On eve of board of inquiry report, cops told to move on
MANILA, Philippines–Let’s move on.
This was the message of Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina to the 150,000-strong Philippine National Police on the eve of the submission of the PNP board of inquiry’s report on the Jan. 25 clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, that claimed the lives of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos, 18 Moro rebels and five civilians.
Speaking with reporters at Camp Crame yesterday, Espina, the PNP officer in charge, expressed confidence that the board’s report would be factual and truthful amid speculations that it would be watered down to protect senior government officials, including President Aquino.
Espina also maintained that he did not try to influence the findings and recommendations of the three-member board headed by Director Benjamin Magalong, the chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
“We fully trust the [board]. First of all, it is truly and totally independent from me. I just act as the (PNP officer in charge), but the board is totally independent from us,” Espina said.
“Let’s move forward even if we are facing challenges. We owe it to the people to move forward,” he added.
Espina, who joined Interior Secretary Mar Roxas during the ceremonial turnover to the PNP of 55 brand-new police vans, said it was up to the board and the higher authorities to make the report public.
In a recent interview, Magalong said the board would make the contents of the report public as he doused insinuations that the board might spare Aquino and resigned PNP Director General Alan Purisima from accountability over the Mamasapano clash.
Espina declined to comment on the President’s statement pinning all the blame for the debacle on the sacked SAF commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, saying it would be best to wait for the official submission of the board’s report.
Objective and fair
Asked about his guidance to the members of the board, Espina said he just reminded its members to be objective and fair in their investigation.
“[The report should be] devoid of emotion. That’s their job… We just want to know the truth because… that’s tantamount to looking for answers and seeking for justice for our ‘Gallant 44,’” Espina said.
Addressing leaders of evangelical churches on Monday, President Aquino defended himself anew from criticisms over the botched counterterrorism operation, insisting that Napeñas gave him wrong information and disobeyed his instruction to coordinate the mission with the military, “insubordination” that cost the lives of the 44 police commandos.
On Wednesday, Espina denied gagging Napeñas in deference to the formal release of the board of inquiry report.
“There’s no gag order on Napeñas. It was his own discernment [not to speak to the media,” he said.
Vitaliano Aquirre, Napeñas’ lawyer, said the former SAF commander had begged off from media interviews about Aquino’s statements on Espina’s instruction.
Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop, a former chief of the CIDG, on Wednesday said only Napeñas could rightfully claim to be telling the truth because he was the only one who submitted his cell phone for forensic examination, allowing the investigators to extract the messages he sent and received during the fighting in Mamasapano.
Acop said only forensic examination of the cell phones of the officials involved in the SAF operation could answer the lingering question of whether President Aquino ordered the military and police to stand down while SAF commandos were pinned down by Moro rebels and bandits in a cornfield in Mamasapano.
Acop said Purisima, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, 6th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, and the heads of the joint government-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ceasefire committee declined to submit their cell phones for forensic examination.
“The forensic probe of mobile phones will show the complete truth on the actual text messages between the players. Even if they erase the messages, these [can] be retrieved. There is no need to get a court order to force telecom firms to submit records of the text messages,” Acop said.”
Why is Napeñas the only one who agreed to have his phone undergo forensics?” he asked.
Acop said the text exchanges between the officials would clear up the specific actions taken during the retreat of the SAF troops after taking down their main target, Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.”
“The role of Purisima is far from being settled. The biggest question left unanswered is, were the military and backup SAF troops ordered to stand down? They were in position to help, but why didn’t they come to the rescue of their comrades?” Acop said.
Acop said the PNP board of inquiry would fall short of public expectation because all the information it gathered was given voluntarily and not coerced out of the officials involved.
“I believe the House is in the best position to demand this information with its subpoena powers,” Acop said.