MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. rejected yesterday the plan for the House of Representatives to resume the congressional inquiry into the Manila hostage fiasco even as he called on the nation to “move on” and learn from the tragedy.
Belmonte was commenting on calls by the House minority bloc for the committee on public order to continue the hearings on the hostage crisis as many lawmakers and other sectors were not satisfied with the report of the incident investigation and review committee (IIRC) headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
Minority leader and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the public could not make a concrete assessment of the IIRC report because President Aquino had withheld more substantial portions of the document, violating the people’s right to know.
“Let’s not be a copycat of anybody if somebody has already conducted an investigation. Unless you can say that the investigation was wrong, why jump into that.
There must be a lot of things that we can investigate in this chamber,
“I think that report is pretty exhaustive. It will definitely come out. Let me assure you that the whole report will definitely come out,” Belmonte said.
Opposition lawmakers earlier said the committee, dominated by administration congressmen, blocked several resolutions to investigate the hostage crisis.
Belmonte said he agrees with observations that some of Mr. Aquino’s Palace communications officials have failed to manage the media side of the incident.
He said he was 100 percent sure the Palace would release to the public the entire report.
“We will demand it (IIRC report) if they don’t give it but I’m sure that within a few days after the President arrives (from the US), we will be furnished, you the media and me here in the House, will be furnished. It’s not in the character of the President to hide things,” Belmonte said.
He said the Senate has also been conducting its own inquiry into the matter so there was “no need to repeat the whole thing.”
“This is an exercise in self-mortification, self-flagellation. We should get on and I think we ought to all have learned a lesson from it and move on,” Belmonte said.
Meanwhile, the Senate plans to resume its inquiry into the hostage incident.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on public order, said the Senate will continue with its probe which will now focus on the “roles and relationships” between the police and local government officials.
The Senate earlier suspended its hearings on the hostage crisis to give way to the IIRC proceedings.
“The tendency of your committee on public order is to conduct at least one more hearing so at least we can focus, as it has been borne out by bits and pieces of the IIRC report,” the senator added.
“We can focus on the roles and relationship between the local government officials and the police in crisis situations like what happened last Aug. 23 and the grievance mechanism that involved PNP (Philippine National Police) personnel,” he said.
Honasan refused to pass judgment on the report of the IRRC, saying that the Senate committees will “limit itself to its mandate in aid of legislation not in aid of prosecution.”
IIRC members hurt by criticism
De Lima, however, described as “unfair and unfounded” the reactions to the IIRC report, particularly from the officials that were recommended to be charged for the bungling in the hostage rescue operations.
She asked concerned officials and persons, affected agencies and the Filipino and Hong Kong public to defer making speculations and premature conclusions until the report is released in full.
The IIRC had recommended those to be charged in connection with the botched rescue operation during the hostage crisis at Rizal Park in Manila that resulted in the death of eight Hong Kong tourists and the hostage taker last Aug. 23.
Aquino designated Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Eduardo de Mesa to head the legal team that would further assess and review the recommendations made by the IRRC, including the charges to be filed against the people found liable for the bungled rescue.
The IIRC recommended the filing of appropriate charges against Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, retired Philippine National Police chief Jesus Verzosa, National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Leocadio Santiago, Manila Police District director Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay, chief negotiator Superintendent Orlando Yebra Jr., and Chief Inspector Santiago Pascual, head of the Manila Police District Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit.
Also included were Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno.
The panel also recommended the filing of charges against broadcasters Erwin Tulfo and Mike Rogas of RMN/dzXL.
The IIRC also found liable the executives of the country’s three biggest television networks ABS-CBN Channel 2, GMA-7 and ABC TV-5.
De Lima clarified yesterday that Jake Maderazo, spokesman of RMN, is not among those recommended to be charged for the fiasco as earlier reported.
She said there was no name listed in their report as “station manager of dzXL.”
De Lima admitted that she and the members of the IIRC were offended by negative reactions from officials and persons who contested their findings without even knowing the specific liabilities and charges recommended to be filed against them.
“Members of the committee are also human. It’s very unfair that certain personalities are imputing personal and even political motivations against us. That is most ridiculous and unfounded,” De Lima told a press conference.
De Lima said the IIRC would defer its answers to these criticisms “until the full disclosure of the report” and that they understand the emotional reactions from people who were given “limited and incomplete information.”
She stressed that their panel believes the negative reactions from personalities recommended for administrative, criminal or other actions were a result of the decision of the Palace to withhold the last portion of the 83-page report that contained the conclusion, liabilities and recommendations.
De Lima assured the people that the IIRC based its recommendations solely on evidence and information gathered in its two-week probe and had no intention “to inflict hurt and suffering on these officials and individuals any more than what is necessary for the proper determination of their culpability based on established facts and applicable laws.”
The IIRC members met yesterday to plan their next steps and the second phase of the probe on institutional reforms, but decided to just wait for further orders from President Aquino.
De Lima said the five-man panel is considering various scenarios that may arise from the review of the Palace’s legal team of the IIRC’s first report.
She believes it is possible that the President may order the IIRC not to continue anymore with the second phase of its investigation that is initially set to start next week.
“It all depends on the result of the review, and it depends on what the (IIRC) chair will do,” she hinted.
The IIRC chair admitted that she was “a bit surprised” by the decision of the President to have key portions of their report on liabilities and recommendations reviewed by his legal team.
“He (President Aquino) only said that after he received the report,” she said. “But I could only defer to the decision of the President.”
De Lima earlier said she believes the review gives a theoretical possibility that the report would be modified and some names in the list of officials and persons found to be liable for the fiasco would be deleted.
Mr. Aquino already admitted that he is “not 100-percent” convinced by the IIRC findings.
Asked for her reaction, De Lima said: “That is his opinion. He is entitled to his own position, that’s why he ordered a review. Let’s just find out later.”
In its report partially made public last Monday, the IIRC found 13 persons and three major news networks liable.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said yesterday that the Palace legal team will not change the IIRC report but would only “simplify” it for the President.
“It’s a long report. It includes conclusions of fact and conclusions of law. It’s complicated even for lawyers like me,” he said.
When asked by Minority Leader Edcel Lagman during a House public hearing if he would prepare an executive summary, Ochoa said: “Not an executive summary, but we will try to simplify it for the President. If we are asked, we will answer and make recommendations.”
Ochoa pointed out that simplifying the report would enable Mr. Aquino to make an “intelligent assessment and an informed decision on what to do next.”
Lagman said the parts of the report that the President did not disclose are the “substantial” portions that have to do with the committee’s recommendations.
Ochoa said these portions would be revealed together with the President decisions on them when Mr. Aquino returns from the US.
“It’s not his intention to keep it (the report) to himself. He feels that as President, he should be the first to have a full grasp of it,” he said.
Manila official hits De Lima
Manila Vice Mayor Moreno assailed the pronouncements allegedly made by Justice Secretary De Lima indirectly imposing on President Aquino to approve the recommendations made by the IIRC.
In a statement, Moreno said he was aghast at the “attitude and arrogance” of De Lima when she said that she was hoping there will be “no exclusion” made.
Moreno said De Lima is obviously dictating on the President and the review panel.
He said De Lima’s behavior is a clear display of arrogance, to say the least, and in stark contrast to the attitude shown by Mr. Aquino himself regarding the issue.
De Lima should be fair enough not to preempt the review panel of the President, Moreno added.
Moreno pointed out the apparent bias of De Lima against Manila Mayor Lim when she asked reporter Tulfo if it was true that it was hostage taker Senior Inspector Mendoza who arrested Lim’s son in a previous anti-drug operations.
Moreno added that De Lima had brought politics into should be an impartial investigation, and asked, “anong hustisya ang aasahan namin ni Mayor Lim diyan (what justice can Mayor Lim and I expect)?”
De Lima, however, denied the allegation of Mayor Lim that the IIRC report is a “shotgun” since it played safe and found liable all those involved in the handling of the incident.
“That (comment) is not accurate at all. There were persons also invited by the panel but were not found liable (like deputy hostage negotiator Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador and GMA 7 reporter Susan Enriquez). We were very careful and our treatment was very factual,” she explained.
She cited for instance the lack of liability of operatives of the Manila Police District SWAT team that conducted the “bungled” assault.
“No one in the SWAT team – except for their chief, Pascual – should be held liable because they were ill-equipped and not well-trained. How could you fault them for that? You see, the committee is looking at all of these with a very heavy heart,” she explained.
De Lima said the IIRC is standing by its findings that the eight tourists were killed by hostage taker Mendoza, although there remains a possibility that some of the injured hostages were shot by “friendly fire” from the police assault team.
“It is not prudent for us to completely rule out that angle on friendly fire,” she explained, citing results of the ballistics tests that would be submitted to the probe panel on Monday at the latest.
Paolo Romero, Philippine Star