MILF: Rebels ‘justified’ in fighting back, taking SAF arms

Angela Casauay
MILF: Rebels ‘justified’ in fighting back, taking SAF arms
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front maintains that its members did not commit 'overkill' in Mamasapano

MANILA, Philippines – There is nothing extraordinary about taking war booty in a conflict scenario, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said in its report on the bloodbath in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, which it released on Tuesday, March 24. 

Reiterating that the incident was a “direct armed encounter,” the MILF said its armed members were “justified” in “fighting back” since the police Special Action Force (SAF) fired the first shot. 

On January 25, close to 400 SAF troopers entered Mamasapano, Maguindanao – a known MILF bailiwick – to arrest wanted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir (Marwan) and Abdul Basit Usman. The police operation that was not coordinated with the military and the MILF, which has a standing ceasefire agreement with the government. Marwan was killed but Usman was able to get away.

Although the operation neutralized one terrorist, it also resulted in the death of 44 SAF troopers, 17 MILF combatants, and 5 civilians. (The police Board of Inquiry earlier reported there were 18 MILF fighters who died.)

Citing international law, the MILF said the actions of its members to take the firearms of fallen SAF troopers was considered as “acceptable behavior of armed non-state actors.”

Rule 49 of Customary International Humanitarian Law states that “the parties to the conflict may seize military equipment belonging to an adverse party as war booty.” 

“This is nothing extraordinary. In fact, this is the usual action taken by rebel groups,” the MILF said. 

On calls for the return of the personal belongings and the rest of the firearms of the SAF, the report said: “The MILF can only return those that were taken by its combatants.” 

No surrender of MILF combatants

In the report, the MILF maintained its stand that its members did not commit “overkill” in Mamasapano, shifting the blame for a viral video showing a SAF trooper being shot to death to the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other armed groups in the area. 

The MILF said its forces were “justified in fighting back after it was fired upon” by SAF’s 55th Special Action Company, which served as the blocking force for the group that went in to arrest Marwan and Usman.  

The surrender of MILF members, should a separate probe from the National Bureau of Investigations find them liable for war crimes, is one of the conditions that lawmakers have set before putting the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law into a vote. 

But the MILF has maintained that it will not surrender its forces to government forces since it continues to be a rebel group until the peace accord is implemented.

In case of any liability, the MILF said any “disciplinary action” should be carried out by the MILF, as agreed upon in the ceasefire agreement signed with the government. 

The Implementing Operational Guidelines on the General Cessation of Hostilities states that the “[Government of the Philippines] and the MILF will take appropriate actions on their respective forces who this Implementing Guidelines and Ground Rules.”

Deliberations on the proposed law – a product of the peace deal between the government and the MILF signed in 2014 – were stalled following the clash. The measure aims to entrench a new autonomous government with greater fiscal and political powers than the current one in place. 

Read here the full text of the MILF report on the Mamasapano incident. – Rappler.com 

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