This is not a demand for every fighter or member of the Moro Islamic liberation Front (MILF) to be fingerprinted, as seems to be the worry of President Aquino.
This is simply a basic point of query that is bugging the public and the relatives of the slain SAF commandos?
I skipped the broadcast of the Oscar awards yesterday morning in order to watch the resumption of the televised Senate hearing, and to find out whether Senate chief prober Sen. Grace Poe or some other senator would finally pop the question on who did the shooting and who killed the commandos.
But sadly, the question was not asked.
For an inquiry ostensibly called to investigate the Mamasapano incident and the death of over 60 Filipinos (44 commandos, 18 rebels, some civilians), it is inexplicable why the Senate has studiously avoided asking about who exactly died and who did what. If as has been suggested in media reports, certain groups did the killing, who are these groups? Who is finding out?
After four public hearings and two executive sessions, the Senate inquiry remains absent-minded and unfocused. With so many generals, police officers and civilian officials on hand as resource persons, no one asked and no one was asked to make a report on the killings.
The public has been led into so many directions, many citizens now sometimes forget what question the inquiry is really trying to answer.
Among these distractions are:
What is President Aquino’s accountability in this incident? Did he authorize the SAF operation? Why did he not order reinforcements?
Which general refused the request or order to provide relief and rescue?
What was suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima doing in this operation? Who gave him the authority to be involved?
Did the United States have a role in the incident? Did it suffer casualties?
All these questions are important, but some concerned citizens are so confused they believe it’s time to turn to Sen. Lito Lapid to conduct the inquisition, because he used to make the bad guys squirm and pay in his movies.
In the afternoon session, Sen. Ralph Recto indirectly asked about the killings in questioning peace adviser Teresita Deles and Justice secretary Leila de lima about whether the MILF will submit the names of its combatants. But the exchange was timid and roundabout.
Inquiry needs no-nonsense investigators
This shortcoming of the Senate inquiry underlines why an independent, bipartisan commission of inquiry, empowered by Congress, would have been the better mechanism for investigating Mamasapano. As long as the houses of Congress are doing the inquiring themselves, this affair of state will not get anywhere.
Here are some key reasons why, based on my reading on how independent commissions – like the Kennedy assassination commission and the 9/11 commission –have functioned in US history (there are fat books on the commission reports):
1. The Senate inquiry is nursing the illusion that it can establish facts and obtain disclosures by having senators throw clever questions at resource persons. Whenever the witness clams up or invokes executive privilege, it stymies the method.
2. An impartial inquiry will employ topnotch investigators and lawyers to conduct investigations of leads and question witnesses. They will be under obligation to establish facts and secure relevant documents.
3. An impartial inquiry can still be open to the public, but it need not have intrusive TV cameras intimidating witnesses and encouraging senators to grandstand.
4. An impartial inquiry would not summon the President to testify in open court. It will conduct the questioning or interview in private.
5. An impartial inquiry can delve in a more holistic way into big topics like: the nature of the government’s deal with the MILF, its impact on the incident, the nature of US engagement in the anti-terrorism campaign in Mindanao and Sulu.
It can also address in a more coherent way how the Bangsamoro project impacted the incident.
A high standard of acceptability
The writing of the commission report and findings will become the highlight of the inquiry.
The report will be thorough, detailed and clear. It will leave little room for doubt or interpretation.
Once the report is submitted, Congress must either accept or reject it. In the traditional congressional inquiry, either house must take it or leave it.
Not so with a independent commission report. Congress must decide as a matter of public responsibility. The public will also judge whether the commission has done right by the dead in Mamasapano.
As things are, there is little chance that the Senate inquiry can produce a report that will satisfy this high standard of acceptability.