Manila Bulletin

Al­ter­na­tive ver­sion base­less, ir­rel­e­vant – Aquino

- By GENALYN D. KABILING Crime · Latin America News · Politics · Mamasapano · Philippines · Special Action Force · Philippines Department of Justice · United States Department of Justice · Leila de Lima · Moro Islamic Liberation Front · United States of America · FBI · Federal Bureau of Investigation · California Bureau of Investigation · Saudi Arabia · Namibia · Panama · Nigeria

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.

The photos

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.

Long process

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)

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