MANILA, Philippines – Both the government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) committed ceasefire violations during the deadly clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that killed 67 Filipinos.
This is according to the “verification report” produced by the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT), the independent body overseeing the ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the government.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) released a summary of the findings Monday, April 6.
Like what the police Board of Inquiry (BOI) report pointed out, the IMT report underscored that the ceasefire agreement was not observed during the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus.
While the Senate report on Mamasapano tagged the incident as a massacre, the IMT report described the clash as an incident that went from “the status of deliberately uncoordinated movements to a disastrous firefight” between the 55th Special Action Company (SAC) of the police Special Action Force (SAF) and the 105th base command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the MILF.
The 55th SAC served as the blocking force for the 84th SAC that was tasked to neutralize wanted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir (Marwan) and Abdul Basit Usman. Marwan was killed but Usman was able to get away. (READ: Mamasapano: Time on target)
They encountered members of the MILF who were on the move following the initial gunfight between the 84th SAC and alleged members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
On alleged terror links
Contrary to claims made by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano that the MILF was protecting Marwan, the IMT report said there was no evidence to show that the MILF as an organization provided sanctuary to criminals and lawless elements.
However, the IMT noted some members of the MILF might have had knowledge of the whereabouts of Marwan and Usman. Mamasapano – the site of the encounter – is a known bailiwick of the MILF.
The IMT said “there is probable cause to assume,” based on evidence gathered from bullet marks at the bridge in Barangay Tukanalipao, that it was members of the 55th SAC who opened fire during the clash, killing two MILF combatants.
This indicates a “full firefight rather than a mere uncoordinated movement,” according to the report.
It was not a violation of the ceasefire agreement on the part of the MILF when it fought back as the move can be seen as a response to the police operation that was not coordinated with them.
But the IMT said the BIAF’s entry into the cornfields where the 55th SAC was located can be considered as aggressive action, violating ceasefire protocols. In order to reach the cornfield, the BIAF had to cross the river or the bridge in Barangay Tukanalipao.
The police has accused the MILF of carrying out summary executions of the SAF commandos after medico-legal reports showed that some members of the 55th SAC were shot dead at close range. The MILF, in its own report, meanwhile, denied the allegation and pointed to the presence of other armed groups in the area, including the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
There is no sufficient evidence that the MILF committed the summary executions against the SAF due to the lack of witnesses, according to the IMT report.
Meanwhile, the IMT said the government side committed another ceasefire violation over the killing of 4 sleeping MILF fighters by SAF survivor Christopher Lalan.
Firearms, personal effects
In the aftermath of the clash, the MILF returned 16 SAF weapons as a sign that it remains committed to the peace process.
According to the IMT, the items taken by the MILF BIAF from falled SAF combatants are considered military and not personal items. These include cellphones that were being used as communication tools or as military items during the fight.
The IMT report only seeks to “verify” the reports submitted by the respective ceasefire committees of the MILF and the government, provide recommendations, and not make thorough investigations, said chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer.
It is not part of the IMT’s mandate to recommend legal sanctions – a task that is best left to the Department of Justice, Ferrer said.
Read the summary of the report provided by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process below: