The past week has been about the Senate and Congressional Committee Hearings on the Mama-sapano tragedy. And rightfully so.
Of course one wishes it were less of a circus, less of a performance, and that includes the two-day Senate Committee Hearings, never mind that they tried to be less excitable during the Thursday session. Save for Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago of course, who was her normal self, providing the media with soundbites, declaring the President responsible for the Mamasapano tragedy. One wishes there were more Senators like her.
The senators’ preemptive strike
But even before the hearings, we knew about where our Senators stood with regard to the President. One just needs a sense of where some of them have always stood across the political spectrum. Some of them declared loyalty as early as a week after the Mamasapano tragedy.
Senator Antonio Trillanes had declared that SAF Chief Napeñas is the one at fault here, for violating the chain of command and taking orders from suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima even with PNP OIC Espina in place. As early as February 5, the Senator had already cleared Purisima and the President of all responsibility. He asserted that the suspended PNP Chief might have been giving directives “out of instinct,” and it was up to Napeñas to take those as he might. Trillanes then said that the President can’t have been responsible either, because “you don’t go to Malacanang, bringing all the maps and everything. Wala tayo sa war time scenario. Ganun lang ‘yun, it’s either a go or no go because the President is presuming that all the commanders below him would know what to do.” (5 Feb, Congress website)
The Senate President also absolved the President of any fault under the concept of command responsibility. On February 2, Senator Franklin Drilon said: “I do not agree that President Aquino has incurred any liability on the principle of command responsibility under international law. Under the Rome Statute, command responsibility will apply if the superior, knowing his subordinates will commit a crime, fails to stop the commission of the crime, or knowing that his subordinates committed a crime, fails to punish them. In this particular case, the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police, per news report, was there to serve a warrant of arrest to known terrorists, not to commit any crime, so the principle of command responsibility does not apply.” (2 Feb, Congress website)
Senator Koko Pimentel had already called that people be “calm and circumspect” with regard to calls for the President’s resignation, because that “would be counter-productive” and “lead to a shake-up in the government.” He further stated that in this “highly volatile situation, we need a leader <…> we need the President to lead us out of these dark days.” Pimentel was certain that the government was “doing its best to get to the bottom of this,” calling on us all to “give the government a chance to right the wrong.” (8 Feb, Congress website)
On all three days of the Senate Committee Hearing the past week there was a very clear sense of push and pull, like a performance where all the actors were giving and generous with each other, sharing in the spotlight, allowing each one to bask in the glory of five minutes.
Led by Senator Grace Poe, it was also very clear—and expected— which Senators were out to distract from the questions on responsibility that would point a finger directly at the President. On the first two days of the Senate Committee Hearing, it seemed like Napeñas was the one being blamed for the failed operation, because he was the one on the ground, he was the one issuing orders to the SAF, he was the one who decided to listen to suspended PNP Chief Purisima and not inform his superiors about Operation Exodus.
One couldn’t but feel bad for Napeñas, because anyone at all who deals with the structure of power would know that his decision to take those directives from Purisima as orders, could only be informed by (1) Purisima’s friendship with the President and the circumstances that surrounded the briefing with the President, and (2) the fact that despite having been suspended as PNP Chief in December of last year, Purisima had yet to vacate the official residence of the PNP Chief.
Napeñas was a victim of this power structure, one can’t help but believe. And it’s a power structure that has the President right at the very top.
Congress shows us all
It was in Congress that we got more information about the President’s complicity in this operation. And yes, he had his yellow army there (Rep. Erice comes to mind), but also there were members of the Makabayan Bloc reminding us all why we need some like ‘em in the Senate.
It was Representatives Antonio Tinio, Neri Colmenares, and Terry Ridon who got the information we needed out of the same resource persons that the Senate had already had for two days. And they remind of how questions that are purportedly about finding the truth, can be —are—manipulated and spun in order to keep us farther from it.
And so we find out that in fact Gen. Rustico Guerrero was with the President in Zamboanga while the Mamasapano operation was ongoing, and that by the afternoon Guerrero was texting with the Army’s Major Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan, asking about the “rescue or resupply” of the 84th SAF as per the President. Part of the text read: “Best effort without endangering our reinforcing troops per guidance from President” (18:56PM, 25 Jan).
Guerrero had received a text message from PNP OIC Espina as early as 6:00AM asking for help for his SAF troops in Mamasapano. Guerrero had said that he had been with the President, and Secretaries Roxas and Gazmin from 10:00AM until 10:00PM on January 25.
Certainly it was chaotic most of the time in Congress, and it didn’t help that the one presiding over the Committee Hearing, Representative Jeffrey Ferrer, was in over his head.
But it was here that we had Presidential friend Purisima thoughtlessly invoking executive privilege he doesn’t have, just to say that he needs Presidential clearance to share his conversations with the President. It was here that Espina’s frustrations were made clear, where three days sitting at committee hearings across the Congress and the Senate must have made him feel like it was a pointless exercise, where the truth is not exactly the point, and the lives of his men are sacrificed, the SAF Chief’s career jeopardize, in the name of keeping those culpable and guilty from paying the price of this tragedy.
And just for these, I’d rather have a House over a Senate hearing anytime. I’d rather a circus that is confusing but daring, than a wonderfully staged performance that does nothing but follow a script.