THE Senate report on the Mamasapano incident in which 44 police commandos were killed by Moro rebels should include possible blunders and lapses committed by President Benigno Aquino III, Senator Francis Escudero said Thursday.
At the “Kapihan sa Senado” forum, Escudero said he believed the President committed no crime when he consulted and coordinated with resigned police chief Alan Purisima, who was suspended at the time on corruption charges.
But he said the President was wrong when he gave Purisima a role in the covert police operation. It was Purisima, he added, who fed the President the wrong information.
“But then again, we have the benefit of hindsight,” he said.
At the same forum, Escudero joined calls in the Senate for members of the government peace panel negotiating peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to be replaced if they cannot even side with the 44 police commandos killed in Maguindanao.
“They’re not doing their jobs and it is but proper to replace them with people who are capable of doing their jobs,” said Escudero.
Escudero was referring to presidential adviser on peace process Teresita Deles and government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, who senators including Escudero accused of speaking on behalf of the MILF instead of pushing the government agenda.
During the Senate hearings on the Mamasapano incident, Deles and Ferrer were even helping MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal answer questions, he said.
“Yes, they may have gotten the confidence of the MILF but what about the confidence of our fellow countrymen whom they should be representing?” Escudero said.
He said he was not asking Deles and Ferrer to fight with their counterparts, but show that they side with the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos who lost their lives in Mamasapano.
“They have to show that they’re siding with the government and our own military and police. The MILF is already good at negotiating, and they seem to be representing them wherever they go,” said Escudero.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano has also called on President Benigno Aquino III to fire Deles and Ferrer, slamming them for speaking for the MILF during congressional hearings.
“The OPAPP [Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process] and our peace panel seemed to be not members of the government. They’re all members of the MILF. I don’t know what’s happening to them,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano said the President should replace Deles and the other members of the peace panel with officials who can better represent the government’s side in the Mamasapano incident.
But Senate President Franklin Drilon dismissed calls for Deles to be fired, saying it would achieve nothing and only derail the peace process.
“I appeal for a deeper public support and understanding of the role of the government peace panel in the realization of our goal of providing lasting and genuine peace in Mindanao, which for four decades suffered from all forms of insurgency and criminality,” said Drilon.
He said Deles and Ferrer and the rest of the government peace panel were tasked with securing peace in Mindanao, and their actions before and after the Mamasapano incident are based on their mandate.
“Let us not be too hard on those working for the preservation of the peace process with the MILF. Contrary to accusation, our peace panel is actually protecting the government and the Filipino people’s interest by protecting and continuing the peace process amid the tensions resulting from the Mamasapano clash,’ said Drilon.
He added that it was “highly unfair and improper” for people to label as traitors those striving to ensure peace.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the President still maintains faith and trust in the members of the government peace panel.
”The faith and trust of the President to the peace panel members, including Secretary Deles and Professor Ferrer, remain intact. They perform their duties based on the guidelines given by the President,” Coloma said in a press briefing in Malacanang.
Drilon said he agreed with the President that the Palace-drafted Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is the lynchpin of the government’s peace agreement with the MILF, should not be diluted by Congress in the wake of the Mamasapano massacre.
“We will not dilute [the bill]. We will examine it closely and modify the provisions which we believe are not consistent with the Constitution. That’s what we are going to do. I don’t think dilution is the correct term but we have to modify and look at each provision carefully,” Drilon said.
Senator JV Ejercito, however, said the Senate cannot approve the BBL with closed eyes and full trust in confidence in the common desire for peace.
“The Mamasapano massacre awakenedthe entire nation. People, especially in Mindanao, are telling us to be very careful in railroading the BBL’s passage. The SAF 44, who were massacred by 800 MILF members, did not die in vain. They provided us the light to serve and protect the foundation of the 1987 Constitution and the one Republic of the Philippines,” he said in a statement.
Ejercito added that if the BBL is not passed during Aquino’s term, the effort can be continued by the next administration.
Escudero said the Senate should immediately come out with its committee report on the Mamasapano investigation, simultaneous with the reports from the police board of inquiry and other agencies that conducted investigations into the deadly clash.
He said the Senate findings should also include the alleged involvement of MILF and its possible liability, the effect or impact of the botched operation on the ongoing peace talks between the government and the MILF and on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The report should also touch on the liability of certain police and military official, as well as members of the government peace panel, including Deles and Ferrer.