Thursday, March 12, 2015

Who’s to blame for the slaughter of 44 SAF commandos in Mindanao?

Bodies of the 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) killed in action
in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.

Who knows?

This is the reason why the Senate’s Committee on Public Order, chaired by Senator Grace Poe, is hell bent on conducting public hearings that are set to uncover the truth behind the slaughter of 44 elite commandos of the Special Action Force (SAF) on January 25, 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, Philippines.

But unable to hold his temper during a hearing, Senator Allan Peter Cayetano immediately to put the blame on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters as the culprits behind the debacle in Mamasapano.

He insisted that if the MILF didn’t coddle the terrorists and its fighters stayed away from the operation made by the SAF commandos to neutralize Marwan, a Malaysian terrorist responsible for the bombing  that killed more than 200 people in Bali, Indonesia many years ago, the SAF casualties wouldn’t have been that much.

As Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chair of the Constitutional Commission on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), explained that what happened in Mamasapano could be considered a “Pintakasi”, a term when Muslim fighters who are related to each other would come together to fight against intruders in their community.

What makes it worse is that all the police and military officials who had direct or indirect involvement in the botched massacre in Mamapasano, Maguindanao, were found to be finger-pointing at each other to the frustrations of the grieving families of the fallen heroes. Now, they’re seeking true justice from the government.

While the government has yet to establish culpability for the slaughter of 44 members of the elite Special Action Force (SAF), the second one after the massacre of 57 people, including mediamen in the same province two years ago, the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is likely to be stalled temporarily as the Board of Inquiry investigates the truth behind the alleged massacre.

And the recent public hearing called by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee can attest to this. Already, some lawmakers have expressed dismay at the way the MILF officials are reacting to the tragic incident.

In fact, Philippine Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr., chairman of the Senate's Committee on Local Governments, had stopped to move forward with the discussions on whether to approve or not the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a legal framework that is expected to replace the existing Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), even if it’s a violation of the 1987 Constitution, which created ARMM.

Marcos said that the latest killings of our policemen by the combined elements of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), not to mention the private armed groups,  in Maguindanao would affect the discussions on the BBL. On Monday’s public hearing, Senator Marcos has appealed to MILF Chairman Mohaghir Iqbal , who was present in the hearing, to surrender those responsible for the gruesome killing of the SAF commandos, if only to appease the sentiments of the people that the MILF is not coddling the killers. In this way, the suspected killers can face the bar of justice.

Sizing up the senator's facial expression, it appeared that he was frustrated at the way things turned out as Congress begins to dissect the nitty-gritty of the BBL prior to its full deliberations in the plenary halls of Congress.

This early, political analysts seemed uncertain as to whether the BBL could still be tackled by the lawmakers even at the committee level, citing mistrust towards the party that is supposed to take extra precautions considering the sensitivity of the proposed law.

As a show of gratitude, the MILF initially turned over at least 16 rifles taken from the killed SAF troopers to the Philippine National Police. However, police officials were dismayed at the conditions of the rifles. Most of the returned weapons were defective and some parts were replaced.

Were there lapses on the part of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and MILF's hierarchy which resulted in miscommunication between the two opposing forces? But like any other political organizations, some pundits pointed to the lack of command responsibility on the part of the MILF higher ups as they, perhaps, failed to convey the imposition of maximum tolerance prior to the breakout of the firefight.

Ironically, suspended PNP chief Allan Purisima vehemently denied of his alleged participation in the Mamapasano incident during a public hearing conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. But the sacked SAF director had insisted that he took orders from Purisima himself, who was privy to the plan to get Marwan and Basit Usman since Project Exodus was hatched a couple of months back prior to the suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman of PNP Chief Allan Purisimia.

But MILF spokesman Mohagher Iqbal was quick to say that the killings happened to be a misencounter between the two opposing forces.

Determined to get to the bottom of it all, PNP director-general Leonardo Espina has ordered a thorough investigation on the matter in order to find out the truth behind the killings of policemen as they served the warrant of arrest for two Malaysian terrorists who were believed to be protected by the BIFF and the MILF.

As this happened, there is a brewing circumspection on the way the Bangsamoro Basic Law was crafted. And it seemed nobody among the members of the government negotiating panel knew beforehand that the BBL couldn't be possible. As a matter of fact, former Senator Nene Pimentel, father of Sen. Koko Pimentel, cited a violation of the Local Government Code that states that the proposed Bangsamoro Sub-state shall operate  a parliamentary system, under a presidential form of government.

The older Pimentel said that this is not possible under the Philippine Constitution. There must be a referendum first before the Bangsamoro Basic Law is approved, he said. Legal minds are saying that the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created under the 1987 Constitution. Therefore, it can only be erased through the majority mandate of the people.

In the hindsight, the government peace negotiators didn't see it coming. This despite knowing that one of the vocal members of the government panel is considered to be a good lawyer by profession. And from the way it looked, it appears that Prof. Miriam Coronel Ferrer and Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process  (OPAPP) secretary  Teresita Deles were acting as lawyers for the MILF, instead of representing the interests of the government.

It is hard to let this pass without really allowing the public to scrutinize the issue at hand. Why? Because had the BBL been enacted into law, the government would have been made to believe that the MILF was really serious in its dealing with the government  in achieving a lasting peace in Mindanao.

However, until the Monday’s Senate hearing, MILF chair Mohaghir Iqbal could only promise to take the matter up with the MILF hierarchy prior to the surrender of those MILF fighters involved in the Mamasapano massacre. Iqbal said he would take up the matter with the MILF chief Murad Ebrahim who is still on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. At the instigation of Senator Marcos,  Iqbal had agreed to help the government probers to see to it that those fighters who violated the proper doctrines of war are arrested and tried in the court of law. 

As of this writing, the MILF is singing a different tune these days. MILF officials said that they would pursue an internal investigation on whether MILF fighters were involved in the massacre, claiming that 18 of its fighters were also killed in action. What seems to be strange at this point in time is that the MILF has declared in a statement that it wouldn't furnish the Department of Justice (DOJ) a copy of its own investigation on the Mamasapano massacre once it is completed. Instead, it will only give a copy to Malaysian officials who were involved in the peace negotiations that is expected to establish a Bangsamoro sub-state in Mindanao, unconstitutionally replacing the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

However, local and international political observers had viewed this move as unethical and uncalled for considering that it could be misconstrued as a disrespect for the peace agreement itself, wherein three parties were involved in the negotiations. Why only furnish a copy to Malaysian counterparts in the first place? To some people, the impending action of the MILF officials tends to be tainted with a hidden agenda that could elicit negative suspicions from many sectors across the Philippine society and abroad.

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