• Aquino: Alternate version may be totally false

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    President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday clarified he did not say that the “alternative version” of the infamous Mamasapano incident was the truth.

    “Gusto kong idiin, hindi kami nagsasabi nitong alternative version ay sigurado na kaming ito ang totoo. Hindi namin sinasabi na . . . We are not discounting the possibility na baka totally false ‘yung alternative version [I’d like to emphasize, we never said that we’re sure that the alternative version is true. We are not discounting the possibility that it could also be totally false],” Aquino said in Iloilo City.

    “And dulo ng lahat ng ito, gusto nating malaman yung the whole truth and nothing but the truth [The end we’re pursuing is to find out the whole truth and nothing but the truth],” the President added.

    He earlier said there is an “alternative version of events,” which is “undergoing very intense scrutiny.”

    A newspaper–not The Manila Times–had reported that suspected terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was killed by his aide, contrary to official accounts that he was gunned down by a Special Action Force (SAF) raiding team.

    Over 60 people, including 44 police commandos from the SAF, were killed in the January 25 encounter during a mission to arrest a suspected international terrorist in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

    “There were suggestions that there was a different version of what happened there. Now, there’s an investigation and we want to know the truth and debunk the other version. Is the version given by SAF the complete account of what happened?” Aquino said in Filipino.

    In Malacañang, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the President was not offering an “alternative truth” to the Mamasapano incident.

    “The President was asked if the Mamasapano already had a closure, and he said it has reached a point when he has been informed of alternative version of events. What he said is not an alternative truth, but alternative version of events. That distinction is important,” Coloma told reporters after his office presented its P1.31-billion budget for 2016 before the House appropriations panel.

    “It [statement on having alternative version of events]shows that the President is open to a continued search for the truth, which is also what our people want,” he said.

    Coloma maintained that the President would not be speaking about the Mamasapano probe anymore because it could hamper the efforts of the investigators in finding out the truth.

    “He did not mention any source, but he is confident with the various government agencies [put in charge of finding justice],” he pointed out.

    Also on Monday, the Board of Inquiry under the Philippine National Police released its report stating that the SAF killed Marwan.

    Coloma clarified that the President does not seek to refute such report of the board or any other investigating body, including the Senate panel headed by Sen. Grace Poe–the pre-election survey leader for both the presidential and vice presidential races.

    “[The board’s report] is a concluded report, while Congress is a co-equal branch and we respect their rights [to probe],” he said.

    Aside from the dead policemen, another apparent fatality of the Mamasapano incident was the pending proposed law for the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region–product of a peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) inked in March 2014.

    Because of the MILF’s involvement in the SAF deaths, the lawmakers’ support for the Bangsamoro measure has turned cold.

    Why kill anew the SAF 44?

    The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay also on Monday slammed the President’s “alternative truth” on the Mamasapano incident.

    “How many times do they [Malacanang] have to kill the SAF 44?,” Rico Quicho, the Vice President’s spokesman on political affairs, said in a statement.

    He questioned why the Palace was busy disproving a statement made by then-SAF commander and Director Getulio Napeñas that it was his men who killed Marwan when it should be urging Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to file cases against those responsible for the killing.

    Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., meanwhile, said the “alternative version” of the Mamasapano operation is an attempt of the President to cover up the mistakes that were made in carrying out the operation.

    Marcos at the same time expressed dismay over Aquino’s pronouncement, noting that it would appear that the President finds the MILF more believable than the police officers who took part in the operation.

    “How do you think our policemen feel? They are the ones who made the sacrifice and here comes a made-up story making it appear that the MILF is the real hero, not the policemen,” he said.

    WITH BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA

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