The Daily Manila Shimbun


(UPDATE) Duterte hits Aquino as independent body will probe SAF 44 deaths

January 24, 2017

President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that he will form an independent body to investigate former President Benigno Aquino III and others, including the United States, on their involvement in the botched anti-terror operation that lead to the death of 44 police commandos two years ago in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

He ordered the Philippine National Police leadership to study the possibility of awarding the Medal of Valor, the highest award by the government to a man in uniform, to 42 other slain members of the Special Action Force.

"It (Mamasapano incident) was an American adventure with the cooperation of some and apparently with your (Aquino) blessing," Duterte said in a speech during the dialogue with family members of the slain policemen in Malacanang on the eve of the second year anniversary of the Mamasapano encounter that took place on January 25, 2015.

While Aquino assumed responsibility for what happened to the policemen, he said the former president never explained why it happened and why members of the Philippine National Police trained in "urban terrorism" were ordered to conduct the operation.

Duterte said he did not want to quarrel nor disturb the life of Aquino, but justice should be served.

"I do not want to pick a fight at this time in my life...but all of these investigations unfortunately left a void...I am not the brightest of the lawyers, but the investigation, there are lots of questions that (were) hanging. And unless we address the issues and find the reasons why, then the family of SAF 44 could take a rest," he said.

Duterte said Aquino, who worked then suspended police chief Director General Alan Purisima, in launching the operation to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias Marwan, should have utilized the Army, which was more familiar with the terrain.

"Why did you not use the Army? And why was it under wraps? And why did you hide it, which was actually an operation of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)?," Duterte said.

Duterte said he saw how Aquino handled the situation when he received the information about the tragic incident.

Duterte said he was one among those called by Aquino in Zamboanga City. Also present were then Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, whom he defeated in the May polls.

“I knew something was wrong. The general beside me whispered: 'Something horrible happened,’" said Duterte.

Duterte said how disappointed he was that he had to seek permission to leave when he heard Aquino asking a "general" for his advice on what should be done.

“You know, Mr President, I will not characterize your behavior but you would notice that I just stood and I said, ‘Mr. President, I am somewhat dizzy from the trip Can I beg the indulgence to leave?”

“I was really, sorry to say, I’d be honest and you can criticize me for this or whetever, this is a democracy and you can also--- I was really pissed off,” said Duterte in his speech.

He also hit former Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles for stopping Aquino to order the military to reinforce the policemen just to prevent the "breakout of war."

"The fighting started in the wee hours, in the dawn of the day until midnight. Why was no single rocket dropped?...Why did you enter into an operation which was really placing in jeopardy the lives (of the people), because at the end of the day, you would have decided not to send anymore?," Duterte said.

Deles, in a text message to the Daily Manila Shimbun, said: "That allegation is a lie. The records of the House and Senate bear me out. It would do well for the president to read the reports and refrain from engaging in alternative facts.”

Duterte said he would form a body similar to the Agrava Commission, which investigated the assassination of late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, to probe the Mamasapano incident.

He said the seven-man commission will be composed of retired justices of the Supreme Court, civilians and lawyers whom he did not know.

The Office of the Ombudsman filed criminal cases before Sandiganbayan against Purisima and ex-Special Action Force (SAF) Director Getulio Napeñas for allegedly violating the national police chain of command in connection with the Mamasapano incident.

The Office of the Ombudsman filed violation of anti-graft and corrupt practices act and usurpation of public function against the two.

Duterte wondered where the $5 million reward promised by the United States for the head of Marwan, who was killed in the operation, went.

"Who was interested in the money?," he stressed.

He slammed Purisima for directing the operation even if he was suspended.

The commission could use the available information and data which were gathered during the separate investigations conducted by the Senate, House of Representatives, the police and others.

The rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front, whose members were among those charged for the death of the SAF44, also conducted its own investigation.

The body could also seek information from the US on its participation in the operation, he added.

He said the commission could have until end of the year to come up with its report.

During the dialogue, the families expressed hope that under the Duterte administration, justice would finally be served.

They also asked the government to fulfill the promises it made to assist them, such as housing, livelihood, and scholarship program for their children.

The president promised to declare a "Day of Remembrance" for the SAF 44.

On the request of the families that the other slain policemen be awarded the Medal of Valor, Duterte ordered Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa to study the matter.

"You know, if it's sauce for the gander, it's also sauce for the goose. No one should be look into it," he said as he gave Dela Rosa until end of the month to come up with a recommendation. Celerina Monte/DMS