Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian filed on Feb. 4 House Bill (HB) No. 5404, to be known as the “Mamasapano Truth Commission Act”, that was patterned after the Davide Commission that investigated the series of attempted coups d’état against the government of former President Corazon Aquino.
“Being a public servant, it is of utmost importance for the President to have the truth commission institutionalized at the shortest possible time given the clamor for truth by his bosses. As many people say: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’,” he said.
Gatchalian, a Nationalist People’s Coalition member, said the urgency and gravity of the January-25 incident requires the swift passage of a measure establishing the Mamasapano Truth Commission that will have the power to summon resources persons and witnesses, including President Aquino.
The solon maintained that the President should be among those who will be summoned by the commission since there have been persistent reports that he was the one who gave the “go-signal” for the Special Action Force or SAF operation and that he even flew to Zamboanga on Jan. 25 reportedly to monitor the progress of the operation.
The SAF operation in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao led to the slaughter of 44 police commandos of the SAF as well as 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF elements, and a number of civilians.
“The President should also attend the proceedings of such commission if his testimony is needed and truthfully answer the questions of the panel. He should lead by example,” Gatchalian said.
The twin ideals of justice and peace was in Gatchalian’s mind when he decided to file HB 5404 that seeks to create a truly independent fact-finding commission tasked to unveil the truth of the Mamasapano incident.
“The Mamasapano Commission will be responsible for investigating the preparation and implementation of the SAF operation, the real sequence of events on the ground during the incident itself, and any other occurrences material to the identification of the accountabilities and liabilities of all parties either directly or indirectly involved in the incident. In pursuit of this responsibility, the Commission shall be vested with broad investigatory powers,” Gatchalian said in his explanatory note.
Compared to Senate Bill or SB No. 2603 filed by Senators Teofisto Guingona III, Bam Aquino, and Koko Pimentel, Gatchalian’s bill contains stringent and scrupulous provisions as safeguards to make sure the commission will be independent from vested interests.
It also ensures the submission of its final report and recommendations for filing of cases will not be delayed. Here are the salient points of the Gatchalian’s bill:
- To make concerned parties accountable, HB 5404 mandates the Mamasapano Truth Commission to recommend administrative, and criminal cases against those found to have committed certain offenses in the preparation and implementation of the SAF operation, as well as any committed during the conflict itself.
In case there is sufficient basis to believe a party is liable for human rights violations, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, the Commission is also tasked to endorse to the Office of the Solicitor General the filing of complaints in competent international courts such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
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- House Bill No. 5404 imposes stricter qualifications for the members of the Mamasapano Truth Commission. The head of the commission should be a retired Justice of the Supreme Court. In comparison, SB 2603 only requires that the chair be a member of the Philippine Bar practicing law for at least 10 years. The other four members of the commission must be members of the academe, clergy, or any respectable and duly licensed profession.
Aside from the age and nationality requirements, all members including the chair must have no pending administrative or criminal cases against them in any court and must not have been a public officer in any capacity for at least a year before their appointment to the panel. The latter rule exempts those who are considered public officers solely by reason of their tenure as a member of the faculty of any state university or college.
All members of the commission shall be appointed by the President within 15 days after the measure’s effectivity. Once appointed, the Commission must promulgate its rules and regulations within seven days.
- Gatchalian’s measure also has a strict timetable due to its sunset provision. The Mamasapano Truth Commission is given only one year to accomplish its mandate to ensure swift accountability.
Proceedings and hearings of the Commission shall be open to the public except when matters of national security or public safety are involved or the personal safety of the witness is on the line.
The bill also provides: “No person shall be excused from attending and testifying or from producing documents, books, records, correspondence, or other evidence in obedience to a subpoena issued by the Commission on the ground that the person’s testimony or other evidence required of him may tend to incriminate him or subject him to penalty or forfeiture.”
No court, except the Supreme Court, shall issue any restraining order or preliminary injunction on any matter involving the official acts of the Mamasapano Truth Commission.
The fact-finding panel’s terminal report shall be published in the Official Gazette upon its transmission to the President and the Congress and shall be made available for download online for public. (R. Burgos)