Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian questioned the House leadership’s decision to indefinitely suspend the joint hearings on the botched SAF operation in Mamasapano last Jan. 25, in which 44 commandos of the Special Action Force or SAF were slaughtered.
Gatchalian said the abrupt suspension of House hearings, which was timed with the Senate’s executive session on the ill-fated SAF operation, only fueled speculations that Malacanang was not happy with the way the congressional probes were leading to.
“Putting a lid on the House and Senate probes will only raise suspicions from the public that a cover-up is in the making especially after President Aquino’s direct hand in the SAF operation as well as the United States’ role in the effort to capture Marwan are slowly being unraveled,” said Gatchalian.
The unfortunate developments in the House and Senate inquiries, the solon said, point to the fact that the families and loved ones of the 44 slain SAF troopers as well as the public at large could not expect an objective and impartial investigation from both chambers of Congress.
He further said the chambers of Congress are dominated by President Aquino’s allies and party-mates from the Liberal Party.
“This is the reason why I am calling for the creation of an independent fact-finding panel that will investigate the bloody Mamasapano incident which led to the slaughter of 44 SAF personnel as well as the death of 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters and three civilians,” said Gatchalian, who filed House Bill No. 5404 known as the “Mamasapano Truth Commission Act”.
Gatchalian said the 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 resource persons and witnesses, including President Aquino.
“Being the servant of the public, 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,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian maintained that the President should be among those who will be summoned by the commission following persistent reports that he gave the “go-signal” for the SAF operation and that he even flew to Zamboanga on Jan. 25 to monitor the progress of the operation.
“The President should attend the proceedings of such commission if his testimony is needed and truthfully answer the questions of the panel. He should lead by example,” said Gatchalian.
Gatchalian said the twin ideals of justice and peace were in his 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 (SB) 2603 filed by Senators TG Guingona, 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 and the submission of its final report and recommendations for filing of cases will not be delayed.
Gatchalian’s measure 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,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian added that 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.
Gatchalian’s H.B. 5404 is based on Republic Act 6832, which established the Davide Commission that investigated the series of coup attempts against the administration of then President Corazon Aquino. (R. Burgos)