DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 Jan) – Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday ordered the city’s flags be flown at half mast in a show of sympathy to the fallen Special Action Force (SAF) personnel at Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
As of press time, at least 44 SAF personnel, among them officers, have been confirmed to have died in clashes with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
The Philippine government has described the incident as a “misencounter,” with both sides saying there was no coordination between the government and the MILF.
An earlier agreement between the government and the MILF said all field actions must be coordinated.
Both houses of Congress have, meanwhile, suspended hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law following the incident last Sunday.
In an interview aired at Bombo Radyo Wednesday, Bayan Muna representative Karlos Zarate said President Benigno S. Aquino III should be held accountable for the incident, following reports he had allegedly ordered suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima to proceed with the covert operation.
Zarate sits at the house committee in charge crafting the house version of the BBL.
The congressman also questioned the presence of US military personnel at the site, citing the appearance in photographs and news footage of at least four foreigners helping carry the injured to a helicopter.
In an interview, Duterte said that the government should also not abandon the peace process just because of the incident.
The SAF personnel were reportedly serving an arrest warrant of fugitive Zulkifli Abdul bin Hir, also known as Marwan, as well as Abdul Basit Usman, in Mamasapano.
Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said it was imperative for government forces to coordinate combat operations, especially in hotspots such as Maguindanao.
Speaking at Wednesday’s AFP-PNP press conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel, Año said that this was an important factor during combat operations.
Duterte, in an interview aired at 24 Oras Wednesday afternoon, called the incident an “illegitimate operation.”
He also said that government forces should have considered the ongoing peace talks between the government of the Philippines and the members of the MILF peace panel, aside from the drafting of the BBL in Congress.
“I can understand the position of the military in saying ‘you’re not supposed to be there’ because you’re not supposed to be there. The loss of life is really terrible,” Duterte said.
Duterte also offered to talk to the rebel group “so that these things will not be repeated again.”