Slim chance of getting the rest of SAF 44’s firearms

Carmela Fonbuena

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Slim chance of getting the rest of SAF 44’s firearms
Meanwhile, the earlier surrender of the firearms stolen from the SAF commandos shows that the MILF central command has 'control' over its individual members

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The co-chairman of the GPH-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) admitted Saturday, February 21, that they are not very confident the rest of their firearms taken from the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos killed in Mamasapano will be recovered.

Brigadier General Carlito Galvez said the government will recover one more M4 baby armalite taken from the SAF commandos killed in the January 25 firefight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other private armies in Mamasapano. 

Mayroon pa kaming isang M4 na di nakuha. Nasa kabilang ilog yung may-ari. We are convincing the people to return the rest,” Galvez said. (We have yet to recover one more M4. The owner lives across the river.)

The MILF earlier returned 16 firearms – several M4s with grenade launchers, one minimi machine gun, and an M60 machine gun – almost a month since the firefight the broke the years-long ceasefire between government forces and the MILF.

BIFF got high-powered firearms

It’s not just the MILF that took the SAF’s firearms, however. Galvez said it will be hard to recover those taken by the BIFF and other private armies. The various armed groups in the Mamasapano incident engaged the SAF commandos pintakasi (free for all) style.

Hindi na ako confident. Kasi yung mga high powered, yung malalaki, nasa BIFF,” he said. (I am not so confident anymore because the high powered firearms are in the hands of the BIFF.)

The BIFF was the group that reportedly engaged the US-trained SAF Seaborne unit, the main effort that killed top Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir. The group claimed taking 10 long firearms from the SAF.

BIFF are former members of the MILF. They opposed the peace process however and decided to split and form their own group.

In the aftermath of the Mamasapano clashes, sources in the military told Rappler concerns over the SAF’s firearms getting into the hands of enemies. They demanded accounting of the SAF firearms, including night vision goggles, to be able to properly assess the new capabilities of the enemies.

MILF’s ‘big gesture’

TURNOVER: MILF returns 16 firearms taken from SAF commandos

It takes fellow fighters to understand and appreciate MILF’s “big gesture” in the wake of politicians protesting the delay in returning the firearms. (READ: AFP, PNP: Return of SAF firearms ‘good first step’)

Ang masasabi ko lang, it’s the first time na nagkaroon ng turnover ng firearms. In gunbattle, I have never received information na yung mga spoils of war binabalik,” said Galvez. (What I can say is, it’s the first that a turnover of firearms happened. In any gunbattle, I have never received information that the spoils of war are returned)

The surrender shows that the MILF central command has “control” over its individual members, he said. 

He explained: “Kasi sa kanila kapag nakuha mo na yan, normally, merong treasure sa kanila yung ganon. Kahit sa amin, may mga instances na talagang, kung makikita ninyo by history, kapag gunbattle talagang kinukuha nila parang war trophy,” Galvez added.  (READ: OPAPP: Gov’t did not buy returned SAF firearms)

(When they acquire firearms in gunbattles, they normally ascribe value to the weapon immediately. Even among soldiers, there are instances – this is historical – we really take the firearms during gunbattles.)

To soldiers, firearms are also symbolic of their honor, as Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr explained in September 2014 why he didn’t allow the Filipino peacekeepers to follow orders to surrender their firearms to the Syrian Al Nusra Front that promised them safe passage in exchange.

“We do not surrender our firearms. There was a deadlock because Al-Nusra said it was symbolic that they take the firearms. I said, ‘To us, it is not just symbolic. It is our honor at stake,'” Catapang was quoted saying back then. 

Galvez is the former commander in Basilan, where he led operations against the Abu Sayyaf and handled the spill over of the Zamboanga siege in September 2013. 

MILF’s gesture is stained however, by reports that the firearms may have been cannibalized meaning some parts of the weapons are no longer original. The PNP has yet to release a report on the recovered firearms. 

Galvez maintained the gesture is more important the the state of the returned firearms, however. Ang tinitingnan namin yung gesture,” Galvez said. He said the MILF members also lost loved ones and, like the relatives of the SAF members, are very emotional about the issue. –

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