MANILA, Philippines—“Your findings are merely recommendatory,” Malacañang yesterday reminded members of the Incident Investigating and Review Committee (IIRC) even as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima believes it is time for Malacañang to release in full its findings on the Aug. 23 hostage crisis following leakage to the media of its confidential portions.
“If I were one of the officials in the Palace now, I would try to communicate with the President who is in the United States, contact him and inform him about the leakage and ask him for his instructions to release the report,” De Lima told reporters yesterday.
“One Palace official should be able to give that advice,” she said.
De Lima, who chairs the IIRC that probed the hostage tragedy, said she was certain Malacañang would be interested to know where the leak came from as it was in “defiance of the President’s order.”
De Lima said the IIRC had preferred that its full report be released to the public but deferred to the instructions of President Aquino, who is now visiting the United States.
Mr. Aquino has said that certain portions of the report, particularly those dealing with the panel’s recommendations, be withheld pending a review by the Palace legal team of the suggested sanctions against 13 individuals and some media organizations.
The panel found several officials, policemen and media people liable for the hostage bloodbath, in which eight Hong Kong tourists and the hostage-taker, dismissed policeman Rolando Mendoza, ended up dead.
De Lima expressed surprise that the confidential portions of the report, such as the IIRC’s conclusions and recommendations, had been leaked to several media organizations. The Inquirer obtained a copy of those portions from well-placed sources.
She said the leak did not come from the IIRC because only she and the members had a full copy of the report and they were under strict instructions not to divulge its contents.
She also absolved the IIRC’s technical working group, the secretariat, and the people tasked to make copies of the report of leaking the report.
“Malacañang should conduct some kind of a probe because that’s the integrity of the document,” she said. “The President wanted it withheld for the reasons that he stated. Why would some people opt to disobey the President? It’s Malacañang that has the best reasons to really know those responsible for the leakage.”
Asked about possible sanctions against those who released the report to the media, De Lima said they could be subjected to administrative or disciplinary proceedings if they were government officials. She said the act was “tantamount to insubordination.”
She said she would have to check about the possible liabilities of any private individual responsible for the leakage.
De Lima reiterated the panel’s desire that its recommendation against government and police officials it found liable for the hostage fiasco be given “serious attention and should not be ignored.”
Malacañang reminded members of the IIRC that their findings were “merely recommendatory.”
Mr. Aquino is within his powers to order a review of the 83-page report, according to his spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda.
“Notwithstanding the fact that it’s an independent probe, its findings are merely recommendatory,” Lacierda said in a press briefing. “The President has the right—through the office of the executive secretary and the chief presidential legal counsel whom he has appointed to review—to do so.”
Asked if Mr Aquino was not satisfied with the IIRC findings, Lacierda said the review was meant to inform the President “how to operationalize the recommendation.”
“He wants to have a report that he can fully support,” Lacierda added.
The review being conducted by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Ed de Mesa, chief presidential legal counsel, is also intended to make sure that the executive would not rush into action against the people the IIRC has recommended for sanctions, according to Lacierda.
“He wanted to give due process to those people named,” he said.
Lacierda declined to comment on whether the Palace review was meant to find a way out for Interior Secretary Rico E. Puno, who is among those found to be liable for the bungled hostage rescue.
“I cannot answer that because that will still depend on the findings of the office of the executive secretary and the office of the chief presidential legal counsel,” he said.
But Lacierda assured the public there would be no whitewash of the case.
“When you speak of whitewash, you’re going to change the report itself—no, we’re not,” he said. “We’re not going to change the recommendations. The recommendations will be published alongside with the (Palace) study.”
Lacierda defended Mr Aquino’s pronouncement that he was not “100 percent sold” on the IIRC recommendations.
“Based on his own reading, he had a few reservations on some factual situations in the report,” he said. “If you have a wrong appreciation of … the problem, you will have a wrong solution.”
Nikko Dizon & Christian Esguerra, Phil. Daily Inquirer