A YEAR ago today, the country was shaken by the shocking news that 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) were mowed down in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other private armed groups.
As Filipinos mark the tragedy’s first anniversary, families of the victims continue their quest for justice since the investigation of the clash by the Department of Justice (DOJ) is yet to be finished.
Lawmakers and the kin of the fallen police commandos have decried the delay.
With the time the investigation is taking, a lawmaker expressed fear that the search for justice may slip from the public’s attention.
“People should not forget. Nor forgive. How can we move on? If we cannot find closure, then Mamasapano will be a festering sore in our collective national psyche,” Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan told The Manila Times.
“This is really justice delayed, justice denied, with the DOJ responsible for the delay, ironically,” she said.
“The probe has been overtaken by events, including a reopening of the case. I am afraid elections will soon hog the limelight and grab the public’s attention so that holding [President Benigno] Aquino [3rd] accountable for the debacle will become a post-election issue,” Ilagan added.
1-BAP Party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello, a former Justice secretary, echoed Ilagan’s concern.
“Our fallen troops can only obtain justice by quick and effective prosecution and conviction of the perpetrators of the crime of the decade. The DOJ should explain the long delay in the prosecution of the case,” he told The Manila Times.
The Senate Committee on Public Order led by Sen. Grace Poe is set to start its reinvestigation of the matter on January 27, with some quarters hoping that the inquiry would provide clearer answers especially with the claim of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile that he has new information that may pin down President Aquino.
Poe’s committee has said in its report that Aquino may be partly blamed for the killing of the SAF commandos.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Ombudsman, which initiated a fact-finding probe in February 2015, has approved a recommendation of its special panel of field investigators to initiate preliminary investigation against former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, retired police director and former SAF chief Getulio Napeñas and nine other police officers.
The Ombudsman, however, said “whatever participation the President may have had in the Mamasapano incident does not amount prima facie [based on a first impression]to a criminal offense, neither was his participation analogous to any of the impeachable offenses.”
No charges have also been filed against the 90 people, including 13 commanders of the MILF who are facing complaints at the Justice department.
Poe’s committee had recommended the filing of charges against Purisima and Napeñas for usurpation of official function and neglect of dut, respectively.
The committee also recommended the filing of murder and frustrated murder charges against members of the MILF, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the private armed groups who killed the SAF troops.
Autopsy reports showed that 26 of the 44 policemen were shot in the head and of the 26, seven were shot in the back of the head; seven were shot near or between the eyes; and the rest either in the temple or on the jaw.
“The trajectories of the bullets further indicate that the shots were fired while [the]victims lay on the ground. A number of the SAF troops had their vests removed before they were shot,” Poe’s committee report said.
The report did not satisfy Enrile, who sought a reinvestigation.
In calling for the reopening of the Senate probe, he said the proceedings are meant to help bring justice to the slain SAF men and their families and let the people know what really happened on January 25, 2015.
According to Enrile, he was able to talk to some survivors and relatives of the SAF men while he was on hospital arrest last year.
Among those who have been invited to the Senate hearing on Wednesday are former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Philippine National Police chief Ricardo Marquez, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang, Purisima, former PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina and Napeñas.
Enrile, during last week’s session, took the floor and confirmed that he has evidence to prove that Aquino allowed the SAF commandos to die.
He said he also has proof that the President was monitoring the encounter while he was in Zamboanga City attending a command conference with security officials.
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has expressed hope that the new probe will bring clarify “details that weren’t entirely clear during the original hearings.”
Marcos said former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and her successor should also attend the inquiry so that they can discuss the status of the case at the DOJ.
“I want to know why charges have not been filed yet. Why is it that the families of the SAF 44 are still waiting for justice?” he noted in an interview.
Senators have dismissed allegations that the reopening of the Senate investigation of the Mamasapano massacre is politically motivated.
Poe, who will preside over the inquiry, allayed fears that the probe will be used by senators to advance their political agenda.