By Vince Alvic A. F. Nonato, Reporter

Charges filed against 90 in Mamasapano clash

Posted on September 23, 2015

GOVERNMENT investigators filed yesterday charges of direct assault with murder against 90 individuals, in connection with the killing of 35 of the 44 elite commandos who perished in the controversial Mamasapano police operation of Jan. 25 this year.

The National Bureau of Investigation-National Prosecution Service Special Investigation Team (NBI-NPS SIT) recommended the respondents’ prosecution for the killing and looting of the 35 members of the 55th Special Action Company (SAC) in a cornfield in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano.

Twenty-six of the respondents belong to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which the government struck a peace agreement with in 2012.

Twelve other respondents are from the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the remaining 52 from various private armed groups (PAGs).

“These 90 respondents acted in conspiracy with one another to attack, employ force, seriously intimidate or resist the 35 SAF (Special Action Force) commandos, who were uniformed police officers and, thus persons in authority,” read the panel’s complaint filed before the Department of Justice.

The team also rejected the labels that the clash was a “massacre” or a “misencounter.”

“In the team’s appreciation of the facts and available evidence, the incident was not a massacre as graphically described by the Senate nor a simple misencounter as clinically suggested by the MILF. Rather the complicated truth is somewhat in between these two extremes,” the complaint also said.

The respondents’ names were removed from the officially released copy of the 15-page complaint. Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima said giving away the identities may hamper the issuance of subpoenas.

The respondents’ affiliation with the armed groups would likely complicate that procedure. Ms. de Lima said it would seek the assistance of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities to get the MILF to cooperate with the NPS’ preliminary investigation on the case.

She said things would be more difficult with the BIFF. “We don’t know whom to talk to,” she said.

Subpoenas for the PAG-affiliated respondents would be coursed care of the office of Mamasapano Mayor Datu Tahirodin Benzar Ampatuan, a grandson of the late Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr.

The respondents were identified by five eyewitnesses who are now under the Witness Protection Program, including the primary witness code-named “Marathon.” Ms. de Lima said the witnesses estimated a thousand participants in the ensuing clash, but could only identify the 90 now named as respondents in the criminal complaints.

Three or four videos that circulated in social media were also taken into account by investigators, she added. Those who took the videos were not included among the respondents because they were found not to have killed the police commandos.

There was a five-month gap between the release of the NBI-NPI SIT’s initial fact-finding report on April 22 and yesterday’s submission of the complaint for preliminary investigation. Ms. de Lima said this was because of the validation process especially in identifying the respondents.

A draft transmittal letter “prepared a month ago” was put on hold, in lieu of a so-called “alternative truth” raised by President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, to the effect that it was not the SAF that neutralized internationally wanted Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, in the wee hours of Jan. 25.

Ms. de Lima said “prudence dictated that it not push through first” before they could seek Mr. Aquino’s clearance in filing the complaints.

The complaints covered only the 35 killed in the shoot-out at Barangay Tukanalipao where only one SAF member survived.

Besides the 35, nine members of the 84th SAC, the unit that attacked Marwan’s hut at Barangay Pidsandawan, were also killed, along with 18 MILF fighters and five civilians.

Ms. de Lima said the NBI-NPS SIT’s report on “part two” of its investigation was hampered by the lack of eyewitnesses. But she said this is now in the “final stage” and would be released in two weeks.