Now that the Department of Justice has given Task Force Ultra’s fact-finding report short shrift (the Inquirer story is here, but please scroll way down), the following question suggests itself: What was the point of the task force’s probe in the first place?
On receiving the report, this is what the country’s principal prosecutor said:
According to Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, the report contains a mere "narration of the flow of events from Day One up to the date of the incident."
"They merely said there were people responsible for the incident, but they did not specify the names of those people who may be responsible, just [their] positions," Zuño told reporters at noon yesterday.
"That cannot be a basis for preliminary investigation. [The report] did not even cite [incidents of negligence]. We are returning it [to the Department of Interior and Local Government] for further investigation and evidence-gathering," he said.
Later in the day, Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon opined that the thing to do, instead of throwing the report in the waste basket, was to turn it over to the NBI, for further investigation.
Fadullon said that in filing a complaint, "everything should be based on evidence" and not on "what people say, what people’s opinions are, how people perceive it to be."
"There are conflicting statements and opinions cited, but as far as we are concerned, we can only proceed if there is evidence. We need to have evidence to support the conduct of a preliminary investigation," he said.
Thus, Fadullon said, the report would be a "jump-off point," a "lead" on the case.
Asked how he sized up the report, Fadullon said: "I would say that given the time frame given to them, it is a comparatively good report. But as to whether it was exhaustive, that’s a different story altogether."
Give Fadullon credit for tact, which is apparently a requirement for negotiating the bureaucratic maze.
But Malacanang, which created the task force in the first place and then gave it a 72-hour deadline, acted as if the task force report had in fact met public expectations.
Last night, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye issued a statement saying President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had commended the fact-finding team led by Corpus for the "speedy" conduct of its investigation and its "comprehensive" recommendations.
"We appeal to all the concerned parties not to allow emotions to override the search for truth and justice. From hereon, let us allow the [Department of Justice] investigation to take its course," Bunye said.
Speedy, yes (with its full day of televised hearings a better exercise in fact-finding than many hearings in either chamber of Congress). But comprehensive? Even the government’s own top lawyers balked at using the word. But notice how Bunye defended the task force’s work by enjoining the public to let the DOJ investigate the tragedy. Which begs the question: What was the point of the first investigation in the first place?