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De Lima: MILF can’t invoke peace process to evade raps

By: - Reporter / @TarraINQ
/ 04:09 AM April 18, 2015
MILF-0409

Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. AP FILE PHOTO

A crime is a crime.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) may not invoke the peace process to save its members from criminal liability for the deaths of 35 police commandos in the Mamasapano clash, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Friday.

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READ: De Lima: Peace process won’t stop us from filing raps vs Moro rebels in Mamasapano clash

De Lima said the government would press criminal charges against members of the MILF, among 90 Moro rebels whom Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors have recommended for prosecution for the killing of the policemen.

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“It’s a crime. People died. I don’t want to say what charges will be filed, but the offenses are very much covered [by criminal law],” De Lima said.

“They (MILF leaders) have to understand that we will not accept that they will be exempt. No. We will insist on [the filing of criminal charges], and that is in fact discussed in the report,” she added.

Leaders of the MILF have said the group’s members were protected against criminal prosecution because it had a ceasefire agreement with the government.

The truce is part of the peace process between the government and the MILF, which have signed a peace agreement and are working on a law that would establish a new autonomous region for Muslims and end a decades-long conflict in Mindanao.

De Lima countered that the peace process does not trump the country’s criminal laws.

“This (the killing of the policemen) is covered by the criminal justice system. What is clear to me is that even in the course of the peace process, peace negotiations, under a peace process regime, there is no suspension of the power of the state to go after violations of criminal laws, especially when what is involved [is] not [a] political act,” De Lima said.

Lives lost

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She said criminal cases must be pursued because lives were lost in the clash between Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.

Thirty-five commandos from the 55th Special Action Company (SAC) were killed by rebels from the MILF and its splinter, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), in a daylong gun battle in Tukanalipao village in Mamasapano.

Nine other commandos, from the 84th SAC, died in fighting with Moro gunmen in Pidsandawan village, also in Mamasapano.

Seventeen MILF rebels and three civilians were also killed in the fighting.

On Thursday, a joint panel from the DOJ’s National Prosecution Service and the National Bureau of Investigation submitted its report on its investigation of the clash, recommending the prosecution of 90 rebels from the MILF and the BIFF for the deaths of the 35 commandos from the 55th SAC.

The 224-page report did not cover the fighting in Pidsandawan. De Lima gave the investigative team two months to find out who killed the nine commandos from the 84th SAC, the 17 MILF rebels and the three civilians.

The team, however, has yet to find witnesses to the Pidsandawan violence. De Lima said the government had asked the MILF to give the team access to witnesses, but the group had yet to respond.

The police commandos died during a botched operation to arrest Malaysian terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and Amin Baco, alias “Jihad,” and their Filipino associate Basit Usman.

Marwan was killed during the operation, but Baco and Usman escaped.

The 84th SAC was the strike force that killed Marwan in his hut in Pidsandawan. The 55th was the blocking force, which arrived late to support the 84th and was attacked by Moro rebels and armed residents of Tukanalipao.

The investigation report will be forwarded to President Aquino. De Lima said on Thursday that she would review the report this weekend and see if it could be released on Monday.

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TAGS: 55th Special Action Company, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, biff, De Lima, Department of Justice, Leila de Lima, Maguindanao province, Mamasapano, Mamasapano clash, MILF, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro rebels, peace process, Philippine National Police-Special Action Force, SAF Commandos, Tukanalipao village
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