace, not peace at any price, but peace based on the recognition of the hard facts on the ground. The MILF has recognized those facts on the ground and moved from a position of demanding independence to one of accepting autonomy. The Philippine government has similarly recognized the facts on the ground and moved from all-out war to crush the MILF to a willingness to accept the political solution of autonomy for the Bangsa Moro people. After nearly 50 years of war, both sides have arrived at a meeting of minds. The last hurdle is legislative approval of this meeting of minds based on mutual recognition of the hard facts on the ground. Let us not turn our backs on the BBL and give in to those whose hard-line opposition can only result in more years of an unwinnable war and possibly a worse end-game. Those who make autonomy impossible now will make separation inevitable later.
Promoting Sobriety, not Fanning the Flames
This leads to my last point, Mr. Chairman. Those voices that incite us to return to the battlefield belong not to the military, who know that military victory is impossible, but to civilian personalities who see the Mamasapano tragedy as a way to further their self serving political agenda. During last week’s hearing at the Senate, we had an appalling demonstration of this from someone I used to have respect for. Instead of calming public passions to create a better environment for the search for truth, we saw a demagogical performance that was hell bent on fanning these passions with incendiary discourse based on inaccuracies, distortions and falsehoods, including a slide intended to convey a deliberately misleading image suggesting an MILF fighter firing an ultra-long-range sniper rifle a la Brad Cooper in “American Sniper.” Such demagoguery can only have the effect of stoking anti-Moro and anti-Muslim feelings that can lead us back to war.
Mr. Chairman, in these sensitive times, we as the leaders of the country should be promoting sobriety in the search for truth, not deploying jihadist rhetoric calculated to destroy all possibility of a peaceful settlement of the Mindanao conflict. In their determination to sabotage the peace process, the BIFF, unfortunately, may have found an ideal counterpart in this volatile member of the Senate. Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows.
This representation appeals to the senator in question to please desist from poisonous rhetoric and cease using the Senate hearing on Mamasasano as a platform for his political ambitions. Huwag po ninyong gamitin ang mga bangkay ng fallen 44 bilang tuntungan para sa inyong ambisyon. Sacrilegiyo ho yan. In this connection, Mr. Speaker, it is my contention that much of the negative reaction to the congressional hearings on Mamasapano does not stem from our so-called disorder or our repetitive questioning of resource persons but by the opportunistic use of the hearings by a handful of people like the senator in question, not as a means to ferret out the truth but as a soapbox to pursue their ideological and political agenda.
Let me end by appealing to President Aquino to fully accept responsibility for the Mamasapano fiasco and come clean on everything related to the raid, including the big question on everybody’s mind, which is the role of the United States. This is the only way for him to regain the public’s trust.
And, lastly, Mr. Speaker, let us by all means continue with our hearings.
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