August 16, 2001, Inquirer, House, Senate to hold joint probe on Basilan, by Carlito Pablo and Rocky Nazareno, Inquirer News Service,
Posted: 0:24 AM (Manila Time)
THE HOUSE has agreed to hold joint hearings with the Senate to investigate allegations by Basilan priest Fr. Cirilo Nacorda that certain military officers are in connivance with the Abu Sayyaf.
Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., chair of the Senate committee on national defense, announced the initiative yesterday, after receiving a briefing on national security issues from the defense and military top brass in Camp Aguinaldo.
At the House, however, members of the House committee on national defense crossed swords on whether to hold its first public hearing in Lamitan, Basilan, or in the national capital.
Opposition to the plan of committee chair Rep. Prospero Pichay to hold the hearing in Lamitan was raised anew when neophyte Rep. Ruffy Biazon suggested that they "instead get raw footages taken by media to help the committee in its fact-finding activity."
Committee vice chair Tomas Dumpit, who presided over the meeting in the absence of Pichay, said a hearing in Basilan "should be carefully planned so that the committee doesn't waste taxpayers' money."
The committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Aug. 23 in Lamitan, with the military expected to give a briefing on the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf. But months of violence and a trail of dead bodies left by the bandit group has created serious doubts whether it is safe for the congressmen to go to Basilan at this time.
The Senate will start its hearings on Monday and members of the House may join later in the week, according to Magsaysay.
"The hearing will be good for the military," Magsaysay said. "It will clear the air and allow the truth to come out."
Nacorda had accused Brig. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, Col. Jovenal Narcise and three junior officers of allowing the Abu Sayyaf to slip out of a military cordon in Lamitan, Isabela, on June 2.
Nacorda said Dominguez was seen in Lamitan carrying a suitcase full of cash at the time of the bungled encirclement operation. The Abu Sayyaf bandits and their hostages were then trapped inside a hospital.
The continued failure of the Armed Forces to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf threat has given rise to calls for the resignation of both Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and AFP chief Gen. Diomedio Villanueva.
But Magsaysay said the two officials were new in their respective jobs and that there's "a learning process for all concerned."
Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, who was with Magsaysay, said he was not yet asking for resignations.
"I am raising questions, which need to be answered," said Biazon, himself a former AFP chief.
Biazon earlier said he has witnesses who can corroborate Nacorda's allegations of the military's connivance with the Abu Sayyaf.