DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 July) – A hundred and two persons, among them three commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and two from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) will face charges of murder and theft in relation to the January 25 Mamasapano tragedy that left 66 people dead – 44 from the special elite police force, 17 from the MILF and five civilians.
The special investigation team from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the National Prosecution Service (NPS) that conducted the probe on the tragedy recommended the filing of the charges.
MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal maintained that the process of filing charges against the MILF is “internal to the GPH.”
“Our forces merely defended themselves,” Iqbal told MindaNews in a text message Wednesday afternoon.
GMA TV News reported that at least 102 individuals will go through a preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice for direct assault with murder of 35 members of the 55th Special Action Company (SAC) of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF).
The NBI-NPS special investigation team referred to the office of NPS Prosecutor General Claro Arellano the filing of preliminary investigation “wherein [SAF members] were found to be victims of the complex crime of direct assault with murder… perpetrated by the confederating members of the MILF, BIFF and private armed groups.”
Three months earlier, on April 16, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima announced in a press conference that criminal charges were being prepared against 90 members of the MILF, BIFF and private armed groups (PAGs) for the death of 35 of 44 members of the SAF.
De Lima made the announcement after receiving the report of the NBI-NPS on its Mamasapano probe.
The report covered only the killing of the 35 of 44 SAF members in the cornfields of Sitio Amilil in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano.
At least 66 persons were killed in Mamasapano when 390 SAF personnel were deployed to arrest Zulkifli bin hir alias Marwan, a Malaysian terrorist early dawn of January 25, without coordinating with the ceasefire mechanisms of the government peace panel and the MILF, and without coordinating as well with the local and regional PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
De Lima told the April press conference that they have witnesses “at merong isang pinaka-major eyewitness” whom they identified in the report as “Marathon,” by then already under the government’s Witness Protection Program.
She said “Marathon” and several other witnesses identified the perpetrators in the cornfields of Sitio Amilil, where 35 of the 36-member team from the 55th SAC were killed.
De Lima said the report does not include who are responsible for the killing of the nine other members of the SAF from the main assault team of the 84th SAC — in Barangay Pidsandawan, where Marwan was reported killed because “wala pa kaming nakikitang (we haven’t found) third party eyewitness.”
The report does not also include findings on the killing of the civilians or the MILF although she said probing further is “part of the recommendations.”
“Wala ho kasing na-access na witnesses” (we were not able to access witnesses) who could testify on the killing of the civilians, she said.
She noted the claim of the MILF about the possible liability of PO2 Christopher Lalan for the killing of civilians but “we made several requests to the MILF to allow us access to possible witnesses and families pero wala pa po silang response,” De Lima said.
Killing of civilians
The MILF’s Special Investigative Commission (SIC) Report on the Mamasapano Incident said Lalan “killed the four MILF men when they were asleep inside the langgal who were in no position to defend themselves.”
“He should likewise be held accountable for killing Mohammad Ambilang, a civilian who has clearly shown no aggression as he in fact raised his hands and made known that he is a civilian. The injury sustained by Ambilang in the back indicated that the killing was attended by qualifying circumstances that aggravated the actions of PO2 Lalan,” the report added.
It also said the PNP-SAF must be held accountable “for the death of Badruddin Langalen whose dead body was found inside the position of the 55SAC blocking force in Sitio Amilil” and the same accountability be sought for the killing of 8-year old Sarah Tot.
“We will pursue further investigation for the killing of the nine from the 84th SAC and also the killing of the civilians and possibly the MILF’s own casualties,” De Lima said adding these are not included in the report “simply because wala pa kaming na-access (we haven’t gained access)” to third party eyewitnesses.
Avoid selective justice
On the same day of De Lima’s press conference, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato and convenor of Friends of Peace, offered suggestions to the DOJ “so as to avoid selective justice.”
“Charge those who in the darkness first shot and killed at the bridge, who killed the hogtied civilian at close range, the other civilians, and the MILF who were sleeping, those who led the SAF to their death because of poor planning, no coordination, lack of it, those who deployed the blocking force in an open non-defendable cornfield, far away from their originally designated location, those who made reports without a sense of urgency regarding the actual situation and thus delay immediate appropriate response, etc etc,” the Cardinal said.
The International Monitoring Team (IMT) in its April 5 Verification and Assessment Report on the Ceasefire Violations in Mamasapano, noted as among its major findings that “there are no clear evidence to claim that the MILF as an organization provided sanctuary or assistance to criminal or lawless elements” but added there are reasons to believe that “individuals associated with MILF knew the whereabouts of Marwan and Usman.”
It also said the SAF launched the law enforcement operations in Mamasapano
without initiating any of the conflict preventive mechanisms available to the GPH.”
The IMT report recommended, among others, that the SAF and BIAF combatants found to have committed crimes, “should be prosecuted accordingly and penalized including under provisions of RA 9851” or the “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity”.