CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 28 Jan) – “It was not a massacre, it was self defense.”
Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said their fighters acted in self-defense when police commandos stormed two villages in Mamasapano town to arrest Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli Abdhir alias “Marwan” last Jan. 25.
“How can you say it is a massacre when the fighting was so intense? It was not a lopsided fight. We suffered casualties too,” Ebrahim said.
He said 16 MILF fighters were killed in the fighting that started Sunday dawn until evening. The Philippine National Police suffered 44 policemen killed in the encounter.
Ebrahim said the special police unit tasked to arrest arrived in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao on the wee hours last Sunday and did not inform the proper agencies in the ceasefire mechanisms being implemented by the Philippine government and the MILF.
He said the incident would not have happened if the PNP’s Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) units coordinated and informed the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group or AHJAG that they will conduct operations in Mamasapano town.
The Philippine government and the MILF formed AHJAG as a cooperative mechanism to allow government troops and the Philippine National Police to run after criminals and terrorists in areas that have a strong rebel presence.
“This unfortunate incident would not have happened had the PNP coordinated with AHJAG,” Murad told reporters in Camp Darapanan.
President Benigno Aquino III, in his speech Wednesday, also echoed the same sentiments.
“How and why could it have happened that the notifications of the AFP battalions close to the operation only came close to the time of jump-off or even after our forces had already jumped-off?” Aquino said.
Murad said the MILF has convened a Special Investigations Commission composed of members of the MILF Central Committee and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) to investigate what happened in Mamasapano last Jan. 25.
He said the committee will try to resolve the question of who fired the first shot and where the firearms of the fallen policemen as well.
Murad promised that sanctions will be imposed by the committee on the ranks of MILF combatants if they were found to have committed wrongdoing.
“Our concern is truth. There will be a lot of speculations as to what happened and until what happened is establish with credibility and integrity, the said incident will weigh down our current efforts to bring peace to our homeland,” Murad said.
He said the MILF would also welcome any independent investigating bodies, including that from the PNP, who wish to go to Mamasapano town.
Murad also reiterated their full commitment to the peace process calling all MILF commanders for a unified call for an enduring peace.
“We express and send our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who died in the armed encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The emotions of loss and pain are not alien to us Bangsamoro and mujahideens,” Murad said.