Levity, frivolity mark 7-hour circus
The House of Representatives hearing on Wednesday on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano massacre started in disarray and ended in utter disorder.
In between the seven-hour circus was a roller coaster of emotions—from rage and anger to anguish and despair to levity and frivolity.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said that it was understandable that Netizens described the House probe as a bunch of buffoons given the circumstances.
“It’s not easy controlling over 100 congressmen all eager to have their say on an emotional topic,” Bello said in a text message. Mercifully, he did not participate in the meeting.
Bello said the House hearing was a “microcosm of society and its behavior reflected the conflicting feelings roiling the country.”
“To expect the committee to display the usual low-key, courteous behavior is unrealistic given the high emotions running through society today. I expect more tears and anger at the next meeting,” Bello said.
He said one of the wisest things the committee did was not to show the video purporting the gory slaying at gunpoint of one of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in the encounter with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, or the “room would have exploded.”
The burly Negros Occidental Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer and portly Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman looked like a bunch of stumbling amateurs trying to control dozens of lawmakers from diverse backgrounds and interests all eager to get five minutes of face time in a rare, live broadcast of a House committee hearing.
As chairs of the House committees conducting the probe, Ferrer and Salliman clearely did not have the chops to contain their colleagues, some of whom were more senior and more politically savvy, and they could have benefited from the stabilizing presence of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who was absent.
In contrast, Senate President Franklin Drilon attended the joint committee hearings in the upper chamber on Monday and Tuesday.
Ferrer, chair of the committee on public order and safety, and Salliman, chair of the special committee on peace, reconciliation, and unity, were suddenly thrust into the limelight after they were tasked to handle what was supposed to be a briefing on the Jan. 25 incident involving the SAF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
The Nograles Hall was filled with a horde of reporters and camera crew, police and military officials with their staffs, and lawmakers who used to be police and military officers, Muslim rebel peace representatives, governors and mayors.
The hearing started 9:30 a.m. in a state of confusion with a lot of background noise one usually expects in a marketplace.
Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia immediately proposed that another hearing be set even before some members had warmed their seats.
Ferrer and Salliman were hard-pressed to keep their colleagues from speaking all at the same time on the speaker phone.
They argued on whether the resource persons should be allowed to make their statements first or the lawmakers could ask questions in between. They argued on how long each lawmaker should ask their questions, disagreed on whether they could pass on their unused time to another.
Escape from ‘zoo’
They even fought about how to count their five-minute allocation to propound their questions, specifically on whether they should include their introductory statements that lasted longer than five minutes.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin were lucky, to have escaped the “zoo” at 12 p.m. to attend a meeting with President Aquino and were spared another four hours of redundant questioning.
Ferrer himself was bored by the statements of the police and military officials tasked to conduct the briefing for merely repeating statements they earlier gave during the Senate hearings.
During sacked SAF chief Getulio Napeñas’ opening statement, Ferrer twice asked, “Tapos ka na ba? (Are you done?)”
Ferrer told some of the resource persons to cut short their presentations and stop wasting the time of the august body.
The hearing ended at 4:30 p.m. when Salliman banged the gavel to announce the adjournment and resumption on Tuesday. But it was not without incident.
A-Teacher Rep. Julieta Cortuna took offense when a member sought adjournment at 4:00 p.m. because the session had started. Cortuna had waited hours for her turn and she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The committee chairs obliged and she came off ranting rather than asking the resource persons. Cortuna demanded that the military and police apologize.
When another member moved for adjournment, Pangasinan Rep. Kimmy Cojuangco raised her voice and complained that 50 other lawmakers were waiting for their turn to ask questions.
She said that the start of the session meeting was no reason to cut short the hearing originally scheduled to end at 3:30 p.m.
Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon said he would reiterate his proposal for the Senate and House to hold a joint inquiry where all selected members of the House would be allowed to join.
Belmonte had asked Drilon for a joint hearing but this was turned down as the senators preferred to do the probe separately.
Ferrer appealed to his members that all would be given the chance to ask questions in the next hearings scheduled on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Biazon was incensed when political ally, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. was speaking loudly while he was making a point during the hearing.
“I expect to be listened to when I am speaking,” said Biazon.
Tupas claimed he meant no offense as he was only answering a question of another colleague.
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