COMMENT: Mamasapano Revisited (1)

I. Left or Right?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, September 22, 2015 – President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, in his 777-word, 13-paragraph speech (English version) to open his September 17 news briefing at Malacañang, was supposedly putting to a closure “the alternative truth” concerning the killing of Marwan. This, on September 8, he revealed exclusively to Philippine Daily Inquirer as being probed by the National Bureau of Investigation.

From his speech, it can be deduced that among the many controversies that had haunted the Mamasaano debacle, the most haunting was “Who killed Marwan?” But it still IS! This was the focus of his presentation. Unfortunately, the intended closure opened this damning question: Which finger of the Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” was cut by the SAF commandos – that of the right hand or of the left?

Who Killed Marwan?

The President stated the issue: “For quite some time now, alternative narratives about the Mamasapano encounter have been circulating. It has even come out in the media: as the story goes, it was not our Special Action Force, or SAF, who killed Marwan. It was allegedly one of Marwan’s companions who killed him—and also cut off his finger and brought it to the SAF.” [Paragraph 1]

So, he said “we immediately ordered the various agencies of government to scrutinize other angles that present alternative narratives” [2]. As evidence to quash the rumored “alternative truth”, he was given pictures [3] duly validated by the NBI [11].

The President anticipated the question why “this second photograph” – meaning, only one picture had been known to have been published – “came out only now” [9]. He himself asked questions. The PDI said it had only one picture. The new SAF chief “could not be certain”; so he verified and “discovered that there were many more pictures” [10].

With the pictures, the President concluded “… it is clear from the presentation today: the SAF were there; we can no longer doubt that it was the SAF who took Marwan’s finger. This also means: All the other accounts about the alternative narrative are baseless, and consequently have no relevance” [8]. Hence, “the process of justice, especially for the fallen [the 44 slain SAF commandos], can continue” [13]

The Pictures, (September 19, 2015: President Aquino and the ghosts of Mamasapano), printed the four pictures which the President presented during his briefing. In series, the pictures must have been taken either by video or cell-phone camera deliberately focused most probably with the aid of LED lights at 4 a.m.

First picture: The kitchen-part of Marwan’s hut showing hanging clothes, the cluttered floor, a hammock beside a pantry with utensils and a big white water container, and a half-curtained door which could be leading to a sleeping quarter. There are no persons – just the room and roof rafters.

Second picture: This was the same picture published by Philippine Daily Inquirer on January 30, 2015 with part of the caption stating, Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (also known as “Marwan”) lies dead in his hut, his possessions in disarray after a surprise raid by members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) on Sunday morning”. This must be the other part of the hut unseen in Picture 1.

As the President described it, this picture “… shown to me was apparently only a portion of the whole picture. This has likewise come out in the media. Upon viewing this photo, I am sure I am not the only one who thought that Marwan’s right hand was hidden because this was where the finger was taken.

Third picture: As the President described it, “This next one you see is the photograph in its entirety: we can see one of our SAF troopers beside the body of Marwan, and we can also notice that the fingers on his left hand are still complete. The same SAF trooper, holding the left hand of Marwan is in the act of severing the finger.

Fourth picture: Still the President describing, “In this picture, we can see that the SAF is still present, and in that same picture, we notice that the left hand of Marwan is now missing a finger.”


Clearly, Picture 4 shows Marwan’s left hand, the left index finger missing. In Picture 2, the left index finger is still in place and the right hand is covered with a black cloth. It has never been explained whether the right hand was intentionally covered and why. Did the Inquirer’s source say the covered the right hand was without the index finger? Or, did Inquirer and other media just guessed so?

Why was Picture 4 not the one given to the Inquirer for its January 30 issue so the readers could see both the covered right hand and the indexless left hand? Had this been done, the Inquirer story would have been different.

Inquirer’s correspondent Arlyn dela Cruz, known to have good PR with the military and the Police as well as the rebels, reported (Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 30, 2015: Marwan finger cut off for DNA), that the SAF under fire decided to cut off one of the fingers on Marwan’s right hand for DNA test instead of carrying his body. Dela Cruz quoted a PNP official, a member of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, confirming the report, “Finger, a finger from the right hand”.

In another report, the Inquirer (February 7, 2015: Mamasapano clash: What happened according to the military) published portions of the report of the fact-finding body ordered by AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Pio Catapang to investigate the allegation of Police Director Getulio Napeñas that the AFP had failed to reinforce the SAF operation despite his request.

The item quoted states: “Jan. 25 (Sunday), 3 a.m.—Marwan is killed by the 84th Special Action Company (SAC). Marwan’s right index finger is cut off for DNA tests. …”

Weeks after the Inquirer’s publication of the Marwan picture, there were media reports that the finger cut was from the left hand. Whether, the PNP had made the correction, we could not recall. However, if it did, the PNP Board of Inquiry did not. In the BOI Report, as recounted by Police Supt. Raymond Train, who led the 84th SAF, it was Marwan’s right index finger that was cut by Police Senior Inspector Cedral Tabdi.

After relating Train’s account of the firefight, the Report said: “Upon confirming that they got the first target, Police Senior Inspector Cedral Tabdi severed the right index finger of Marwan for DNA analysis and took some pictures [of] Marwan. Usman, the second target of the operations, along with two other malefactors managed to escape.” (BOI Report, p. 20, Paragraph 2)

Media must have been unaware until the President revived the Mamasapano Question that the Department of Justice had conducted its own investigation. The SAF’s version in the DOJ report includes Train’s testimony (, September 19, 2015: President Aquino and the ghosts of Mamasapano). As quoted below, Train turned around from “right” to “left”.

“They were supposed to conduct an Ins scan for retina recognition on Marwan, however, they were rattled when they were fired upon by the group of Basit Usman. Hence, PSI Tabdi decided to sever the left index finger of Marwan as their DNA sample. The left index finger of Marwan was placed in a SSE pouch and was given to P02 Dioscoro Basafiez. Then they started to extricate. They were moving smoothly, until they were engaged by armed groups about 200 meters away from the target house.” (Bold ours)

Incidentally, the MILF Special Investigation Commission Report and the Senate Committee Report did not dwell on “finger-cutting”. The first only suggested the SAF could not have killed Marwan (SIC Report, pp. 34-35); the second only said, “At 4:15 a.m. on 25 January 2015, the Seaborne informed the TCP [Tactical Command Post] that Marwan had been killed.” (The Committee Report, p.40).

Intriguing Questions

The pictures, without doubt, proved Marwan was killed. Yet, corroborating evidence was needed to prove that the SAF killed him during the firefight. The doubt of the MILF cannot just be brushed off on seeing the four pictures. The conflict between the BOI and DOJ reports – the first saying Marwan’s right index finger was cut and the second, the left – both from Train’s testimonies – does not help dispel the MILF’s doubt.

Will the BOI admit it has erred and defer to the DOJ report that cited?

These questions are intriguing:

  • Why did the President rely solely on the pictures to prove the SAF had killed Marwan? Why did he not cite the PNP BOI and other official investigation reports done following the PNP and congressional investigations?
  • Why was the new SAF chief unaware of the many pictures of the Mamasapano SAF operations?
  • Why were the same pictures presented by the President during his new briefing last September 17 not included in the BOI Report?
  • Who asked the NBI to validate the pictures, the President or the SAF chief? Do police pictures have to be validated?
  • Picture 2 when published by PDI last January 20 had not been validated by the NBI; Marwan’s left hand fingers were complete. Picture 4 is the very same Picture 2, except that it had been validated by NBI and the index finger is missing. Has Picture 2 been “retouched” or “edited” then validated?

In revisiting Mamasaano, President Aquino awakened hibernating questions and raised new ones. As the popular Chinese saying goes, “No talk, no mistake; less talk, less mistakes; more talk more mistakes.” Bust the ghost of Mamamsapano. (Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.”)