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Editorial

Tension

/ 12:12 AM April 09, 2015

The resumption on Tuesday of the House of Representatives’ inquiry into the Mamasapano incident began on the usual, drearily familiar note: An attempt by the anti-administration Makabayan bloc to turn the hearing into a referendum on President Aquino. Nothing wrong with that objective, except that the point about the President’s responsibility was already made in the first several minutes; delaying the questioning of the resource persons assembled in the Batasan by some two hours was the price paid for what was essentially a political statement.

Questions versus statements: If the contentious hearings in the Senate and now in the House have reminded us of anything, it is the iron law behind legislative inquiries. Politicians are forever torn between the need to ask pertinent questions (or at least questions that don’t make legislators look like ninnies) and the need to make political statements.

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The Senate hearings hosted many resource persons, but much of the time was spent by the senators unburdening themselves of their views. As the news reports made clear afterwards, the first day of the resumed hearings in the House showed that the representatives had learned from the senators’ unedifying conduct and from their own initial (and chaotic) attempt to conduct a hearing.

Except for the unfortunate start, and the inexplicable behavior of Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco, the hearings allowed new details about the Mamasapano incident to come to light, or old facts to acquire a new sheen. The Armed Forces had a secret arrangement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, called “mushroom diplomacy,” which allowed the AFP to track so-called “high-value targets” suspected of entering MILF-controlled territory. The cut-off finger of the late Marwan, the Malaysian bomb-maker who was the primary target of Oplan Exodus, was indeed handed over to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (as revealed in the Senate hearings)—but only after two days. And the controversial former commander of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force denied that the SAF used a mere Google map of the terrain. He showed a copy of the special map they had used and, when asked, said the map had been sourced “from our US counterpart.”

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But we also learned, or relearned, some of the facts of life as seen from the vantage point of the political class: Some politicians are too isolated from the people they are supposed to serve, or just too wealthy, that they cannot be bothered to know the actual names of the resource persons beforehand, or even during the hearing. Some others do not know how to listen, but only use the answers of the resource persons as yet another opportunity to expound on a pet theory, a favorite agenda. And some must have been elected into office for some other reason than their command of either logic or language.

Indeed, almost every time a legislative hearing is televised, many of us experience a bad case of buyer’s remorse. These are the legislators we put in office?

Having said that, and knowing the House hearings now have a necessarily limited value because of the comprehensiveness of the PNP’s own board of inquiry and the impact of the report of the International Monitoring Team, the hearings on Tuesday and yesterday still proved useful. In particular, they provided some helpful context for the sometimes-tense relationship between the AFP and the PNP. Some of the questions raised by former security officials turned congressmen provoked candid, even conflicting, answers. Revelations about the conduct of SAF men belonging to other companies, as seen from the perspective of soldiers arriving at the scene of the encounter, will continue to sound in police camps around the country. The confrontation yesterday between a SAF survivor and the army colonel who implemented the order not to fire artillery rounds into the encounter site will be discussed in military mess halls for some time to come.

The relationship of trust between the armed services may have taken a hit—that’s another sorry outcome of the Mamasapano debacle.

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TAGS: board of inquiry, hearings, House probe, Kimi Cojuangco, Makabayan, Mamasapano, senate probe
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