DOJ gathering evidence vs MILF, BIFF commanders

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Justice (DOJ) is gathering evidence toward the filing of criminal charges against commanders from the ranks of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) over the deaths of 44 elite cops in the Maguindanao clash last week.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told a local radio station here Monday, February 2, that her office is also collating reports from concerned agencies.

Local reports have identified 5 suspect commanders from the MILF and 8 from the BIFF, whose names came out ithe testimonies of witnesses residing near the encounter site who were interviewed by the authorities.

Earlier, President Benigno Aquino III ordered the DOJ to file appropriate charges against the perpetrators in the massacre of 44 policemen.

MILF’s vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said they are not certain whether to turn over to authorities their commanders allegedly involved in the clash since the organization is also conducting its own probe.

There are proposals to take the case to an international court over possible war crimes. (READ: Miriam: Determine command responsibility over Mamasapano)

The deadly fighting occurred on January 25 while members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force were in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao on a law enforcement operation against Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and JI Commander Basit Usman.

Zulkifli – who has a $6-million bounty by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation for his involvement in the 2002 bombing in Bali, Indonesia, that left 110 foreign nationals dead – was reportedly killed. Usman, a “bomb-making” expert who has a $1-million bounty on his head, escaped. 

While police commandos were pulling out from the BIFF site, they encountered a group of MILF rebels under the 105th Base Command, resulting in fierce fighting.

The MILF claimed it was a misencounter and that they also lost 18 colleagues, while 14 others were wounded. Seven civilians were also killed in the incident, according to a Bangsamoro NGO that interviewed residents. Rappler.com

(An earlier version of this story attributed to Secretary De Lima the names of the 13 suspects from the MILF and BIFF. They were identified in earlier local reports, and have been removed here pending an independent verification. – Editors)