Alternative version baseless, irrelevant – Aquino
It’s final. The alternative version of the Mamasapano incident is baseless and irrelevant based on the results of the investigation conducted by the government, President Aquino declared on Thursday.
In a live public address in Malacañang, the President said new evidence has proven that terror suspect Marwan was neutralized by the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, not by other forces based on the alternative account of the operation last January.
No foreign soldier was also involved in the combat operations in Mamasapano early this year contrary to allegations by some groups, the President said.
“What does the alternative
narrative say? It was posited that one of Marwan’s companions killed him – the same one who cut off his finger and gave it to the SAF,” the President said in Filipino.
“But it is clear from the presentation today: The SAF were there; we can no longer doubt that it was the SAF who took Marwan’s finger. This also means: All the other accounts about the alternative narrative are baseless, and consequently have no relevance,” Aquino added, showing a series of photographs of a deceased Marwan during the Mamasapano operation.
File criminal charges With the closure on who really eliminated Marwan, Aquino said the government is set to file criminal charges against 90 persons behind the death of SAF troopers in Mamasapano.
The criminal cases, including murder with direct assault and theft, will be lodged by the Department of Justice on Monday.
“Now that the conversation about this alternative matter is done, the process of justice, especially for the fallen, can continue. At present, there are 90 individuals who will face fair and thorough procedures for the murder of the 35 Commandos of the 55th Special Action Company, which is part of the SAF,” Aquino said.
Of the 90 suspects implicated in the Mamasapano deaths, Justice Leila de Lima said 26 come from the MILF ranks, 12 from Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), 52 from various private armed groups. De Lima, speaking to reporters at the Palace, said they will face the complex crime of direct assault with murder and theft.
She said authorities have yet to gather witnesses for the death of the nine other SAF members during the ill-fated operation.
Slice of ‘enormous bounty’ Aquino said the alternative version was apparently peddled by some groups to muddle the true account of the Mamasapano incident and get a slice of the bounty for the death of Marwan.
“We must also remember: the bounty imposed on Marwan, whether in or outside our country, was enormous. It should not come as a surprise that there are many who hope to obtain the reward, and are trying to muddle the discussions about the matter. Our investigation has allowed us to gain clarity on the matter,” he said.
De Lima also said the alternative account of Mamasapano was floated by “intel peddlers” who want to get a part of the reward given to Marwan’s head.
‘Alternative version’ The controversy began when President Aquino announced Sept. 8 that the government was probing an “alternative version” of the SAF operation to ferret out the truth behind the incident. Aquino’s remarks triggered criticisms from some groups that the government was out to distort the truth and cover up the Mamasapano deaths.
On Jan. 25, the SAF troopers were able to take down Marwan but 44 troopers died in the clash with Muslim rebels in the area. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) however later reportedly claimed that Marwan was killed by an aide, contradicting the account of the SAF.
In his speech, the President presented photos of the lifeless body of Marwan during the SAF operation. Aquino said the first photo of a deceased Marwan, which came out in the media, was “only a portion of the whole picture.” Based on the cropped photo, the suspect’s right hand was hidden which triggered speculations it was the source of the finger sent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for DNA testing and validation.
Aquino then showed another photograph, this time in its entirety wherein the SAF troopers were beside the body of Marwan. “We can also notice that the fingers on his left hand are still complete,” he said.
The next photo, presented by Aquino, featured the same SAF trooper holding the left hand of Marwan and in the act of severing the finger.
“In the following picture, we can see that the SAF is still present, and in that same picture, we notice that the left hand of Marwan is now missing a finger,” the President said.
Aquino said these photographs, which he saw just last Monday, were sourced from the SAF and been validated as “authentic and unaltered” by the National Bureau of Investigation.
Anticipating queries why these photographs came out only now, Aquino said no one else asked if there were other pictures during the formal investigation of the incident. Aquino said he was the one who asked for more pictures to be certain of the true account of the operation.
No foreigners involved On the alleged involvement of US troops in the Mamasapano mission, the President insisted that the SAF troopers were not accompanied by foreigners.
“Bawal sa Saligang Batas natin na mag-o-operate ang foreign troops in our soil kung ang SAF na mga pulis ay may nag pilit na sumama sa kanila doon, baka obligasyon nilang arestuhin dahil bawal ‘yon sa Saligang Batas [The Constitution prohibits operations of foreign troops in our soil. If anyone tried to join the mission, it was the obligation of the SAF as policemen to make the arrest since it violates the Constitution],” he said.
No MILF consultation
Asked if he has informed the MILF about the results of the probe, Aquino said he does not consult with the group on matters related to his performance of duty.
“My duty is to execute the laws and part of this is there was a crime committed in the killing of, well, all the people who were killed because of the Mamasapano incident. Find out who did it, file the appropriate cases, bring them to the bars of justice. And do I have to consult the MILF with regards to that? I don’t think so,” he said.
Aquino, however, said there will be “coordination” with the MILF on the serving of the arrest warrants against members involved in the Mamasapano clash to avoid any untoward incident.
Asked if he was confident the issue will be resolved before he steps down next year, Aquino maintained that it is up to the court to decide on the cases to be filed against those implicated in the Mamasapano clash.
But Aquino admitted that he expects the case proceedings to be long since the suspects will defend themselves from the charges.
“Mahaba-haba pa ‘yung proseso, baka hindi natin magawa sa loob ng natitira naming 287 days at ‘yon ang realistic doon (The process will be long so we might not be able to complete this in the remaining 287 days. That’s being realistic),” he said.
Starting the process
“But we have started the process. After the investigation, it will go through preliminary investigation to determine if the 90 persons will face the legal process under the law,” he said.
Aquino assured anew the government will pursue justice for the slain SAF members as well as the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Board of Inquiry
Meanwhile, Director Benjamin Magalong, who headed the PNP Board of Inquiry that investigated the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident said he is ready to relinquish his post as “chief investigator” if it will be proven that it was not the SAF who killed Marwan.
“If proven otherwise, willing ako mag-step down. Ganun ang conviction ko. Unang-una, pag proven otherwise, lumabas na hindi pala (SAF ang pumayag), ano pang gamit ko as investigator? Masisira yung credibility ko as investigator or head of investigating body investigating Mamasapano incident,” he told reporters.
He said he already talked to PNP Director General Ricardo Marquez to explain the dynamics of their investigation and that he “sufficiently answered” his questions.
“I think we have covered everything and we are very, very confident insofar as yung killing of Marwan, definitely SAF ang na ka patay,” Magalong, who is the chief of PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management, said.
He said he will not dignify MILF’s claims and will stick to their findings unless the Moro rebels could present their evidence.
Magalong also lamented the gripping demoralization in the PNP following the disclosure of the “alternative version” of what transpired during the bloody January 25 Mamasapano encounter. (With a report from Charissa M. Luci)