Belmonte proposes joint House, Senate probe into SAF men killings
MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Monday proposed conducting a joint investigation with its Senate counterpart into the killing of 44 members of the Special Action Force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Belmonte was referring to moves by Senator Teofisto Guingona III and Abante Mindanao Representative Sitti Turabin-Hataman to file a bill creating a Truth Commission, which will be composed of former magistrates, to investigate the carnage that was downplayed by authorities as a “misencounter” with the MILF rebels.
Belmonte said both houses of Congress are the proper fora to conduct an investigation, which is essential to legislative function.
“Personally, my preference is that the House continues with its probe, and if that turns out to be a tedious process, another proposal is a joint hearing with the Senate,” Belmonte said.
“We are the proper party, not some retired justices… Congress has certain inherent powers,” the House leader said.
The Speaker made the statement as Congress is conducting hearings for the passage of the Bangsamoro basic bill, which has been under the rocks since the involvement of the MILF in the Mamasapano “misencounter.”
The bill, a result of decades of peace talks between government and MILF, seeks to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a more politically autonomous Bangsamoro entity.
Belmonte also reiterated some Muslim lawmakers’ concerns that the creation of a Truth Commission would result in an “anti-Muslim sentiment.”
“They wanted to make sure that they are also for peace, that they are Filipinos same as everybody else. I completely sympathize with them,” Belmonte said.
He also said invited resource persons need not go back and forth between two Houses of Congress if a joint hearing is conducted.
“For the sake of efficiency and not requiring people to come twice,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte said the MILF attack somehow eroded lawmakers’ trust in the Bangsamoro bill, but he assured that the chamber still supports the passage of the bill that seeks to implement the peace deal between the government and MILF.
The attack happened on January 25 when the SAF commandos went to an MILF area in Mamasapano to serve arrest warrants on a wanted Jemaah Islamiyah member from Malaysia who was bomb expert and a local terrorist.
But the police officers were fired at by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and armed elements of the MILF 105th Base Command.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and other administration officials toned down the attack by MILF as a misencounter and a result of the lack of coordination. MILF lead peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal meanwhile said the attack by MILF was only an act of self-defense as the police commandos were in an MILF territory.
The Philippine Army did not send reinforcement during the attack as it was supposedly not informed about the covert and eventually disastrous operation by police director Getulio Napeñas, the sacked SAF commander who was said to be at fault for keeping the mission secret.
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