Senate draft report: MILF liabilities in Mamasapano 'massacre'

Senator Grace Poe is not taking the MILF to task for the death of the SAF commandos, only its members who were involved in the bloody clash

Carmela Fonbuena

9:25:23am March 17, 2015

9:25:23am March 17, 2015

BODY COUNT. Police carry a body bag of one of their comrades during a retrieval operation on January 26, 2015, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.

BODY COUNT. Police carry a body bag of one of their comrades during a retrieval operation on January 26, 2015, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Grace Poe said the bloody clashes in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, were "clearly a massacre," rejecting the claim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that it was a "misencounter" where its members engaged the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in "self-defense."

"The Mamasapano incident is clearly a massacre, not a so-called misencounter," Poe said on Tuesday, March 17, as she presented to media the executive summary of the draft Joint Committee Report on the bloodiest one-day security operation in the country's recent history. It is being circulated for signatures, as of this posting.

She noted how the slain SAF commandos were shot at close-range.

"One skull was so severely injured that the point of exit could no longer be determined. The autopsy report also found it possible that a number of the SAF troopers had their vests removed before they were shot," read the executive summary distributed during the press briefing. 

Poe is not taking the entire Muslim rebel group to task for the death of the SAF commandos. The Senate panel is recommending filing criminal charges against its members who participated in the pintakasi (free-for-all) that killed 67 Filipinos including 44 elite cops, along with the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other armed groups in the area.

Poe said the liability of the MILF is largely in its failure to return the firearms of the slain SAF commandos.

She added: "There's still the question: Did they harbor a criminal in their territory?"

Poe was referring to suspicions that the MILF coddled terrorists like Zlkifli bin Hir or Marwan, one of the targets of Oplan Exodus, an allegation repeatedly renied by the rebel group.

The draft Joint Committee report recommended murder, frustrated murder, and robbery charges against those involved in the massacre.

"Given that the MILF has declared that the actions of its fighters were not sanctioned by their organization, and were committed in their private individual capacities, the MILF fighters involved in the incident should be charged in their individual and personal capacities as common criminals," Poe said, reading from the executive summary of the report.

The January 25 clashes broke a long-held ceasefire between government troops and the MILF and imperilled the ongoing peace process. 

The original timeline assumed that Congress would pass before its break at the end of the week, March 20, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that seeks to give wider powers to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The deadline was moved to June 30.

Poe said the tragedy highlighted the need for the peace process to succeed but at the same time, the MILF must show its sincerity in the process while the BBL should be reviewed.

"It is impossible to have peace without justice. Should the government continue to deal with the MILF which refuses to submit the findings of its internal investigations into the incident or disclose the identities of those involved in the massacre? The peace that we seek must be based on justice where the rule of law reigns supreme, adn where criminals are prosecuted and punished accordingly," read the executive summary.

The Senate draft report agreed with the police Board of Inquiry findings on the responsibility of President Benigno Aquino III. Poe said Aquino's biggest mistake was allowing a suspended police chief, his close friend Director General Alan Purisima, to participate in the operation. 

Poe said the President should admit his mistakes and explain his actions. But Poe categorically endorsed filing charges against Purisima for usurpation of authority.

The report was drafted by the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs with the committees on peace, unification, and reconciliation, and finance. – Rappler.com