MILF commander: No 'overkill' in Mamasapano

MANILA, Philippines – Stressing it was not an “overkill,” a Muslim rebel commander said his troops retaliated against an elite police force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, because they thought the policemen's attack was part of a clan war or rido.

In an interview with MindaNews published on Friday, February 13, MILF commander Haramen said his troops heard the first shots at around 4:30 am on January 25.

Akala namin rido (clan war) 'yun. Ang kadalasang mangyari sa amin, rido, said Haramen, operations commander under the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

He said they didn't think the attackers belonged to the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) or the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The MindaNews report quoted Haramen as saying “it was easy to know if government troops are operating because the first bursts of gunfire would be followed by air support and mortar fire.”

Pero sa mga sandaling yun, hindi pa namin alam ang kalaban namin kung military o SAF kasi walang eroplano, walang bazooka, 105 (mm howitzer). Kapag military yun, galing sa gobyerno, siguradong mayrong eroplano at saka 105. Buong akala namin grudge talaga, na mga tao na ayaw nila ang aming tropa,” Haramen said.

(But in those moments, we didn't know if our enemies were from the military or SAF because there was no airplane, no bazooka, no 105-mm howitzer. If it's from the military, from the government, for sure there would be an airplane and 105. We really thought it was from people holding a grudge, people who don't like our troops.)

The MILF commander's statements come as criticism over the lack of coordination – between the SAF and the MILF, and between the SAF and the PNP – continues to hound the Mamasapano operation. (READ: Mamasapano: What ifs and what could have beens)

'How can it be a massacre?'

In his interview with MindaNews, Haramen said he and his troops knew their attackers were from SAF only at 2:30 pm on January 25. This was after the MILF's central committee informed them about this.

He said they initially didn't see the SAF members who hid in the cornfields.

Sila ang nakakakita sa amin. Nakita namin sila noong pag-search na. Pero wala na kaming magawa. SAF pala. Pero nangyari na ang nangyari,” he said. (It was they who saw us. We only saw them during our search. But we couldn't do anything; it turned out to be SAF. What was done is done.)

Haramen, however, denied allegations that the MILF perpetrated an overkill. The MILF's critics earlier said it was not an encounter but a massacre.

'Yun ang sasabihin nila kasi galit sila sa amin. Kahit anong sabihin nila, nagsasabi pa sila na 'massacre' pero paano ang massacre eh engkwentro? May napatay sa amin, sila pa ang unang bumaril. Paanong sabihin na massacre? Pero maraming sumasakay na hindi gusto ang kapayapaan. Gusto nila ang hindi kapayapaan,” he said.

(That's what they will say because they're against us. They say it's a massacre, but how can it be a massacre when it was an encounter? Some of us died. They were the ones who fired the first shots. How can that be a massacre? But many people who don't like peace want to ride on the issue. They don't like peace.)

He said farmers like himself want peace, not war. “Kung may giyera dito, sino kayang mag-araro? Sino kayang mag-farm kung may eroplano na magbomba sa amin?” (If there's war here, who would do the farming? Who would farm if an airplane would bomb us?)

Haramen denied that MILF troops killed SAF members who were seriously wounded but alive.

Hindi po totoo. Sa amin po bawal barilin ang patay at ang hindi na makalaban,” he said. (That's not true. We're not allowed to shoot those who are dead and helpless.)

On February 11, during a joint joint House public order and peace committee hearing on the deadly clash, Police Chief Inspector Reynaldo Ariño, commander of the 5th Special Action Battalion, confirmed that the armed officer shot twice in a purported video of the Mamasapano clash circulating online was a member of the SAF.

"Yes, it's a SAF officer assigned in the 55th company," Ariño was quoted as saying.

It has not been established, however, who did the merciless shooting, which had been described by the MILF's peace chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal as an act of someone worse than a terrorist.

Drone seen over Mamasapano

Haramen's statements also shed light on the possible American involvement in the Mamasapano attack.

Haramen said he has heard reports that the United States had a hand in the bloodbath, but said he himself didn't see Americans.

On the night before the attack, however, starting around 8 pm on January 24, he and his troops observed a drone hovering around the area.

Relieved Police Director Getulio Napeñas denied the use of drones in Mamasapano, in the face of reports that a drone supposedly owned by the US surveyed the area and monitored operations.

The Mamasapano clash thrust Philippine President Benigno Aquino III into one of his worst crises, with critics even calling on Aquino to quit.

When asked about a rally set on February 22 to ask Aquino to resign, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Saturday, February 14, said the Palace respects these “demonstrations for expression.”

Lacierda, however, said the Palace is waiting for the results of the investigation into the incident “because we really need to know the truth.” – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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