Duterte hits Aquino on Mamasapano
President Duterte announced on Tuesday the creation of an independent commission to look into the Mamasapano massacre and challenged former President Benigno Aquino III to come clean and answer lingering questions on the slaughter of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos two years ago.
Speaking in Malacañang before relatives of the slain troopers on the eve of the second anniversary of the carnage that sparked widespread outrage, Mr. Duterte claimed that the clandestine operation to get Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was actually an operation of the US Central Intelligence Agency, a charge Philippine and US authorities had previously denied.
“I’m addressing myself to former President Aquino. I don’t have any quarrel with you. I don’t want to disturb your life now that you are retired … But all the investigations unfortunately left a void and unless we address the issues and find the reasons why, (only) then will the families of the SAF 44 have a respite,” Mr. Duterte said.
“Otherwise, they will bring to their grave the hurt and agony that they had to endure losing a husband, a father, a brother. The investigation, you could have completed it,” he added.
Mr. Duterte said it was not enough for Aquino to own up
responsibility for the Mamasapano bloodbath without explaining what exactly were his mistakes that led to the slaughter of the elite troops of the Philippine National Police.
Frivolous and absurd
The Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday indicted former PNP Director General Alan Purisima and SAF Director Getulio Napeñas for bypassing the chain of command in carrying out the operation that killed Marwan.
Purisima had been suspended on a graft case when he and Napeñas planned the assault on the terrorist hideout in the cornfields of Mamasapano in Maguindanao.
Aquino was not among the respondents in that case.
After Aquino stepped down at the end of his term in June last year and lost his presidential immunity from suit, three criminal complaints were filed against him by relatives of the slain SAF commandos.
Aquino then dismissed the complaints as “frivolous” and “absurd.”
“The loss of the SAF 44 is a tragedy,” he said.
“I reiterate that if my instruction to then SAF Director Napeñas were followed to the letter, perhaps the risks of the operation could have been minimized, and that this tragedy could have been averted,” he added.
There was no immediate comment from Aquino on Mr. Duterte’s challenge to him to explain his entire role in the operation.
Mr. Duterte asked Aquino why the SAF personnel, whom he claimed were only trained to fight urban terrorism, and not the Army, were deployed to carry out the operation.
“They are practically surrounding the Mamasapano area. Why did you not use the Army? And why was it under wraps? And why did you hide that actually it was an operation of the CIA?” the President said.
“What was so special about the SAF?” he asked.
“Why was SAF sent there when SAF is organized and geared into the service to meet the challenges of urban terrorism? Urban is urban. They should be here in the city,” he added.
In announcing his plan to form an independent commission to look into the Mamasapano slaughter, Mr. Duterte said he would appoint men of integrity, including Supreme Court justices, to compose the panel, ostensibly similar to the citizen’s group headed by retired Justice Corazon Agrava that investigated the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino on Aug. 21, 1983, on his return from three years of self-exile in the United States.
“You can summon and even ask the United States government and their participation and where did the reward money go,” Mr. Duterte said, referring to the $5 million US bounty for the head of Marwan.
The US Embassy has said its involvement in Mamasapano was limited to airlifting casualties, in accordance with existing protocols.
Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna on Tuesday filed a resolution urging the House of Representatives to “further investigate the unanswered and unresolved” issues in the Mamasapano debacle, particularly how much Aquino knew of the operation and the participation of the United States.
Zarate said in his resolution that further probing into the US involvement in the antiterrorist operation called “Oplan Exodus” would be in line with President Duterte’s “pursuit of having an independent foreign policy,” including his desire to get US forces out of Mindanao.
Zarate listed a number of what he deemed were unresolved “significant issues” from the Mamasapano encounter, including whether there was an order for the military to stand down in the face of the ongoing slaughter of the troopers.
“While results of the investigation have uniformly established the full knowledge and approval of the operation by President Aquino, and the supposed ‘limited involvement’ of the US, yet, these details were no longer pursued nor were further details threshed out—a sheer injustice and disservice not only to the kin of the victims, including the SAF members, but, more importantly to the Filipino people demanding justice,” Zarate said.
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