DOJ to probe deaths of 84th SAC troopers in Mamasapano raid
There is no rest in the quest for justice.
The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) special investigation panel on the bloody Jan. 25 Mamasapano raid is buckling down to work to continue the second phase of their mission: Finding out who were behind the deaths of nine members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force’s (PNP-SAF) 84th Special Action Company (SAC) or Seaborne unit.
This after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima gave the panel a fresh deadline of two months to find out who should be charged for the deaths in Pidsandawan Village, where the unit was deployed at the time of the clashes.
“In the next phase, we intend to gather more testimonial, documentary and object evidence that will focus on the circumstances surrounding the 84th Seaborne’s encounter with the armed groups at Barangay Pidsandawan,” said Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, a member of the investigation panel.
“We are still working and we have not stopped. We have a new, although small, window within which to discharge the tasks given by the Secretary of Justice,” he told the Inquirer.
The men were among 44 PNP-SAF operatives killed during daylong firefights in Mamasapano, which ensued during an operation to arrest Malaysian terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” later killed in the assault, and Amin Baco, alias “Jihad,” and Filipino Basit Usman.
The team, composed of state prosecutors and investigators from the National Bureau of Investigation, had just submitted to De Lima a 224-page report recommending that 90 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, be criminally charged for the deaths of 35 SAF members from the 55th Special Action Company.
Men from this company were killed in Tukanalipao village.
Three SAC forces were on the ground on that fateful day: The 84th Seaborne, which was in charge of tracking down the targets; the 55th SAC, which was tasked to be 84th SAC’s blocking force, and the 45th SAC, which acted as standby troopers and was on the highway.
The incident, which happened nearly a year since government and the MILF signed a comprehensive agreement, spurred left and right investigations and doubts on the sincerity of the Moro group’s commitment to peace.
It also put in peril the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which remains under deliberations in Congress. The legislation is supposed to enforce the peace agreement, creating a distinct Bangsamoro juridical entity.
Navera answered in the affirmative when asked whether the team would continue to seek the cooperation of the MILF, which has not responded to requests for access to potential witnesses.
But he said the team would work around this hurdle in case they still would not be able reach those who could lead them to suspects.
“We have no choice but to seek their (MILF) cooperation,” said Navera when reached by phone.
“But as the investigative and prosecuting arm of the state, even if they don’t cooperate, we will not stop nor be stymied. There are many legal means to obtain evidence other than seeking a party’s cooperation,” he added.
He said the panel’s list persons of interest would still include those of different affiliations.
“Since ours is an impartial, in depth and comprehensive investigation that is evidence-based, we did not and will not discriminate as to guerrilla or PAGs (private armed groups) affiliations, or even armed civilians, in coming up with a list of persons of interest and suspects,” said Navera.
MILF leaders had said their members were shielded from criminal prosecution because of the group’s ceasefire agreement with the government.
De Lima has, however, said the Mamasapano deaths were clearly covered by criminal law, and that the MILF may not invoke the peace process to evade prosecution. RC
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.