After bravely and patiently watching for two days the second and third hearings of the House inquiry into the Mamasapano incident, I will say that the recent hearings are worth all the cost (probably millions because it features scores of congressmen and resource persons) and all the waiting (the inquiry was hurriedly aborted after just one chaotic hearing last February).
My prayer that the House inquiry could serve as the nation’s best hope for clarity and closure on this national tragedy appears to have been answered.
The hearings, this second time around, were orderly, focused, and expertly steered. Bickering and grandstanding were reduced to a minimum. The questioning was crisp and incisive; the witnesses responded forthrightly, and no one wiggled away with half-truths and evasions.
Most significant, the most sensitive points for inquiry were squarely addressed. The country’s representatives did not mince words or slink away from the challenge. The House spread its net in a way designed to catch many fishes – even if the biggest fish of all (Aquino 3rd) was gifted with a pardon by his loyal subject, Speaker Belmonte. (In America, in stark contrast, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush submitted themselves to questioning by the US Congress.)
I shall get to the most significant disclosures shortly, point by point. I will desist from making a glib comparison of the Senate and House inquiries, pending the completion and submission of the House report.
For now, taking into account the earnest efforts and merits of the two inquiries, I will simply say this: There is no upper and lower house in our Congress. The old and conventional disparagement of the House as the junior chamber no longer holds true. The traditional seniority of the Senate has been tarnished by scandal. They have both been smeared by the addiction of their members to pork and Malacañang bribery.
What we have is truly a bicameral legislature, much like the Roman god Janus, who had two faces and a split personality.
Tough and thorough oversight
To the credit of the House, the hearings dispelled for me the belief of many that congressional oversight from the House of Representatives would not be as tough and through as that exercised by the Senate.
This is evident in the questions and revealing disclosures during the hearings. My list below covers only a part of the ground covered.
Question: Why did the AFP fail to provide timely and effective response to the request of the Special Action Force (SAF) for rescue and assistance? Who stopped the Philippine Army mechanized brigade from delivering artillery fire to help prevent SAF casualties?
From repeated questioning on this, the finger of suspicion narrowed down to Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army in Mindanao, as the one who held back army troops from unleashing artillery fire to save the beleaguered SAF units. He kept invoking the excuse that there was not enough information about the position of SAF units, which was adequately answered early in the morning of January 25.
SAF director, Gen. Getulio Napeñas testified that he and his troops were left up in the air by their superiors – in effect that many of the SAF commandos were sacrificed in Mamasapano.
To this, AFP chief of staff Gen. Gil Catapang responded angrily that trust between the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) is high, but it is only Napeñas who distrusts the military.
Iqbal, man of many names
Question: Is MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal a Filipino? How many passports does he have? What is his real name?
Answer: “Mohagher Iqbal” is a nom de guerre, a common practice of leaders in a revolutionary organization. In fact, he has other aliases.
Under questioning, Iqbal declared his citizenship is Filipino; but his identity is Bangsamoro.
He has a Filipino passport. And he has only one passport.
He declined to reveal his true or real name, but he said his real name is known to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Is a formal document signed with an alias binding? Secretary De Lima ran away from this question.
Aquino: above and beyond command chain
Question: Is President Aquino subject to the chain of command of the PNP and the AFP? Is he subject to the penalties for violating the chain?
Answer (from Secretary De Lima): President Aquino is above and beyond the chain of command of the military and the police. The PNP is just another civilian agency of the government.
Question: What did Aquino mean when he took full responsibility for what happened in Mamasapano?
Answer (from De Lima): Aquino meant that he owns responsibility and accountability for what happened.
So responsibility and accountability are the same thing.
Question: How is justice for the slain commandos to be rendered. What has the government uncovered that can enable the nation to reach closure on Mamasapano and hence start the process of healing and rebuilding?
Answer: The Department of Justice is in the process of completing its investigation of the incident, through its special investigation team, which includes the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). De Lima said the DOJ report will be released on April 16.
De Lima also disclosed that the DOJ has in custody a confidential witness who saw what happened in Mamasapano.
She assured the families of the victims and the public that charges will be filed in due course against all those who were responsible for the killings. The same goes for those who may be guilty of administrative offenses.
SAF dead, when Aquino acted
Question, throughout the 25th of January, when the incident was unfolding and the situation was life or death for the SAF commandos, did President Aquino issue any instruction to the military and police commanders for their rescue?
Answer (from General Guerrero): His only instruction was: “No friendly fire,” in order to avoid government troops and police from firing at each other. That was the sum of Aquino’s intervention in the tragedy that was unfolding.
By the time Aquino issued his cryptic instruction, many of the commandos were already slain.
One curious indicator of how seriously everyone treated the two House inquiries, was the premium value that the interrogators and the witnesses attached to the time allotted them. Many asked for more time — even just seconds – to make or complete their points. Oftentimes, some representatives lent their time for questioning, like it was pasa load in wireless phones.