Did MILF coddle Marwan? Police, military chiefs differ

Ayee Macaraig
Answering questions from Senator Recto, PNP OIC Leonardo Espina says the MILF provided haven for the terrorist, while AFP chief Gregorio Catapang Jr says the group didn't

 

MANILA, Philippines – Was the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) coddling expert Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir known as Marwan, and another terrorist, Filipino Abdul Basit Usman?

The heads of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) gave different answers to senators investigating the deadly January 25 encounter that sparked a blame-game, and renewed rivalry between the two uniformed forces.

AFP Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang Jr said it was only the breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) opposed to the peace process that coddled Marwan.

Yet PNP Officer in Charge Leonardo Espina told senators in a hearing on Tuesday, February 10, that the MILF also provided safe haven to Marwan, who had evaded arrest in the Philippines since 2003.

Espina said “granted” that Marwan stayed in a BIFF area, the site was just a few kilometers away from MILF territory.

Senator Ralph Recto asked Espina: “So walang duda sa inyo, kinukupkop both ng BIFF at MILF si Marwan at Usman?” (So there is no doubt in your mind that both the BIFF and the MILFF coddled Marwan and Usman?)

Espina responded, “Yes, sir.”

Recto followed up, “Tine-training both?” (Marwan and Usman were training both groups?)

Espina said, “Highly possible.”

Espina also answered in the affirmative when asked if both the MILF and the BIFF killed the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) members who attempted to arrest or kill Marwan and Usman on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, a known territory of the MILF.

Rashid Ladiasan, the MILF representative in the hearing, denied Espina’s claim.

“It’s not true that we coddled Marwan and Usman. They are not stationary,” Ladiasan told Recto.

The Senate is probing the encounter that also killed at least 17 MILF members and some civilians. The clash raised questions about the sincerity of the MILF in the peace process with the government as Congress deliberates a law to create an expanded autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao.  

The clash also revealed the complex web of relationships between the MILF, BIFF, and other armed groups, as some MILF members are relatives of BIFF forces.

AFP not sure about MILF-Marwan ties 

Recto earlier asked Catapang the same questions, but the AFP chief was more guarded in his response.

The military general said that when troops hunted down Marwan and Usman, the bomb makers were “accommodated” in the place of the BIFF. Catapang said, in exchange, the terrorists gave BIFF training in bomb making and terrorist activities.

When asked if Marwan was also training the MILF, Catapang said, “No, your honor.”

Recto said, “So you believe their (MILF) statement that they did not know Marwan was [in Mamasapano]?”

Catapang said, “We are receiving information, but we are not sure.”

The contrasting answers show the PNP and the AFP’s different views of the MILF, following pronouncements from police commanders that they did not coordinate the operation with the military for fear the information will be leaked, and Marwan would be tipped off.

Relieved SAF commander Getulio Napeñas was quoted in reports as saying that he does not trust the MILF, while the AFP has been working with the MILF in maintaining a ceasefire under the government-MILF peace process.

In the first hearing on Monday, Catapang said the AFP considered the peace process in responding to the SAF’s requests for reinforcements. Police officers lamented that the military was slow to respond to its requests for back-up.

The MILF used to allow members of al-Qaeda and the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to train in its camps. Their ties go back to the Afghan war in the mid-’90s. Yet in 2005, the MILF decided to prepare for peace talks, cutting ties with the terror groups, and expelling them from its camps.

The Mamasapano incident sparked questions about the MILF’s relationship with terrorists and the BIFF, which broke away from the MILF in 2011.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has denied his group coddled Marwan. He also said the MILF cannot surrender Usman.

Iqbal said on January 31, “I do not want to sound philosophical, but you cannot turn over something that is not in your possession.” – Rappler.com