Smart: No record of Aquino, Purisima texts
The Senate public order committee is weighing its options following its failure to get the text messages between President Aquino and former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima concerning the Jan. 25 Mamasapano clash.
The contents of the text messages between Purisima and Mr. Aquino are significant to the investigation, not only by the Senate but also by other bodies looking into the Special Action Force (SAF) tragedy, because the investigators want to know what the President knew about the operation, when he learned about it, and what he did after learning about it.
The committee headed by Sen. Grace Poe plans to submit its report on its investigation of the clash between SAF commandos and Moro rebels by the third week of March.
But with only two weeks to go, it is now unlikely the report will benefit from knowledge of the messages between Mr. Aquino and Purisima as the SAF commandos were getting slaughtered and crying for reinforcements.
The Senate sent a subpoena to Smart Communications to submit transcripts of the text messages, but the telecommunications company replied that its system could not track the contents of the text messages of its subscribers.
Telecommunications industry officials told the Inquirer earlier that while it is theoretically possible to intercept and read subscribers’ text message exchanges, telcos do not.
They said that as a matter of policy, telcos do not read or store messages because of the high volume of message traffic in the Philippines.
Monitoring and storing all messages would entail significant costs, they said.
Purisima, who admitted to having a role in the SAF operation despite being suspended, disclosed his exchange of text messages with President Aquino about the mission at a hearing conducted by Poe’s committee, and the directive to Smart was made to verify the information given to the panel.
Poe confirmed on Friday that Smart had written to the committee saying that its system was “not capable of tracking the contents of SMS [short message service].”
Smart could only track the log of the time and numbers, “and said it would require either a court order or written consent from the subscriber for it to comply,” Poe said in a text message.
Poe said she was studying what the committee would do in light of the situation.
“The committee is still weighing its options on the matter given time consideration and the relevant legislative recommendations in the committee report,” she said.
She also confirmed that she wanted to complete the committee report on the investigation by the third week of March.
In an interview earlier this week, Poe said the committee already had a draft report.
She also said the report would deal with the issues of command responsibility and the “time on target” concept, or the disclosure of a covert operation to other authorities as soon as it has begun.
Purisima became embroiled in the ensuing controversy when information emerged that Director Getulio Napeñas, the SAF commander who was sacked in the wake of the unit’s biggest single-day combat loss, was in touch with him during the operation even though he was suspended over graft allegations.
Although admitting to responsibility for the intelligence information, Purisima denied directing the actual operation, saying Napeñas was the ground commander.
Office of the President, too
Poe said she would not hesitate to include in her committee’s report the wrongs that had been committed, intentional or not, as well as what had been done about them.
The report will also mention the Office of the President, she said, adding that it is part of her job.
“All those involved in this operation would need to be mentioned. If they are not mentioned, nobody would believe the report,” she said.
Poe said she would not allow the report to be watered down, as her name was at stake.
“I would not allow this to be diluted because I would have to answer to the public for this,” she said.
The report may also contain recommendations to bring charges against certain officials and recommended solutions to the problems identified by the inquiry.
Expected to be included is the narration of events by the survivors, who will not be named in the report.
The report will also deal with questions about the involvement of the United States in the SAF operation.
To be excluded are intelligence data discussed during closed-door sessions, including the tipsters who gave the location of terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan, and Basit Usman,” Poe said.
She said the contents of the report would help people see what needed to be the focus of the scrutiny of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would establish a new autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao.
Poe said the report would not tackle the provisions of the BBL, but it would delve into provisions relevant to the Mamasapano clash.
The Mamasapano tragedy has delayed passage of the BBL by Congress and thrown in doubt the completion of the peace process between the government and the MILF.
As for the report of the PNP board of inquiry, Poe said it would be useful to the Senate in cross-checking figures. Some of the documents the public order committee used for its report came from the police inquiry board, she said.
Poe said the police report should be made public, as it is about accountability. The findings on the liability of officials must be disclosed, she said.
Classified information involving national security or diplomatic relations can be included in a private report, Poe said.
Matters that do not jeopardize national security, diplomatic relations, ongoing criminal investigations or the privacy and safety of certain people should be disclosed, she said.
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