MILF commander who stopped Mamasapano clash shuns interview with BOI

SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao (MindaNews/26 Feb) – A commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who was instrumental in stopping the clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25 has refused to be interviewed by the board of inquiry formed by the Philippine National Police to look into the circumstances behind the incident.

Wahid Tundok, commander of the 118th Base Command, met with the BOI in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan here on Wednesday, but for unknown reasons declined an interview with the probe body despite assurances by MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar of full cooperation by the rebel group.

Tundok was supposed to be a key witness to what really happened on Jan. 25, when members of the PNP Special Action Force engaged Moro rebels in a clash that has imperiled the peace process between government and the MILF.

The encounter left 44 SAF commandos, 18 MILF fighters and at least five civilians dead.

The area of operations of the 118th Base Command lies adjacent to the 105th Base Command, the MILF unit that fought the SAF commandos in Barangay Tunakalipao, Mamasapano last Jan. 25.

“We wanted to ask him (Tundok) about the Mamasapano incident. I wanted to make a sense of what happened,” BOI chair Police Director Benjamin Magalong said.

Magalong and the entire BOI suspended their investigation of the SAF survivors when they received word that the MILF had granted their request to interview Tundok.

Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., chief of the government Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, and his counterpart in the MILF Rashid Lidasan said it was Tundok who called the MILF field commanders and told them to disengage because they were fighting government troops.

The government and the MILF have a ceasefire agreement, one of many agreements signed in the course of on-and-off talks since 1997.

Magalong said Tundok could have clarified his role in helping the truce committees put a stop to the fighting in Mamasapano last Jan. 25.

“We cannot force him if he does not want to be interviewed. That is his right. Our investigation has no force of law to compel anyone to testify,” the police official told reporters after Tundok told him of his decision.

Magalong had to be contented in talking with Jaafar in a closed-door meeting that lasted for an hour.

Jaafar said the MILF was cooperating “fully” with the BOI and has allowed them to interview their field commanders.

He said the BOI’s only request was to interview Tundok, which the MILF Central Committee approved.

“The MILF is complying with everything that has to do to forward the peace process,” Jaafar said.

Jaafar himself led the convoy of the BOI to the MILF main office in Camp Darapanan in Simuay Wednesday.

The MILF official told reporters that the seven-man MILF special investigation body headed by a member of its central committee has nearly completed its investigation of the Mamasapano incident.

He said the MILF will submit its report to the Malaysian facilitator in the peace talks once their investigation is concluded.

“It is standard procedure in our negotiations to submit any documents to the Malaysian facilitator who is the neutral party,” he explained.

Magalong said they would like to get hold of a copy of the MILF investigation report before concluding their own investigation.

The BOI arrived in Cotabato City last Tuesday and interviewed SAF survivors. They also visited the bloody battlefield in Mamasapano on the same day.

A BOI member said they were particularly interested on why the 55th SAF Company did not go to the line of coconut trees and bananas just 500 meters from the battlefield where they were annihilated by the MILF fighters who had surrounded them.

“Cover and concealment is always a requisite in military maneuvers. We studied them in military and police schools,” the official who asked not to be identified said.

“We think the SAF commandos did not know the terrain when they arrived at the site Sunday dawn. It would have been a different story if they have reached the coconut trees,” he said.

The official said the MILF fighters knew the terrain and made use of the advantage of cover and concealment behind the coconut trees.

Aside from Tundok, former PNP chief Director General Allan Purisima also declined to be interviewed by the BOI.

Purisima, however, has testified before the Senate committee on public order and safety, where he divulged, among others, the exchange of text messages between him and President Aquino while the Mamasapano operation was going on.

Magalong said he is confident that their investigation will be substantial and done without “sacrificing its quality.” (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)

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