THE chairman of the Senate Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation formally filed on Monday a measure seeking to create an independent fact-finding commission powerful enough to tap and order any agency to produce needed documents and to cite in contempt those who would defy or cause the delay of its mandate to investigate the clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that led to the deaths of 44 members of the elite Philippine National Police-Special Action Forces (PNP-SAF).
According to Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, the independent commission will be required to thoroughly investigate and find out the truth on what exactly happened in Mamasapano, a demand not only made by the families of the fallen SAF commandos but also by the people.
Guingona expressed belief that the only way to help heal the nation and honor the fallen troops of the PNP is to get the truth out, and the establishment of a truth commission makes that a possibility.
What happened in Mamasapano, he said, is a tragic incident and has raised many questions including trust, the very core principle of any peace agreement, and the commission could help provide answers.
In the proposed bill, the independent ad hoc fact-finding commission will be composed of a chairman and two commissioners, who will act as a collegial body.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd will be the one who will appoint members of the commission.
“The creation of this commission shall be our humble way of honoring our fallen heroes, who served the country with excellence, valor and patriotism. We should not allow their deaths to be in vain,” Guingona said in a media briefing.
The commission will also have an authority to order any agency of the government to produce documents relevant to the investigation and invite anybody, including the President, who could provide vital information in its search for the truth.
President Aquino admitted being aware of the police operation the resulted in the death of 44 highly trained police officers in the hands of Muslim rebels in the Maguindanao but there has been no information as to who gave the go-signal.
When asked if the truth commission will have powers to compel the President to appear in its proceedings, Guingona said he believes there will be no need to compel the President because he too wants the truth to come out.
The senator explained that since it would be Aquino who will approve the creation of the commission through enactment of a proposed bill seeking its creation, this would mean that the only way for the commission to exist is if the President supports it.
On the constitutionality of his proposed fact-finding body, Guingona said he is confident that his proposal will not suffer the same fate as the truth commission in 2010 that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC).
He said the new truth commission will stand legal scrutiny because it will be created through a law passed by Congress.
Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, however, sees no need for the creation of another fact-finding body, saying the Office Of the Ombudsman has all the authority to investigate the incident.
In a chance interview at the Senate, Panganiban said creating another commission is a disrespect to existing democratic institutions.
“The Ombudsman has the duty and power to investigate this (Mamasapano incident) and not only that the Ombudsman also has more power than what Congress can give because, under the Constitution, the Ombudsman can enforce decision[s], can suspend and can file cases against government officials,” he added.
The truth commission that congress is proposing will only have recommendatory authority.