THE Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines threw its support Wednesday behind the creation of an independent commission or fact-finding body to look into the deaths of 44 police commandos in a clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25.
In a statement, CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas said any investigation by the police—such as the board of inquiry created by Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II—would have a credibility problem.
“Any inquiry by a police body, such as the board of inquiry… will be weighed down by lingering doubts about its preparedness to point to liability, no matter how high up the chain of command attribution must go,” Villegas said. “Subordinate officers, whether in the police or in the military seldom point accusingly at superiors.”
An investigation by Congress, on the other hand, would be compromised by the political allegiance of most of its members, he added.
“The CBCP therefore strongly suggests that the members of any such committee, though appointed by the President, must be endorsed by and acceptable to the public, recognized for their probity, acknowledged for their truthfulness and characterized by their boldness,” he said.
“Vocal advocates for the passage of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law are not credible nominees,” the archbishop added, because they have made it clear that they would not want the incident to derail the process of passing the BBL.
The CBCP president said hearings by the independent body must be open to all.
“Nothing is served by secrecy,” he said.
Villegas also said that for now, the CBCP will not support calls for the resignation of President Benigno Aquino III over the Mamasapano incident.
“For the present time, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has not arrived at a collective position. Whether or not the President should resign and yield the powers of his high office to a lawful successor is a judgment that he must make, after prayerful discernment, and in all humility and judiciousness,” he said.
He further said that the CBCP does not yet have all the facts.
Villegas also admitted that the Catholic Church has been receiving conflicting accounts of what really happened.
He then said the President should learn from the tragedy that transparency and forthrightness are what are expected of him at all times.
“It will serve him well to listen to sound advice and counsel from the truly wise, and not from those eager to curry favor. He has been roundly criticized for having absented himself at the arrival honors for the mortal remains of our heroes,” he said.
“He will, in the future, we hope, make better balanced choices and conduct himself as his high office demands. We pray that in all humility he would willingly accept just criticism rather than have his spokespersons concoct excuses at every turn,” he added.
Also on Wednesday, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez warned that too many investigations would muddle the truth.
Romualdez, head of the independent minority bloc in the House, said an independent truth commission should investigate the deaths of the 44 Special Action Force commandos.
“To avoid muddling the issue which can lead to a cover-up of the truth, the Mamasapano probe should be handled only by a truth commission. Other government agencies may conduct their own inquiries as warranted but the official and final result will only be that of the truth commission,” Romualdez said.
Reports said about 392 SAF men were deployed in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25. Two groups composed of 74 commandos entered the area to serve the arrest warrant on Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
Romualdez said it was unfortunate that until now, there is no clear report of what really happened.
Romualdez said “the steadily increasing number of versions of the encounter makes it imperative to form an independent and non-government truth commission which will solely probe the slaughter.”
Romualdez’s group had earlier filed a resolution urging the President to create an independent truth commission that “will investigate completely and thoroughly” the bloody incident.
In a privilege speech Wednesday, House Deputy Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte commended all 392 members of the Philippine National Police SAF, including the 44 who died after killing Marwan.
“Each and every one of the 392 or so SAF men who took part in Operation Wolverine, including the 12 who were wounded, is a hero. And each and every one of them deserves the nation’s commendation and gratitude,” Belmonte said.
“They are heroes because—acting as one unit—they accomplished their mission. They are heroes because they were able to kill Marwan, a terrorist who has killed hundreds and stood to kill hundreds, if not thousands, more,” he added.