MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III announced on Thursday, September 17, the result of a probe into the "alternative version" of the biggest controversy faced by his administration: Special Action Force (SAF) troopers killed Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan in Mamasapano on January 25.
Aquino made the announcement in a special national address broadcast live on state radio and television, to put to rest questions on who really eliminated Marwan, the primary target of the police operation already subjected to various probes.
"Ibig sabihin din po, lahat ng iba pang salaysay ukol sa sinasabing alternatibong naratibo ay wala ng basehan at wala na ring saysay (This means that all the other narratives about the so-called alternative narrative have no basis, and are also pointless)," the President said in his address past 1 pm, after presenting photos proving that the SAF killed Marwan.
Speculation over the Mamasapano incident in Maguindanao was fueled by Aquino's September 8 statement that the government was looking into an “alternative version” of the encounter that could hold over 100 people accountable.
In his September 8 Q&A with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Aquino admitted that he still had some unanswered questions despite various investigations on the case. He said the alternative account was undergoing "very intense scrutiny" to ferret out the “complete truth" behind the tragedy.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had claimed in its alternative version of the incident that Marwan was killed by one of his aides before SAF commandos stormed his hideout. The aide was supposed to have cut off Marwan's finger and turned it over to the SAF.
In his address, Aquino said a series of photos he was shown proved otherwise. He presented the photos, with some parts blurred due to their graphic nature, at the news conference.
The President first showed a photo of a deceased Marwan, the same provided to the media. It raised suspicions as the terrorist's right hand was covered, and might have been the source of the finger sent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for validation.
Aquino said, however, that the released photo was only part of the "bigger picture."
He showed another photo of a SAF trooper beside the corpse of Marwan, who still had all fingers on his left hand. The successive photos showed the same elite cop cutting off a finger from Marwan's left hand, and Marwan's left hand minus one finger.
He said the authenticity of the photos were verified by the cybercrime forensic experts of the National Bureau of Investigation, who checked the SD cards containing the photos.
"Our forensic examiners concluded that the pictures are authentic and unaltered," the President said.
In response to expected questions on why these photos were only shown to the public now, Aquino said during the number of formal investigations on the incident, none of the probers asked if there were other photos taken.
He said he asked the new SAF commander if there were other photos related to the incident. He submitted them to the President after he ascertained the existence of the photos.
The President also said that because of the large reward offered at home and abroad for the capture of Marwan, "it was not surprising that not many wanted to get the bounty and attempted to muddle the investigation."
Whole truth, justice
In a news conference after his address, Aquino said the truth about the Mamasapano incident would provide some form of "healing" for the families of the casualties.
"Wala tayong mapapala kung hindi natin sasabihin kung ano ang totoong nangyari. Palagay ko mas masama naman na maraming iba’t ibang palaisipan na walang basehan ang pababayaan nating umiral kung alam naman natin kung ano ang katotohanan na nangyari," he said.
(It won't benefit us if we don't tell what really happened. I think it would be worse if we allow all these baseless speculations to persist if we know what really happened.)
Aquino explained that he ordered government agencies to check allegations of an alternative version of the incident to "determine the whole truth" and to "arrive at a final conclusion."
With this, he said, the government can move in its pursuit for justice for the slain SAF troopers.
"Ngayong tapos na ang usapin tungkol dito, uusad na tayo lalo ng paghahanap ng katarungan, lalo na para sa mga nasawi. Sa ngayon 90 indibidwal ang haharap sa patas at masinsin na proseso ukol sa pagpaslang sa 35 commando ng 55th Special Action Company na bahagi ng SAF," he said.
(Now that this case is closed, we will move in our pursuit of justice, especially for those who were killed. As of now, 90 people will be subject to a thorough and fair process in relation to the death of the 35 commandoes of the 55th Special Action Company, which is part of SAF.)
The NBI and National Prosecution Service Special Investigation Team (NBI-NPS SIT) submitted the first Mamasapano report to recommend charges against suspects in the incident.
It recommended direct assault with murder and theft charges against 90 fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), its breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and private armed groups for their actions in Mamasapano.
The report of the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry (PNP-BOI) implicated resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima for acting "without authority" before and during the operation that targetted terrorists Marwan, and Abdul Basit Usman.
The report also said Aquino bypassed the chain of command in the PNP when he allowed Purisima to take part in the operation even after his suspension.
In July, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved the recommendation of the special panel of field investigators to file administrative and criminal charges against Purisima, former PNP Special Action Forces chief Police Director Getulio Napeñas, and 9 other police officers in relation to the Mamasapano carnage.
The special panel absolved Aquino of any criminal liability. (READ: Purisima, ex-SAF chief face criminal raps over Mamasapano)
Investigations were also conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the MILF, the International Monitoring Team, and the Senate and House committees.