HR chief surveys Mamasapano clash site: 'It's tragic'

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – Chairperson Etta Rosales of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) surveyed the site in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where 44 police commandos died in the hands of Muslim rebels.

“It’s tragic,” she told reporters when asked about her initial findings on Wednesday, February 4. “It’s tragic because this is farmland of locals. This is where they are getting their livelihood.”

Rosales said that, because of the recent incident, parents have stopped sending their children to school to keep them safe.

The CHR chief got a briefing from Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan at the cornfields, the location where the bodies of police were recovered after an 8-hour gunfight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on January 25.

The CHR is one the agencies conducting parallel probes into the incident, which the government called as a “misencounter” – a label that members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP SAF) has protested.

“There is a saying: when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Whenever there are armed confrontations, it’s the civilians that are number one affected,” Rosales said.

“If we cannot reach those unfortunate people and fight for their rights in their homes, jobs, schools, and even in their small community that is out of the map, our efforts toward promoting human rights are useless. That we need to bear in mind always,” she explained.

The 44 members of the elite PNP SAF were killed while 14 others were wounded when they were exiting Tukanalipao village after a law enforcement operation against Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir Zulkifli and JI Commander Basit Usman.

Zulkifli 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. Usman, a “bomb-making” expert, has a $1-million bounty on his head. 

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

“It’s enough. We hope the firing of guns will totally stop here. We need to show to the public that we can stop the fighting,” Rosales stressed.

SAF belongings gathered

She said her office will return here to conduct further investigation as well to promote human rights in the Mamasapano’s 14 villages. On Wednesday, the CHR brought with them some belongings of slain SAF gathered from the site as part of their evidence in their own investigation.

Rosales appealed to leadership of MILF chief Ibrahim Murad to continue engaging in the peace negotiation with the government. “We need to consider the interest of the entire people in Mindanao. Our family, children and their future.”

Rosales urged the public to pray for the fallen policemen as well as the MILF rebels and civilians who died.

“The tragedy here is so heavy. Let’s all unite and embrace the truth,” she said.