“It’s clear that the Americans had ‘unli’ participation in the Mamasapano operation and this was approved by President Aquino.” – GWP Rep. Luz Ilagan
By DEE AYROSO
On the second day of the resumption of the House probe on the bloody Mamasapano clash, Makabayan bloc lawmakers on April 8 said the President is accountable for violations of Philippine sovereignty and the Constitution because of the role of the US in Oplan Exodus.
In spite of explanations of government officials justifying US troops presence, the progressive lawmakers raised points that could indicate that Aquino allowed the US to have a lead role in the planning, funding, intelligence-gathering, and execution of the Jan. 25 Oplan Exodus which resulted in the clash that cost the lives of 67 elite commandos, Moro rebels and civilians.
“It’s clear that the Americans had ‘unli’ (unlimited) participation in the Mamasapano operation and this was approved by President Aquino. If we are looking for accountability, it’s there,” Gabriela Women’s Partylist (GWP) Rep. Luz Ilagan said.
“If there is any positive outcome in this investigation, it is that it exposed, through (Justice Secretary Leila) De Lima’s statements how government has become so subservient to the US, it has accepted the trampling of our sovereignty,” Anakpawis partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap said in a manifestation toward the end of the session of the joint committees for Public Order and Safety and for Peace, Reconciliation and Unity.
Aquino is accountable
GWP Rep. Emmi de Jesus quoted former President Fidel Ramos who said that Aquino violated the chain of command, under Executive Order 226.
In reaction, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima disagreed claiming that the concept of chain of command applies only to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) of which Aquino is commander-in-chief, but not to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Aquino is chief executive of the PNP which is a civilian force, she said.
De Lima, however said that as chief executive, Aquino may still be held accountable for any criminal, administrative or civil actions, but still has immunity from suit as president. De Jesus stressed that the President himself admitted responsibility for the Mamasapano clash during the PNP Academy graduation.
De Jesus asked that US officials and former President Fidel Ramos be invited to the investigation. She said Ramos’ interpretation of Executive Order 226 should be heard.
Act Teachers’ Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio said the presence of US troops in Oplan Exodus was “illegal and unconstitutional,” in spite of the justification by officials of the Departments of justice, foreign affairs and defense.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Evan Garcia said counter-terrorism activities are subjected to Philippine approval through the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) mechanism established under the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
“This is the established framework and we assume that all the operations on Mamasapano followed it,” Garcia said. He insisted that in spite of the Americans’ presence, Oplan Exodus was “entirely Filipino-planned and implemented.”
The MDB-SEB is co-chaired by the chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US Pacific Command, and is convened once a year to approve plans for cooperation, he explained.
However, government officials such as AFP Chief-of-Staff Gen. Pio Gregorio Catapang, PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Dir. Gen. Leonardo Espina and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas had stated in earlier probes that they were not aware of Oplan Exodus.
“Contrary to the statements by the DOJ and the DFA, there is no legal basis for the joint operation between the US military and PNP,” Tinio said.
“If it was between the US military and the AFP, that is covered by the VFA. But in this case, the US military was involved in a local law enforcement by a civilian, or police operation. This is not covered by the Mutual Defense Board, so it is illegal and unconstitutional, and should be charged against President Aquino,” he said.
Defense Undersecretary Lorenzo Batino insisted that Oplan Exodus was not a joint operation, but was “PNP-led and PNP-controlled.”
De Lima justified the Americans troops’ role saying that the MDT is the “overarching direction” for counter-terrorism activities that were conducted “in the spirit of cooperation.” She asserted that not every operation needs approval from the MDB-SEB.
De Lima also said the fact that the government entered into VFA is an exercise of its sovereignty.
GWP Rep. Ilagan questioned why the DFA was quick to claim that no Americans were involved in Exodus, when it turned out that they were present at the tactical command post (TCP).
“If the Americans provided intelligence, this does not make it any less Filipino,” Garcia said.
A US embassy official may be “either misinformed or had lied” to justify the presence of US troops in the medical evacuation of the casualties, said Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Carlos Zarate.
“They lied in the name of the AFP to justify their presence in Mamasapano,” he said.
Zarate cited the statement of Kurt Hoyer, Press Attache and spokesperson of the US Embassy in Manila who was quoted in a news report to have said: “At the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, US service members serving in JSOTF-P (Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines) responded to assist in evacuation of dead and wounded after the firefight in Maguindanao.”
Catapang, the Army’s Western Mindanao Command chief Gen. Rustico Guerrero and 6th Infantry Division Lt. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan denied that they requested the JSOTF-P for any aid for the Mamasapano incident.
It turned out that it was sacked Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) chief Director Getulio Napeñas who requested the medical evacuation.
“The normal procedure, if there is need for medical support, it should pass through me in behalf of my superior, Gen. Catapang,” said Guerrero.
Funds, maps, drones
Zarate and Ilagan, in their respective five-minute turns to ask the resource persons, casted doubt on claims by Napeñas that the US only gave support in intelligence and medical evacuation.
“Let’s stop the deception (Huwag tayong maglokohan),” Ilagan said, decrying Napeñas’ request for an executive session every time he was asked about the US participation.
“We cannot have a 100% Filipino operation when real-time, up-to-date and tactical information, high-tech communication and logistical equipment, drones artillery and funding came from the US government. They designed, implemented and controlled the operation,” Ilagan said.
She said the SAF men were killed in “a suicide mission which even sacrificed civilian lives.”
Napeñas had denied allegations of US funding, American casualties and the use of drones in the operation. He, however admitted during the April 7 session that the SAF’s tactical map came from their “US counterparts,” and was updated only two weeks before the Jan. 25 operation.
The PNP Board of Inquiry had said in its report that six US military personnel were at the TCP in Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao, and were the ones giving real-time information on the operation.
Napeñas said he had thought there were only two US personnel at the TCP, and said he only learned later that there was a total of six.
Fact-finding mission teams in Mamasapano led by Suara Bangsamoro had interviewed witnesses who described a “tall, blond, male Caucasian” as among the bodies retrieved from the encounter scene.
On April 7, 6th ID commander Pangilinan confirmed that a male “Caucasian in civilian attire” at the TCP told him to order the artillery fire. Pangilinan rebuffed the man saying that he was the one in charge and should not be ordered around.
Zarate also doubted Napeñas’ claim that only “less than P400,000” was spent for the operation which involved moving 392 police personnel across the country.
The BOI report cited Napeñas’ earlier claim that only P100,000 was spent. In the latest hearing, Napeñas told Zarate the expenses won’t reach P400,000.
Zarate said even a kin of one of the slain SAF men suspected that the US funded the operation, because their relative mentioned about renting a safehouse. When the SAF’s mother reacted that such option was “costly,” the SAF member said it was no issue, because “it’s the Americans who will pay.”
Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna said the President is accountable not only because he allowed suspended Police Chief Purisima to be involved in the operation, “but also because he ordered a stand down.”
Colmenares said the BOI report “has a lot of tell-tale signs of a stand-down,” which delayed artillery support which could have saved the embattled police commandos.
In a statement, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon criticized DOJ’s De Lima for “rationalizing America’s every move” and “serving as a mouthpiece of the US.”
Apparently anticipating questions on US involvement, De Lima came to the House meeting prepared with a statement explaining how the US role in Mamasapano is covered by existing bilateral agreements and does not transgress Philippine sovereignty.
“The reason we don’t have enough details about the actual role of the US in the whole operation is that the Philippine government is refusing to fully cooperate in all of the investigations, up to the extent that it is even covering up vital details that various investigators in the Senate and in the House are asking for,” Ridon said.
“There are clear signs that the Americans not only participated but also headed this operation,” Ridon said. “Why did Aquino push through with this operation? There are clues that point to US influence in this decision.”