Criminal charges to be filed against 90 MILF/BIFF/PAGs for SAF 35 deaths

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 April) – Criminal charges are being prepared against 90 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups (PAGs) for the death of 35 of 44 members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF), Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said in a press conference Thursday afternoon after receiving the report of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the National Prosecution Service (NPS) on what happened in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.

The report covers only the killing of the 35 SAF members in the cornfields of Sitio Amilil in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano, prompting Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo, OMI, to express fears about “selective justice” and to offer suggestions to the DOJ to ensure “selective justice” is avoided.

At least 66 persons were killed in Mamasapano – 44 from the SAF, 17 from the MILF and five civilians – when 390 SAF personnel were deployed to arrest Zulkifli bin hir alias Marwan, a Malaysian terrorist early dawn of January 25, without coordinating with the ceasefire mechanisms of the government peace panel and the MILF, and without coordinating as well with the local and regional Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

De Lima said she will review the report over the weekend and will likely make it public by Monday, April 20, the same day the 75-member House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (AHCBBL) resumes deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the law that would govern the future Bangsamoro parliamentary government by June 30, 2016, based on the roadmap of the government and the MILF.

“Pinaka-major witness”

She told a press conference aired live by ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel) that they have witnesses “at merong isang pinaka-major eyewitness” whom they identified in the report through an assigned code, “Marathon,” who is now under the government’s Witness Protection Program.

She said “Marathon” and several other witnesses identified the perpetrators in the cornfields, referring to Sitio Amilil in Barangay Tukanalipao where 35 of the 36-member team from the 55th SAC were killed.

De Lima said the report does not include who are responsible for the killing of the nine other members of the SAF – from the main assault team of the 84th SAC – in Barangay Pidsandawan, where Marwan was reported killed.

No witnesses

“Wala pa kaming nakikitang (we haven’t found) third party eyewitness,” she said.

The report does not also include findings on the killing of the civilians or the MILF although she said probing further is “part of the recommendations.”

“Wala ho kasing na-access na witnesses” (we were not able to access witnesses) who could testify on the killing of the civilians, she said.

She noted the claim of the MILF about the possible liability of PO2 Christoper Lalan for the killing of civilians but “we made several requests to the MILF to allow us access to possible witnesses and families pero wala pa po silang response,” De Lima said.

Killing of civilians

The MILF’s Special Investigative Commission (SIC) Report on the Mamasapano Incident said Lalan “killed the four MILF men when they were asleep inside the langgal who were in no position to defend themselves.”

“He should likewise be held accountable for killing Mohammad Ambilang, a civilian who has clearly shown no aggression as he in fact raised his hands and made known that he is a civilian. The injury sustained by Ambilang in the back indicated that the killing was attended by qualifying circumstances that aggravated the actions of PO2 Lalan,” the report added.

It also said the PNP-SAF must be held accountable “for the death of Badruddin Langalen whose dead body was found inside the position of the 55SAC blocking force in Sitio Amilil” and the same accountability be sought for the killing of 8-year old sarah Tot.

“We will pursue further investigation for the killing of the nine from the 84th SAC and also the killing of the civilians and possibly the MILF’s own casualties,” De Lima said, adding these are not included in the report “simply because wala pa kaming na-access (we haven’t gained access)” to third party eyewitnesses.

De Lima said the DOJ report is based on evidences found, eyewitnesses’ accounts and from the reports of the different bodies that investigated the Mamasapano tragedy: the PNP’s Board of Inquiry, the Senate House Committee on Public Order and Safety, the MILF’s Special Investigative Commission and the International Monitoring Team in the GPH-MILF peace process.

She said the previous reports are full of details but no eyewitnesses, “not even the survivor Lalan could identify” who killed his comrades.

“Avoid selective justice”

“Sinuwerte po ang investigation na meron kaming nahanap na mga eyewitnesses kaya may na-identify na,” De Lima said.

She said the investigating bodies can file the complaint and will ask the families of the SAF 44 to be among the complainants as well.

De Lima said she gave the NBI and NPS “two months from today to pursue further investigation on those aspects na nire-recommend nila na i-pursue – pagpatay sa 84 and civilians and MILF, including the MILF’s claim to be Lalan’s crimes. Lalan was subjected to questioning but he basically invoked his rights,” she said.

Cardinal Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato and convenor of Friends of Peace, sent an SMS to MindaNews Thursday afternoon, offering his suggestions to the DOJ “so as to avoid selective justice.”

“Charge those who in the darkness first shot and killed at the bridge, who killed the hogtied civilian at close range, the other civilians, and the MILF who were sleeping, those who led the SAF to their death because of poor planning, no coordination, lack of it, those who deployed the blocking force in an open non-defendable cornfield, far away from their originally designated location, those who made reports without a sense of urgency regarding the actual situation and thus delay immediate appropriate response, etc etc,” Quevedo said.