DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 Feb) – “No US casualties, no help on intelligence, no drones.”
This sums up the response of Kurt Hoyer, press attaché and the spokesperson of the United States Embassy in Manila, as more allegations of US involvement in the operations in Mamasapano have surfaced in newspaper reports and social media and various groups have called for an investigation into its the alleged involvement.
“Our involvement was as stated,” Hoyer told MindaNews in a text message over the weekend.
On Monday, a day after a bloody clash between supposedly friendly forces – the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with whom it signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in March last year — US troops in civilian clothes were seen accompanying wounded members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police, into a white helicopter with green stripe that shuttled between the PNP provincial police office in Shariff Aguak town and the Army’s 6th Infantry Battalion in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat town also in Maguindanao.
As of Saturday, the death toll in the tragedy in barangays Tukanalipao and Pidsandawan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao has reached almost 70: 44 SAF personnel, 18 from the MILF, their names given by MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal – for a total of 62 combatants. The figures for slain civilians vary from two to six.
Cotabato City-based Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., former Notre Dame University President, posted on Facebook that an informant told him one American soldier was killed and another injured during the operations.
“There were no US casualties,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer also denied a report of the Manila Standard that US military intelligence and drones were used in the Mamasapano operations.
The Standard quoted a police general as saying the US government “provided President Benigno Aquino III with ‘actionable intelligence’ to pin down the precise location” of Marwan,
“Let me be clear. Our involvement was as I stated. At the request of the AFP, US service members serving in JSOTF-P responded to assist in the evacuation of casualties after the firefight in Maguindanao,” Hoyer said.
The presence of US troops on Monday fueled speculations of US participation in the operations to get Marwan, a Malaysian national on the list of the US government’s most wanted terrorists and who was reported killed three years ago in what was media reports described as a “US-backed airstrike” in Jolo, Sulu.
Marwan’s remains, however, were not found in the aftermath of the dawn operation that left at least 15 persons dead.
$5 million + $1 million
The United States’ National Counterterrorism Center in its website said Zulkifli, 49, an engineer trained in the United States, is believed head of the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia (MM) allegedly a terror group, and a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command.
“Since August 2003, he has been present in the Philippines, where he is believed to have conducted bomb-making training for the Abu Sayyaf Group,” the NCTC website said.
Zulkifli carries a $5m (220 million pesos) reward for anyone who could provide information leading to his arrest, the NCTC said.
Abdul Basit Usman, described by the NCTC as a Filipino citizen, a “bomb-making expert” with links to the Abu Sayyaf and the JI, carries a million dollar (44 million pesos) reward.
The US government’s denials, notwithstanding, Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate last week filed a resolution asking the Joint Committee on National Defense and Security; Public Order and Safety; and Peace, Unity and Reconciliation to investigate the alleged involvement not only of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima in the Mamasapano operations but also the United States’ alleged involvement.
In a press statement on Sunday, Zarate cited reports from witnesses in Maguindanao said at least one American soldier died during the fighting.
He cited a report from Jerome Succor Aba, spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro, that they were able to interview a 40-year-old farmer in Brgy. Tukanalipao, Mamasapano who allegedly saw at least “one body of a Caucasian soldier” minutes after clash.
Zarate said he hopes to get the farmer-witness to testify during the investigation.
He recalled that the civilians arrived in the area after troops of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front withdrew to the Islamic Center in Sitio Inubog, Brgy. Pimbalakan, Mamasapano.
Zarate said the farmer, as well as other civilians who arrived in Pimbalakan narrated seeing a helicopter that “hovered over the bodies to carry ‘specific bodies.’”
Bayan Muna reiterated in its statement that the 1987 Philippine Constitution and the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement, forbid foreign military troops from engaging in direct military operations in the Philippines.
The statement also cited Suara Bangsamorom as saying six Moro civilians were killed during the military operation in Mamasapano, hours before the actual encounter. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)