Death of SAF troops 'murder all the way and around'

MANILA, Philippines – “Murder all the way and around.”

A Special Investigation Team composed of members of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the National Prosecution Service (NPS) has recommended the filing of assault complexed with murder and theft charges against 90 individuals over the death of 35 elite cops during a botched police operation in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, on January 25.

The report was submitted to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima last week but was only made public on Wednesday, April 22.

The 90 fighters, identified by the NBI-NPS team’s eyewitness codenamed “Marathon,” face direct assault complexed with murder or the complex crime of direct assault with murder for their supposed actions on the cornfields of Barangay Tukanalipao on January 25.

Theft charges were also recommended against the 90 individuals for supposedly taking the firearms, gear, and personal belongings of the slain Philippine National Police (PNP) SAF (Special Action Force) commandos.

According to the report, the MILF, BIFF and PAGs committed “murder all the way and around” when they crossed the river in barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano to “finish off the dying members of the 55th SAC (Special Action Company).”

Although it was the 55th SAC who fired the first shot, the MILF, BIFF and PAGs battling the SAF troopers "already knew that they were engaged in a firefight with police officers" as early as 8am on January 25.

The report's findings run contrary to the claims of an MILF commander, who in an interview with MindaNews said they only found out they were fighting SAF troopers at 2:30 in the afternoon. (READ: MILF commander: No 'overkill' in Mamasapano)

“There was a conspiracy among the MILF, BIFF, and PAGs elements to kill the 55th SAC commandos,” read the executive summary of the 225-page report.

The “conspiracy,” the report added, “took the form of the phenomenon pintakasi,” a term used when armed men band together to fight a common threat, regardless of their political and ideological affiliations.

“The MILF, BIFF, and PAGs elements were impelled by a common intention, and banded together against the 55th SAC to kill and wipe out the latter,” the report added.

MILF: No unnecessary force

But its report on the incident, the MILF has insisted that its fighters “did not use unnecessary force” when they battled the 55th SAC.

“They faced their adversaries employing the weapons that were available to them, and using their advantages to the fullest,” the MILF report said. (READ: Espina stands firm on SAF 44 'overkill')

The MILF in its report also emphasized that other groups – the BIFF and PAGs included – could easily have entered the cornfields after its own fighters pulled out, following the declaration of a ceasefire.

The MILF also said there was nothing wrong when its fighters took the firearms of the slain SAF commandos, noting that this was “the usual action taken by rebel groups.”

The MILF, which signed a peace deal with the Aquino administration last year, has since returned several firearms to the government.

‘Oplan Exodus’

The charges come nearly 3 months after the January 25 “Oplan Exodus,” a SAF-led operation that saw 392 elite cops enter Mamasapano in a mission to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan” and Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman.

The 55th SAC was the designated as the “blocking force” of the mission, tasked to support the “main force” or the 84th Seaborne Company, which in turn was given the order to neutralize Marwan and Usman.

But in what the PNP’s Board of Inquiry has called a “defective” operation plan, the 55th SAC found themselves trapped in the cornfields of Mamasapano with no cover nor concealment.

Only one member of the 36-member 55th SAC survived the firefight against local armed groups, while the 84th SAC lost 9 of its men.

“Oplan Exodus” claimed the lives of at least 67, according to the PNP BOI – 5 civilians, 18 Moro fighters, and 44 SAF troopers. It’s the bloodiest one-day operation in PNP history and is proving to be the biggest crisis in the Aquino administration.

De Lima earlier told reporters that the NBI-NPS report as it stands, does not include charges over the deaths of the civilians, MILF fighters and 9 members of the 84th SAC since they have yet to find an eyewitness to pinpoint suspects. – Bea Cupin/Rappler.com