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Aquino orders DOJ to conduct own probe, case buildup of Mamasapano clash

MANILA, Philippines—Will too many cooks spoil the broth?

President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the Mamasapano debacle, perhaps the worst security nightmare in his term.

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Forty-four police commandos of the Special Action Force (SAF), 18 guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and a number of civilians were killed as government security forces killed international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, in Maguindanao on Jan. 25.

With the DOJ probe, there would be at least seven investigations into the debacle, including the Philippine National Police’s Board of Inquiry (BOI), the probes by the House of Representatives and the Senate, the MILF’s Special Investigation Commission (SIC) and that of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), a group of foreign military officials that monitors the implementation of the ceasefire agreement among others.

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The Commission on Human Rights is also conducting a probe of the debacle.

A Truth Commission to conduct an independent investigation has also been proposed in the Senate, where Mr. Aquino himself might even be summoned to shed light on what he knew about the operation that was so secret, not even the highest security officials in his Cabinet, the military and police were briefed about it.

Malacañang said the DOJ investigation would not be a “duplication” of the PNP BOI probe.

The DOJ investigation will be conducted “in close coordination” with the BOI, according to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.

“It is inappropriate to view this as being a duplication. The relevant information that may be gathered by the DOJ from the PNP-BOI and other sources may be used in the case build-up phase that precedes the filing of charges before the courts,” he said.

To the question of whether the various investigations would muddle the truth and confuse the people, Coloma replied:

“That would be up to them. To us, we are doing everything we could to have a complete and full narration (of events) and find out the truth because this is important to give justice to those who died.”

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Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said her office would create a special team of probers to gather evidence and prepare charges for those who could be held liable for the clash between government security forces and Moro guerrillas.

“I’m confirming [that there] is indeed the instruction of the President to the Department of Justice to undertake buildup and prepare the appropriate or necessary criminal charges against those [who] may be identified or determined to be responsible to what happened,” De Lima told reporters in an interview.

The Secretary said she has started the process of constituting a joint special team from the National Prosecution Service and the National Bureau of Investigation. The team will be directly under her supervision.

“We will be closely coordinating with the Philippine National Police, with the Board of Inquiry. And of course, we will not be precluded also from gathering evidence so as to help in the case buildup,” she said.

De Lima denied news reports that the DOJ was set to file cases against specific individuals, adding, ““I don’t know where they’re coming from. We are still speaking with the PNP and the board.”

She said the case buildup would focus on the preparation of criminal charges “based on the evidence that are gathered and are being gathered, those already gathered by the board, by the PNP, by the military and those that will be obtained from the congressional inquiries.”

The team members from the NBI will be in charge of gathering evidence while the members from the NPS shall be tasked with evaluating and assessing the pieces of evidences “to see whether they are sufficient for the purpose of filing charges, what charges can be filed, and against whom they filed, to be filed,” she added.

Coloma, meanwhile, said the Palace “acknowledged” the bills that were filed by Senators Teofisto Guingona III and Bam Aquino, the President’s cousin, on the creation of a fact-finding commission.

He said the information that would be gathered by the PNP-BOI and the IMT, along with the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), could become “useful reference for their work,” referring to the Truth Commission and the investigations done by the Senate and House.

“Let’s give the process started by the Board of Inquiry a chance to find out every aspect of the operation, from the planning to the retrieval of the bodies of the slain PNP-SAF,” Coloma said.

Asked if the President would be willing to face the Truth Commission and narrate the facts that he knew about the security operation, Coloma said he had not spoken to the Chief Executive about this.

But Coloma said that from the get-go, the President had explained and narrated what he knew about “what had happened.”

Coloma added that when the President spoke last Friday to the SAF commandos who were wounded in the encounter, he asked them to write down everything they remembered about the operation because what they knew was vital information.

“That’s why government is doing everything to find out the whole narrative about this and that is what the Board of Inquiry is doing. We are hoping that before the week ends, the (BOI) can give us a progress update for us to know what are the relevant information they had gathered,” Coloma said.

Coloma also said that it would be the Senate or the House that would choose the members of the Truth Commission and not the President, allaying the fear expressed by Vice President Jejomar Binay that the commission would not be an independent one if Mr. Aquino would choose its members.

The Commission on Human Rights, meanwhile, is conducting a two-day mission to start its independent probe on the bloody encounter in Maguindanao which left 44 Special Action Force troopers dead.

A team from the CHR main office, led by CHR chairperson Loretta Rosales, left on Tuesday for its “in situ” scoping mission in Cotabato City and in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Aside from Rosales, the team was comprised of lawyers Homero Matthew Rusiana, Marc Titus Cebreros, Twyla Rubin, and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary.

“The mission includes an ocular inspection of the encounter site on Wednesday, a memorial mass on Tuesday and several consultation meetings with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities, the International Monitoring Team, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” said Cebreros, the CHR spokesperson.

The CHR regional office and the ARMM local government is also providing support to the two-day mission.

Rosales earlier condemned the killings of the 44 SAF commandos, who were in Mamasapano to serve arrest warrants against two high profile terrorists.

“There have been calls for a more independent investigation. The CHR, given its mandate under the Constitution and various laws, will at this moment, define the basic principles, scope and parameters of its independent investigation through this two-day scoping mission,” she said.

At the end of the scoping mission, the CHR is expected to have established prima facie elements that will warrant an investigation based on human rights and international humanitarian law standards.

The CHR is also expected to have adopted a terms of reference and work plan on its proposed independent investigation, as well as to have obtained political endorsements of investigations from various stakeholders.

Meanwhile, the CHR said around 1,500 families were displaced by the January 25 incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao which killed 44 policemen, 18 MILF combatants and five civilians.

“All of these occurred within the context of an ongoing peace process and despite the protocols that have been put in place to prevent incidents such as this,” the CHR stressed.

The CHR cited mechanisms such as the CCCH and the IMT, which have been put in place following a similar incident in 2011 in Al-Barka, Basilan, during which soldiers were killed on a law enforcement mission.

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TAGS: board of inquiry, case buildup, CCCH, Ceasefire, Commission on Human Rights, Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, Department of Justice, Etta Rosales, fact finding, House of Representatives, inquiry, International Monitoring Team, investigation, Leila de Lima, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, news, peace process, Philippine Congress, Philippine National Police, Senate, truth commission
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