I will say again what I wrote back in March in commenting on the multiple inquiries and conflicting versions of the events in Mamasapano: “The truth has one version – only one.”
I believe it is appropriate in light of President Aquino’s new tack of disclosing to the media and the public that there is “an alternative version of what took place in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January 25.”
The provocative statement has predictably drawn comments and criticisms from all quarters. It could trigger a storm of new official inquiries, as if those already conducted and concluded are still not enough.
What the President said at the informal forum at the Inquirer was this: “I still have quite a number of questions, and there are various agencies of government tasked to ferret out the truth of exactly what happened in its entirety. There is an alternative version of events that happened there, which is undergoing very intense scrutiny. We are looking for witnesses that will prove or disprove certain observations.
“Certain quarters raised certain points that led to the alternate version. There is no conclusion at this point,” he added.
He suggested in no uncertain terms that this alternate version varies greatly from the popular version that is generally believed by the Filipino public – that 44 commandos of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were killed or massacred by Muslim rebel forces in the incident.
The repercussions of this presidential statement will be multiple and possibly controversial.
The widows and families of the fallen, and possibly some sections of the police, will protest.
Certain groups, dissatisfied with the official inquiries will move to conduct their own investigations. Already, the AFP has disclosed that it has been conducting its own inquiry.
And then there is Sen. Grace Poe, who surely will not bypass the opportunity to get in front of the cameras again.
Special commission was needed
The senator declared last Thursday that she is considering reopening the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano massacre to investigate the claims of President Aquino 3rd that there is “an alternative version of events” that was being subjected to “intense scrutiny.”
Senator Poe, as chairman of the Senate committee on public order, led the Senate inqury into the incident.
At the conclusion of the inquiry, she revealed to media an executive summary of her committee report. But she did not submit her report to the Senate and her colleagues, and was heavily criticized for the lapse.
Now, she claims that she submitted her report to the Office of the Ombudsman. Why the Ombudsman? What will the Ombudsman do with it? Will she craft a new legislative proposal to submit to Congress?
Regarding Senator Poe’s idea of reopening the Senate inquiry, the response of the Senate President Frank Drilon and her colleagues was lukewarm. The proposal will need to be approved by the entire chamber. With the election campaign looming on the horizon, it will only gain support from legislators who need the publicity for their reelection bids.
The consternation over the President’s disclosure only goes to show that Congress should have created a special commission, vested with full powers, to investigate the massacre.
That idea found support in both houses of Congress and many media organizations and citizen groups, but because of the rush of the PNP and the Senate to conduct their own inquiries, the proposed commission was set aside.
Had the commission been constituted and enabled to do its work, we would be not be bamboozled by Aquino’s claims of an alternative version of events.
He would not have come up with this version, because the commission would surely have forced the President to give testimony, written or in person, on what he knew about the operation and why he failed to authorize a rescue operation on the day of the incident.
That commission inquiry would have ended with a report that at least would have gained wide public support.
A hole in the nation’s psyche
I have also written on why Mamasapano has left a big gaping hole in the nation’s psyche (“Let us honor our commandos with the truth”, Times, January 29, 205), that remains up to now.
I wrote then:
“We cannot bring our commandos back to life. But we can honor them by bringing out the truth. The whole truth of how they died, why they died, and who are responsible.
‘Every sorry and sordid little fact, every misstep, step by painful step, should be brought to light. Nothing should be kept in the dark.
“Calling the tragedy a “mis-encounter” is a coverup. It will only lead to a more explosive and dangerous situation.
“As we went to press last night, President Aquino was scheduled to address the nation and report on the tragedy, finally breaking his inexcusable silence on the issue for nearly four days.
“I hope that with this speech, unlike his speeches in the past, the president did not hide from the facts and the issues.
“The truth, as it has started to emerge from inside information and disclosures to media, is very sad, tragic and unpleasant.”
President Aquino was right about one thing in his remarks at the Inquirer: there is no closure because the full story has not been brought out — especially his role in organizing the SAF Operation Exodus, and his failure to order rescue operations when the SAF commandos were under attack.
There are more questions to answer and facts to be uncovered.