Mind da News: Justice for the Slain SAF 44

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, March 10, 2015 – To quote the Philippine Daily Inquirer (March 8, 2015: Palace: MILF won’t be spared in quest for justice for SAF 44), “Malacañang assured the public on Sunday it would spare no one in the hunt for justice for the 44 police commandos slaughtered by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and other Moro guerillas in Maguindanao last January 25.”

This was the gist of the statement of Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. over Radyo ng Bayan on Sunday, March 8. He said the Department of Justice will “pursue justice through Philippine courts based on its own finding” – quoting Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Peace Adviser – “with or without MILF inputs”.

Of the pursuit of justice through the DOJ, PDI quoted Coloma: “Wala po itong kinikilala at walang sinisino. Basta po kailangang lumitaw ang katotohanan at magawaran ng katarungan ang ating 44 SAF troopers.” (The process does not have sacred cows.  Truth should surface and justice should be served for the 44 SAF troopers.)

By its headline, PDI interpreted Coloma’s references to “spare no one”, “walang …kinikilala”, “walang sinisino” as alluding to the MILF.

Coloma’s radio statement was evidently the Palace’s reaction to: (1) the march of the widows of the “slain 44 SAF” seeking for truth and justice last Sunday (PDI, March 9, 2015: Widow of slain commando: We’re not closer to truth); (2) the decision of MILF to furnish DOJ only the executive summary of its investigation of the Mamasapano incident (PDI, March 7, 2015: Iqbal: MILF won’t release full report on Mamasapano debacle).

In response to the MILF statement, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said that without the full MILF report, no justice can be given to the 18 slain MILF fighters and that even without the MILF cooperating, the DOJ investigators will be able to identify the slayers of the 44 SAF commandos. The MILF full report will only serve to balance the findings of the DOJ team and the PNP Board of Inquiry report. (The Philippine Star, March 9, 2015: De Lima: No MILF report, no justice).

What does Malacañang mean by assuring the public that “it would spare no one in the hunt for justice for the 44 police commanders slaughtered by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and other Moro guerillas in Maguindanao last January 25”?

The statement identifies the “MILF and other Moro guerillas” as the perpetrators of the “slaughter”. They must be the principal “suspects”; hence, the DOJ investigators are using videos and eyewitnesses (alleged cooperating MILF fighters) to identify and name the “brutal slayers”.

Who are alluded to in the phrase “would spare no one in the hunt for justice”? This must mean persons other than the MILF and other Moro guerillas.

If justice is really the pursuit of the Palace, how does truth make the MILF and other Moro guerillas liable? That is the crucial issue.

Julkipli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and Abdulbasit Usman, the main targets of “Operation Exodus” were not ordinary criminals but terrorists operating with the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), the well-armed, well-trained Moro guerillas. The mission was really a “war mission” – to get Marwan and Usman dead by surprise but prepared to fight their way in and out whatever the cost. That explained the training of SAF 84th and 55th companies under the American military personnel and the long planning of the operation.

The 84th SAF did not fully surprise Marwan. They had to shoot him dead and the gunfire aroused the BIFF rebels. In their get-away, the 84th SAF lost nine men. Were the nine commandos slain in the battle unjustly killed by the BIFF guerillas?

The other slain commandos were 35 of the 36 that composed the 55th SAF, the blocking force. They deployed in an open cornfield near a bridge spanning Mamasapano River. This was within the territory of the 105th MILF Command Base. Under the Government-MILF ceasefire agreement there would have been no encounter with the MILF had the Philippine National Police coordinated with the MILF; but they did not.

How did the firefight start? According to the lone survivor, PO2 Christopher Lalan, they were simultaneously attacked from three directions. According to MILF Commander Haramen, who with his 35 men made the first contact, they were crossing the bridge at past 4 a.m. when fired upon. The firing drew the other MILF fighters and surrounded the SAF 55th. Haramen must be more credible. At past 4 a.m. it was still dark; while they could not see, the commandoes could see with their night goggles.

But who fired first is immaterial. Both sides suffered casualties – the SAF 55th, 35; the MILF, 18. However, the MILF have to answer for the evident brutal killing of the wounded and for divesting the slain of their personal belongings including uniforms. This was violation of the ceasefire agreement. But, under the ceasefire agreement, the MILF said they are going to investigate and punish their erring members, not surrender them to the government.

The MILF, not the BIFF, are being pressured to surrender their men who took part in the slaying of 44 SAF commandos, not only of the 35 in Tukanalipao cornfield and also to return the guns and personal belongings of SAF 44. Should MILF surrender their men, what would be the odds against their conviction? That, however, will satisfy justice.

Was it the MILF and BIFF who committed the grave injustice against the “SAF 44”?

The 84th and the 55th SAF companies undertook the perilous mission following orders from the chain of command starting from the President, the commander-in-chief, down to the SAF commander directing the operation from the command post in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao. The Mamasapano debacle happened because of lapses in the planning and execution of “Operation Exodus”.

Item 1: The President, in his post-operation statements pointed to three lapses at the launching that should have caused the SAF commander to abort the operation.

Item 2: There was no coordination, first, in the PNP chain of command; second, between the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the military support; and, third, between the PNP and AFP and the MILF as agreed in the ceasefire agreement to prevent a misencounter. This was to assure the success of the operations; past “Oplans” failed because of leakages due to coordination.

Item 3: SAF Commander Police Director Getulio Napeñas took orders from suspended Police Director General Alan Purisima. It was Purisima who told Napeñas not to inform Acting PNP Director General Leonardo Espina and DILG Secretary Manuel A. Roxas III whose department has the supervision over the PNP and who assured Napeñas he would coordinate with the AFP.

Item 4: The President tacitly permitted Purisima’s leading role in the operation since he did not object when Purisima, already under suspension, together with Napeñas gave him the last briefing on “Operation Exodus” and directly reported to him through SMS (short message service or “texting”) the launching and progress of the operation on January 25.

The President said “I did not order the SAF on a suicide mission” (PDI, March 6, 2015). True. But the mission turned out to be suicidal as the SAF commandos followed orders. The widows’ demand for truth and justice is directly addressed to him.

The above are the truth discernible from media reports. More will come out from the BOI, Senate and MILF investigations which DOJ will use in rendering justice. Will justice be eventually meted to those who caused grave injustice to the “SAF 44” and their widows, children and other survivors? In what form will the justice be?

And it should also be asked: Is it unjust for the enemies to fight back their attackers?

(Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at [email protected].)