The Department of Justice (DOJ) may include in its probe the participation of the United States in the Mamasapano incident where 44 Special Action Force (SAF) members were killed.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday said it would be unavoidable to investigate the involvement of the US if it has a bearing on the criminal aspect of the case.
“Definitely, that would be unavoidable to look into. But it really depends, if it has any bearing on the criminal aspect of the matter. As I have said, the focus of the DOJ, the focus of our special team is based on the criminal aspects of the incident. Now, there are reports of alleged US involvement and the extent and scope of such involvement being reported in news items. But we do not see the priority in determining the culpability of people that ought to be held criminally accountable,” de Lima explained.
She said they have to look first at the incident to see who are involved and determine their criminal liability.
“We have the matrix of possible offenses because right after the incident, we prepared a matrix on the possible criminal cases, both under the Revised Penal Code and special laws, just like [Republic Ac] 9851. 9851 is the Philippine Act on Crimes Against Humanity, war crimes, against international humanitarian, humanitarian law. And the Human Security Act is also a special law. So, we will just have to find out the facts and see where they fall in our matrix [of criminal acts],” the Justice secretary added.
Meanwhile, the House leadership has been urged to summon US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg and other American military officials.
Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list made the pitch in light of claims from unnamed comrades of the “Fallen 44” that the US orchestrated the Mamasapano mission by training the SAF in La Vista del Mar Beach Resort in Zamboanga City, and by providing logistics and intelligence support.
The House committees on peace, unity and reconciliation and on public order and safety are holding an inquiry into the Mamasapano (Maguindanao) incident.
“We have said this before and we’ll say it again: It is apparent that the US played a pivotal role in this botched operation. I believe that we will not get any new compelling information in [our]congressional hearing if we will talk to the same police and military officials. No less than US Ambassador Philip Goldberg should be summoned to the hearing to explain Washington’s role in Oplan Exodus and all the other operations to capture Zulkifli bin Hir [Marwan],” Ridon said.
Aside from Goldberg, the lawmaker also wants to summon the head of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines—a US military unit representing the US Pacific Command based in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga.
“We’ve had enough of [resigned PNP chief Alan]Purisima and [SAF chief Getulio] Napeñas’ dilly-dallying on Washington’s real role in this operation. It is time that US officials themselves explain the scope of American intervention in this particular case,” Ridon said.
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello shared Ridon’s sentiments, saying there is no legal impediment in summoning the American officials to the congressional investigation.
“If the American personalities are in the Philippines, they can be summoned to shed light on the Mamasapano incident. The truth must come out so that justice will be served,” Bello added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also on Monday admitted there is a “regular intel [intelligence]sharing” between the Philippines and the US.
In a news briefing, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose clarified that the US presence in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash was upon the request of the Philippines for the extrication of casualties.
He denied that the US forces were in Mamasapano for the actual combat because “they are not allowed to do so.”
The US Embassy already denied that there were American casualties in the Mamasapano clash after reports indicated that American military personnel were seen fighting against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
It also denied that there were US drones in the area that possibly took the video of the 11-hour firefight.
WITH BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON