Perhaps, it was for this that Providence, and the Supreme Court, plucked Sen. Juan Ponce-Enrile from premature retirement and life-threatening confinement, and returned him to the Philippine Senate. We needed him for one last act (???) of service to the nation.
Of all the republic’s senators, JPE alone has the necessary gravitas and knowhow to persuade the chamber to re-open its unfinished and inconclusive inquiry into the Mamasapano incident or massacre that brutally took the lives of 44 SAF (Special Action Force) elite commandos of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on January 25, 2015.
JPE had the courage to demand on the Senate floor why no committee report was submitted to the Senate plenary for debate and approval. He contended that there were many questions that were not asked and were unanswered in the earlier inquiry early last year. He contended that unless these questions were satisfactorily answered, the Mamasapano massacre would not find closure, and the SAF 44 and their surviving families would not get the justice they are desperately seeking from the government.
In short order, thanks to his tenacity, Enrile secured a consensus among his Senate colleagues for the reopening of the Mamasapano hearings. And they fixed the date for the inquiry on January 25, 2016, the first anniversary of the tragedy.
This stunning development has met skepticism and cynicism on many fronts and from many groups. But as the hour of the new inquiry, nears, Monday, January 25, support from the public for reopening the inquiry has been overwhelming. The people, no less than the senators, want to know what really happened in Mamasapano.
Presidential inhibition is the real problem
Certain parties, notably Malacañang, have floated the charge that the new inquiry is politically motivated. They have demanded that senators running for office in May should recuse or inhibit themselves from participating in the hearings. It has predictably fallen on deaf ears. When the inquiry is gaveled to order on January 25, all the nation’s senators, except for the sick and disabled, will be there.
One veteran Senate hand describes the situation to me this way: “In all the demands and counter-demands for inhibition in the projected reopening of the Senate inquiry, there is one thing that should be recognized at the outset: It was President BS Aquino’s inhibition in revealing all that he knows and what he did not do on January 25, 2015 that has kept the whole story from being told and prevented closure of the tragedy.
That policy of presidential inhibition and non-cooperation is not about to change, judging by the last statements from the Palace. Assurances from senators like Bongbong Marcos that the President will be treated fairly and with utmost respect have been dismissed out of hand.
Said Marcos: “President Aquino should not be afraid of attending the hearings. We won’t make things difficult for him. All we want to know is (1) what were his instructions to his commanders in the highly secret operation; (2) what was the reason why DILG Secretary Mar Roxas was not informed of the operation; and (3) why was the command structure of the PNP not told about the Mamasapano operation.”
Coloma’s shield of verbosity
Aquino’s response to the Senate request that he attend the Senate inquiry and answer questions, has been to hide behind the numbing verbosity of Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., who expresses at will what he thinks is or should be in the President’s mind.
Coloma explained Aquino’s decision to snub the inquiry, by saying that the President has expressed his sentiments and said his piece on the incident many times last year. Sentiments? We want to know what he knows and what he did.
Coloma persisted: “There have been a number of investigations conducted and completed on the matter by the PNP [Philippine National Police] Board of Inquiry, House of Representatives, Senate and the Commission on Human Rights and also the DOJ [Department of Justice] and NBI [National Bureau of Investigation]. The Office of the Ombudsman also conducted its own probe. The President repeatedly discussed this issue in many of his public appearances last year.”
But the fact remains that Aquino never once explained in detail what he knew or did on January 25.
Coloma sought to douse a statement of Senator Enrile that they will zero in on the participation of Aquino in Oplan Exodus when the congressional probe reopens on January 25.
Coloma declared that there are constitutional parameters that should be followed regarding an invitation by Congress for the President to appear in any of its investigations, especially since the executive and legislative are co-equal branches.
Coloma maintained that should the members of the legislature deem it right to invite top government officials, including the President, the invitation should be in accordance with the dictates of the law.
“If they have prepared questions, the executive is ready to answer them even before the resumption of the Senate hearing on January 25,” Coloma said.
“We just hope that the time of our lawmakers and government officials would be spent justly instead of wasting it [in]politics,” he concluded.
Will Senator Poe chair the new inquiry?
Another point that has been the subject of discussion is whether, Sen. Grace Poe, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order, will chair the resumption of the Mamasapano hearings.
As most people will remember, it was Sen. Poe in tandem with Sen. Francis Escudero, who directed the thrust of the earlier inquiry. It was they who decided not to call President Aquino to testify (in executive session or in writing). It was they who abruptly decided to end the hearings.
And it was they who decided not to submit a committee report to the Senate plenary for debate.
It was Sen. Poe who decided to offer the media and the public an executive summary of her committee report. She extracted every ounce of publicity from the innocuous statement that “President Aquino was ultimately responsible for what happened in Mamasapano on January 25, 2015.”
I wrote in a column last year that Sen. Poe’s decision not to submit a full committee report, and her decision not to call President Aquino to testify turned the Senate inquiry into a travesty. All the histrionics about “ultimately responsible” signified nothing.
Ms. Poe failed her mission for the Senate the first time around. The chamber should not entrust to her inexpert hands this exceptional second chance afforded the chamber to do what is right in the Mamasapano inquiry, and for the fallen SAF 44.
The Senate will not fail them and the nation this time. JPE will see to that.