DOJ report: Attackers shot SAF men even with hands up in surrender
MANILA, Philippines–“It was murder all the way and around.”
The Mamasapano incident was not a “massacre,” as described by the Senate report, nor was it a mistaken encounter, as suggested by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
That’s how the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigative team described the deaths of 35 police commandos in a clash with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.
“[T]he complicated truth is somewhat in between these two extremes,” the DOJ report said.
The report charged that the attackers continued to shoot the policemen even when the wounded survivors had their hands raised in surrender.
“After the firefight, MILF elements crossed the river over to the cornfield to finish off the dying [policemen],” the report said.
“It was murder all the way and around when the MILF, BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) and [private armed groups] crossed the river over to the cornfield to finish off the dying members of the 55th SAC (Special Action Company), by means of gunshots to the head and other parts of their bodies,” the report said.
“There was a conspiracy among the MILF, BIFF and [private armed group] elements to kill the 55th SAC commandos. This conspiracy took the form of the phenomenon that is called pintakasi. The MILF, BIFF and [private armed group] elements were impelled by a common intention, and banded together against the 55th SAC to kill and wipe out the [policemen],” the report said.
The report also mentioned that the star witness identified as “Marathon” had a video stored in his mobile phone that depicts scenes from the Mamasapano incident.
The team recommended murder charges against 90 of the rebels even though the move could jeopardize a peace process championed by President Aquino.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima released the team’s 225-page report on the Mamasapano investigation on Wednesday.
The team, composed of state prosecutors and National Bureau of Investigation agents, recommended charges of complex crime of direct assault with murder and theft of government property against the Moro rebels and members of private armed groups involved in the clash.
The investigation covered only the fighting in Tukanalipao village in Mamasapano where the 35 Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were killed.
The commandos belonged to the 55th SAC. Only one member of the company survived.
Nine other SAF commandos, from the 84th SAC, were killed in Pidsandawan village, also in Mamasapano, but the investigative team has yet to look into what really happened there during the SAF operation to arrest three terrorists.
Also among the conclusions of the team were that the 55th SAC fired the first shot that started the gun battle in a cornfield in Tukanalipao, and that rebels from the MILF, BIFF and members of private armed groups banded together to kill the commandos.
The team also found that as early as 8 a.m. on Jan. 25, the MILF and BIFF rebels and the private gunmen already knew that they were engaged in a firefight with policemen.
The MILF, which has signed a peace agreement with the government, insisted that its combatants involved in the fighting acted in self-defense.
Ghazali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the MILF, said the SAF commandos encroached into MILF community, bypassing ceasefire procedures under the peace agreement.
Jaafar said the MILF fighters involved could be liable under the criminal justice system only if they committed common crimes.
Abu Misri Mama, spokesman for the BIFF, said the government was only wasting its time in filing charges, because the BIFF fighters would never face the government’s justice system.
“They always file charges against us but they actually have not arrested anyone,” Mama said.
‘Marathon,’ 10 others
The names of the 90 suspects as well as the identity and the circumstances surrounding the team’s star witness, identified only as Marathon, were obscured in the report.
Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera said the names of the suspects were “redacted” pending the filing of charges.
De Lima said the redaction was necessary as the suspects were “considered still at large,” although she added that the names would be disclosed upon the filing of the charges.
She said only she and President Aquino had the unredacted or complete version of the report.
“To prematurely identify these suspects before the charges against them are filed, gives these suspects [who are at large] all the more reason to evade the law and will make it difficult for law enforcers to arrest them, perhaps requiring another Oplan Exodus-type of operation for their capture,” the report said.
“Oplan Exodus” was the secret SAF operation for the arrest in Mamasapano of Malaysian terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and Amin Baco, alias “Jihad,” and their Filipino associate Basit Usman.
Marwan, who had a $6-million bounty on his head offered by the United States, was killed during the operation. Usman, for whose capture the United States is offering $3 million, and Baco escaped.
The identities of Marathon, who has been admitted into the Witness Protection Program, and 10 other witnesses were also temporarily withheld for security reasons, De Lima said.
Witness to killings
Marathon gave three sworn statements and identified the suspects, including the ones who took the dead policemen’s weapons and belongings, she said.
According to the investigation report, Marathon was a resident of Tukanalipao and he saw the MILF and BIFF fighters heading to the cornfield.
In his statement, Marathon said he later moved to the cornfield, where he heard people telling the Moro fighters that the men trapped there were policemen.
He said he saw five wounded SAF commandos emerge with their hands raised in surrender, but were shot.
The Moro fighters later went to the area to pillage the dead, he said. The rebels also kicked some of the corpses into the river, he said.
The investigative team ruled out the filing of charges for violation of international humanitarian laws (IHL), as provided under Republic Act No. 9851, against the killers of the SAF commandos.
“The IHL does not apply because there is no armed conflict in an IHL context between the GPH (government of the Philippines) and the MILF now that there is a ceasefire agreement in effect. In fact, there has been no clash since 2011 up until the incident in question. The end of hostilities also ends the personal application of IHL, as when the actors have entered into a ceasefire agreement, making declarations therein ending the hostilities,” the report said.
The team said it based its conclusions on an “immovable standpoint”—that the state has sovereignty over all of the country’s territory and that the areas occupied by the MILF in Maguindanao and elsewhere are parts of it.
“The ceasefire agreement between the GPH and the MILF, despite its laudable purpose of laying the groundwork for eventual autonomy for certain Muslim areas in Mindanao, does not remove these parts from the Philippine territory, nor divest the state of its power to exact punishment for violations of its penal laws. The state’s ability to exercise such power is deemed read into any agreement it enters into,” the report said.
De Lima, in a statement, said the factual findings in the report were “as credible as any finding of fact that has been arrived at either in the PNP board of inquiry [report] or in the Senate report.”–With reports from Nancy C. Carvajal in Manila; Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao; and AFP
Originally posted as of 8:31 PM | Wednesday, April 22, 2015
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