Why look into Mamasapano again?
President Duterte’s plan to form an independent commission to reinvestigate the events that led to the death of 44 members of the Special Action Force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, two years ago raises some questions about its timing and motive.
He announced this plan to the relatives of the fallen SAF troopers shortly after a number of police officers were implicated in the kidnapping and slaying of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo.
The gruesome incident drew public outrage because of its brazenness and brutality. Jee was killed in the premises of the Philippine National Police headquarters. His body was brought to a funeral house owned by a former police officer, before it was cremated elsewhere and the ashes flushed down the toilet.
The crimes were committed in the name of the PNP’s campaign against illegal drugs, which the President has repeatedly declared as one of the cornerstones of his administration.
The PNP’s reputation is in tatters. Jee’s murder reinforced the widespread belief that police officers are behind the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country.
The proposed new inquiry into Mamasapano appears to be an attempt to refurbish the badly tarnished image of the people whom Mr. Duterte has put at the forefront of his war on drugs. By reliving the sacrifice made by the SAF44, he is subtly appealing to the public to maintain its trust and confidence in the PNP despite the fact that some of its personnel used his campaign against illegal drugs as cover to commit crimes.
The subliminal message of his “damage control” action is this: The SAF44 represents the true character of the PNP, not the handful of police officers who exploited the war on drugs for their personal advantage.
By and large, the public is giving the PNP the benefit of the doubt on the deadly consequences of alleged buy-bust operations that turned ugly despite claims by the victims’ relatives that no resistance preceded the killing or that the victims were unarmed.
But unless the PNP does some serious housecleaning, Jee’s kidnapping and murder could presage the erosion of its credibility not only in the campaign against illegal drugs but also in other law enforcement activities.
Assuming that Mr. Duterte’s plan to mount a new inquiry into the deaths of the SAF44 materializes, it is doubtful if anything new will come out of it considering that the matter had been thoroughly investigated by the Senate and House of Representatives.
After the Senate committee chaired by Sen. Grace Poe concluded its inquiry, it reconvened to enable then Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile (who was under hospital arrest for plunder during the hearings) to question the police and military officials involved in the incident.
Enrile claimed to have obtained bombshell information from his military and police sources during his hospital arrest that would make then President Benigno Aquino III directly responsible for the death of the SAF troopers.
But the bombshell turned out to be a dud. In spite of his intense questioning of the resource persons, nothing new or explosive emerged from the reinvestigation. Enrile found himself with egg on his face.
So what assurance do we have that the so-called independent commission will do any better than the two chambers of Congress, or that the exercise will not be a waste of the time, money and effort of the government as well as the people who may be summoned to testify on the matter again?
If the President thinks the proposed commission will be able to elicit damaging information from Aquino or former PNP chief Alan Purisima, he may be in for a big surprise. The two former officials can validly invoke their right against self-incrimination to refuse to answer questions about their role in the Mamasapano incident because criminal cases are now pending against them at the Office of the Ombudsman.
The proposed new probe on the SAF44 may wind up as another hyperbole for which President Duterte has become known.
Raul J. Palabrica ([email protected]) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.
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