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Mamasapano, Two Years On: Painting a Murky Picture | CMFR

Mamasapano, Two Years On: Painting a Murky Picture


Journalists visit the encounter site in Mamasapano on July 25, 2015, six months after a shootout which killed 67 people. I Photo by Luis Adrian Hidalgo


PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE first floated the idea of reopening the investigation of the 2015 Mamasapano clash last October 2016, when he said it was “not really to prosecute people but just to know what happened”. At the time, he also wanted to know who took home the $5 million bounty on the Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, aka Marwan.

Last January 24, on the second anniversary of the tragedy, the president told relatives of the 44 slain Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) troopers that he would create a seven-member commission to “independently” investigate the police operation, which he claimed was conducted under the auspices of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Pointing out the “void” that previous probes left, he challenged former President Benigno Aquino III to answer lingering questions in order to give closure to the grieving relatives.

The circumstances surrounding this highly controversial incident are not exactly without clarity at this point. Formal investigations were undertaken by by at least six separate agencies: the PNP, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Senate, the House of Representatives, the International Monitoring Team (IMT), and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The press should have provided the context drawn from the findings. These details would have been substantial in explaining Duterte’s plan, but reports were content in relying solely on his speech, and on the statements of those who have joined the call to review the role played by then President Aquino, particularly, former SAF Director Getulio Napenas and his lawyer, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. The clips from the speech joined with the latter footage suggested some urgency to get to the bottom of things.

This kind of coverage appears to be a perpetual shortcoming on the media’s part, as CMFR already observed in its Media Times 2015 issue that documents on the probe had not received detailed reporting. A principal source is the PNP Board of Inquiry report. This was reported but focused selectively on Aquino breaking the chain of command in his giving the go-signal for the operation and possible participation of the US.

The media failed to point out that the alleged involvement of the CIA was discussed in the January 2016 Senate hearing led by former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. When Napenas said members of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and some “civilian components” conducted the training for the operations, Enrile asked whether these “civilians” were from the CIA. Napenas said that the word “CIA” was never mentioned in their dealings, but as the operation involved intelligence work, the American agency might have had a hand in it.

Duterte repeated the previous allegation that former presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles dissuaded Aquino from sending reinforcement to the SAF, an old charge picked up by The Daily Tribune from an anonymous source and which had already been dismissed as baseless. Reports should have referred to Deles’ clarification that as Peace Adviser, her mandate did not include her advising the president on security matters. The military timeline which was presented to the Senate on February 9, 2015 testified to the inability of the military to respond because there was no communication from Napenas until it was too late.

In a January 25 report by GMA News Online, Deles said, “The records of the House and Senate hearings bear me out. It would do well for the president to read the reports and refrain from engaging in alternative facts.”

When Duterte forms his commission, the public should be kept abreast of its findings to make sure that it is not in the service of a political agenda, as some of the Senate hearings proved to be effective platforms for politicians.

A new investigation may be helpful, as long as it stays true to its quest for truth. For some people, the Mamasapano clash is an unfinished narrative calling perhaps for new evidence and new leads. Without these, an investigation could be manipulated for partisan purpose — which could be supported by a clueless media.