ENOUGH of the theatrics, we’ll get down to business.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. and Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman, who heads the House Committee on Peace,Rreconciliation and Unity, said this on Monday, or a day before the House of Representatives resumes its inquiry into the January 25 police mission in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The operation carried out by the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) resulted in the killing of international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan. Over 60 people, including 44 members of the PNP-SAF, were also killed in an ensuing gunbattle.
The congressional inquiry was initially shelved pending release of findings of the PNP-Board of Inquiry, the Senate Committee on Public Order and the special investigation committee of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“We’ll have it [in a]more orderly [fashion]this time,” Belmonte said in a text message.
Salliman said the committee would not invite President Benigno Aquino 3rd to the two-day hearings that were set after almost two months since the House opened its inquiry. Families of the policemen who were killed in the Mamasapano mission were invited to serve as resource persons.
Congress drew flak from the public after its first hearing on February 11 saw congressmen stepping on each other’s toes in their bid to hog the limelight.
Salliman said they would not allow their colleagues to use the congressional inquiry to as a platform for grandstanding.
“We are not after the emotions. What we want to achieve is to get outputs for the Committee Report that will provide justice [to the 44 Special Action Force policemen]. If the manifestation is all about emotions, then we won’t allow it,” he noted in a separate interview.
A joint congressional panel allocated two days for the inquiry.
“We have spent enough time for the outpouring of grief and all sorts of emotions. And those feelings were perfectly understandable,” Salliman said.
But for Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, the vice chairman of the House peace, reconciliation and unity panel, they would be wary of repetitive questions as these would only mean rehashed answers.
“What the committee has to decide [on]are the areas of investigation [that]are yet to be adequately covered by the voluminous [PNP-BOI] report and the Senate investigation. If we will be asking the same questions all over and getting the same responses, the hearing loses its value,” he said.
“There should be more order in the hearing. Otherwise, we will be the laughing stock of the people,” Baguilat added.
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, vice chairman of the House public order and safety committee, agreed that there is no room for mistakes.
“The members have learned from what happened in the past and we have agreed that the hearing should go smoothly,” Alejano, a former Army officer, said.
Meanwhile,the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) has found that both government troops and the MILF violated a ceasefire agreement during the bloody Mamasapano incident.
Findings of the IMT were presented by government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer in a news briefing also on Monday.
The IMT is a multinational body headed by Malaysia, the peace-talks facilitator, and is responsible for monitoring implementation of agreements between the Philippine government and the MILF.
It said ceasefire protocols were not observed during planning and executing of the mission.
There is probable cause to assume that the PNP-SAF troops were the first to open fire, which is a violation of the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities regarding aggressive actions, an IMT report on the findings said.
“This indicates a ‘full firefight rather than a mere uncoordinated movement,’” the IMT report added.
The report stated that the MILF did not violate international humanitarian law by carrying out summary executions but noted that the group “should have respected their counterparts and the SAF commandos.”
There was not sufficient evidence that MILF combatants were responsible for the summary executions of the police troops since there were no witnesses, it said.
The IMT reported that there was no evidence that the MILF as an organization coddled Marwan and Filipino terrorist Abdul Basit Usman but considered the possibility that some of its members may have been aware of the whereabouts of the two fugitives.
The report highlighted the lack of coordination between the SAF and the MILF during the operation.
“AHJAG [Ad Hoc Joint Action Group] can inform CCCH [Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities] less than 24 hours before or within reasonable time for civilian evacuations and to avoid armed confrontation between GPH [Government of the Philippines] and MILF forces,” it said.
Civilian protection under the ceasefire agreement was violated when two civilians were killed during the firefight, according to the IMT report.
“Most MILF fighters carry firearms while interacting with civilians, adding confusion to law enforcement agencies and which could result [in]civilian casualties,” the report said, adding that the police commandos failed to take precautions to protect civilians.
The IMT recommended that the PNP and MILF combatants found to have committed crimes should be penalized under Republic Act 9851 or Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity.
To resolve the issue or deter future similar cases from happening, it said, the government should coordinate and initiate use of conflict-prevention mechanisms available when launching law-enforcement operations in known MILF areas and a higher ranking PNP officer should be assigned to the CCCH.
The IMT also recommended that the MILF should strengthen its command and control among its ranks as well as intelligence in its organization.