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Lawmakers bash bid to stop probes by Congress

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AN opposition leader on Wednesday deplored what he called the “yellow-washing” of congressional probes led by administration allies into the bloody Mamasapano debacle in which 44 police commandos were killed by Moro rebels.

“Today we observe the 29th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA revolution and the first month of the Mamasapano tragedy in mourning,” said the interim president of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco. “We mourn for the truth, the 45th casualty of the Masapano encounter.”

Tiangco said the decision of the Senate and the House to terminate their investigations of the Mamasapano incident was not only a whitewash, but a “yellow-wash” instigated by administration loyalists in Congress.

“The leaderships of both Houses cannot deny the fact that they have been pressing for an early termination of the hearings. This is clearly yellow-washing but their efforts will not remove the stink of a cover up,” he said.

Tiangco said he found it disturbing that the Senate committee on public order would terminate the hearings just when clear timelines and roles were being established.

Tiangco also took a swipe at administration allies in the Senate for dragging out an investigation against UNA’s presidential candidate for 2016, Vice President Jejomar Binay, but rushing to close the Mamasapano probe.

“The issue is not whether or not the committee is dragging the issue further… The issue is that we are still far from uncovering the truth,” he said.

Tiangco said the big question on everyone’s lips still remained: What was the role of President Benigno Aquino III in the mission that claimed the lives of 44 Special Action Force commandos? 

“My guess, and your guess are as good as everyone else’s. But when there is no closure to an investigation that seeks to determine the truth, especially who was responsible for and what went wrong in the operation, the public will always openly suspect a cover-up,” he said.

Tiangco said the Senate hearings “saw the outright lying or incompetence of civilian security officials.”

“Last week they claimed they had no knowledge of the Mamasapano incident until the afternoon [of Jan. 25] and thus the lame excuse that they were not able to inform the President,” he said.

Then on Monday, there was a detailed narration that said the President had been informed about the operation early in the morning of Jan. 25.

“The cover-up stinks. The yellow-washing in Congress stinks even more,” Tiangco said.

Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop said the police board of inquiry could only manage a half-baked investigation of the incident unless the cell phones of resigned police chief Alan Purisima and other generals are surrendered.

Citing a reliable source, Acop, a former police general turned lawmaker, said Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang, Jr., Army’s 6th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, and Western Mindanao Command commander Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero failed to surrender their phones despite repeated requests from the board of inquiry.

Acop said it was imperative for the Armed Forces to submit their cellular phones in light of President Aquino III’s complaint before lawmakers during Monday’s briefing at the Palace that he was not only given inaccurate information, but was fed lies on the urgency to rescue the police commandos in Mamasapano.

“The evidence of text conversations are in their cellular phones, if these would not be submitted, the results of the inquiry could be incomplete and half-baked because we will just accept their word in toto. The evidence is in the cellular phones,” Acop added.

At least three opposition lawmakers urged House leaders to resume the probe.

Reps. Silvestre Bello III of 1-BAP party-list, Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers party-list said the resumption of the hearings on the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) should be conducted parallel to the House probe into the bloody incident.

“We should resume the House probe into the Mamasapano incident,” said Bello, who took the Senate to task for hearing testimony behind closed doors.

Zarate said the effort of the House leadership to cover up the truth would not succeed.

He also warned that the BBL hearings might be used as a venue for some House members to ask questions about Mamasapano.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said it is was clear there was a cover-up to protect the President from any liability.

“From the changing script of Cabinet members to the attempts of his allies in both the Senate and the House to shield him from accountability, it is apparent that there is a massive cover-up plan that’s now being implemented,” Ridon said.

Ridon said compared the cover-up operation to the Watergate scandal, which eventually led to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon.

“The Mamasapano cover-up will be Aquino’s Watergate. Instead of continuing in this obvious effort to escape accountability, Aquino should instead admit responsibility and bare everything he knows,” Ridon said.

Ridon said that the Palace’s cover-up scheme is not air-tight and will soon crumble.

“The details have not been fine-tuned and there are glaring inconsistencies in their new cover-up story. It’s apparent that it’s nothing but a last-ditch effort to make it appear that Aquino was not at fault for the botched Mamasapano operation. This cover-up attempt will remain at that – an attempt,” he said.

The independent minority bloc in the House said an independent truth commission would erase fears of a cover-up.

“The steadily increasing number of versions of the encounter makes it imperative to form an independent and non-government truth commission which will solely probe the slaughter,” said Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, the leader of the bloc.

In the Senate, the committee on peace, unification and reconciliation approved a bill creating a Mamasapano truth commission after only one public hearing with two senators in attendance.

Emerging from Wednesday’s public hearing, Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the committee, said the bill is ready for plenary debates after it was approved on the committee level.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III joined Guingona in the public hearing, but Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, who was their co-author in the proposed measure, failed to attend the hearing.

Senator Aquino, a cousin of the President, said he believed the truth commission proposal would not prosper because it was rejected by their counterparts in the House of Representatives. – With Macon Ramos-Araneta




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