ARMM gov to Senate, BOI: What about the civilian casualties?

CORREGIDOR ISLAND, Philippines (UPDATED) – Who will be responsible for the civilians who were killed in Mamasapano?

This was the question that Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman posed to the Senate and the police Board of Inquiry (BOI), which recently released their reports on the deadly police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that killed 44 elite cops, 18 Moro rebels, and 5 civilians. 

Hataman said the Senate and the BOI reports were "insufficient" as they failed to consider the plight of the families of civilians who were killed in the firefight. 

"Ang pinagsasabi lang doon ng mga investigators natin 'yung mga SAF na napatay at MILF na napatay. Pero walang nagsasabi kung anong gagawin sa mga sibilyang namatay. (The investigators only mentioned SAF troopers and MILF combatants who were killed. But no one said anything about what we would do to the civilians who died)," Hataman said on the sidelines of the 47th commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre in Corregidor Island. 

If the Senate and the BOI want peace in Mindanao, the ARMM governor said they should consider the situation of ordinary Filipinos – not just armed men involved in the incident. (READ: FULL TEXT: Senate report on Mamasapano and FULL TEXT: PNP report on Mamasapano)

"Anong gagawin natin sa mga inosenteng mamayan? Lagi na lang silang dehado (What will do about the innocent civilians? They are always on the losing end)," Hataman said.

Sister Maria Arnold Noel also raised the same lament over how public discourse over the Mamasapano incident has been handled. 

"While we salute the SAF 44, we have forgotten thousands of Muslims, men and women who have perished in the decades-old conflict in Mindanao," Noel said. 

"There was a (8-year-old) Muslim Filipino girl who passed - nobody ever mentions her name now," she added. 

The girl's name was Sarah Pananggulon.

Hataman on Wednesday led the commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre – said to be the catalyst of the decades-old war in Mindanao.  

In 1967, Filipinos from Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Zamboanga were recruited to be part of a commando unit called "Jabidah" under a secret plot hatched by Marcos to invade Sabah and reclaim it from Malaysia. The plot was called “Operation Merdeka.”

But the plan did not materialize. Aside from not receiving stipends promised them, the trainees were subjected to harsh training conditions, lacking basic amenities with only ruins left behind by the World War II as their shelter. (READ: Jabidah and Merdeka: The inside story)

The commemoration of this tragic event comes just a day after the Senate released its report in Mamasapano that tagged the incident as a "massacre."

Hataman had some reservations against the Senate's finding. 

"Ako ho, hanggayon ngayon, hindi ako naniniwala na ang nangyari sa Mamasapano ay isang massacre kasi kailanman di mangyayari isang massacre ay mangyayari sa dalawang grupong magkatunggali na parehong may armas (Up to now, i do no not believe that a massacre will happen between two opposing grounds that are armed)," Hataman said. 

"Ang massacre laban sa mga Moro mula noon - di lang isa, dalawa, tatlo kundi maraming beses ay hindi nabibigyan ng pansin. Kasama na yung Jabidah Massacre. Marami pang nangyari na massacre kahit bago o pagkatapos noon. (There were massacres against Moro before - not just once, twice or thrice but many times. That includes the Jabidah Massacre. There were many others before or after that.)," he added. (READ: ARMM Gov holds back tears, defends Moros)

On January 25, close to 400 police Special Action Force members entered the town of Mamasapano, a know bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to arrest wanted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan, and Abdul Basit Usman. Marwan was killed but Usman escaped. 

The elite cops were surrounded by combined forces of the MILF, breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups who lived in the area. 

In the aftermath of the firefight, the military launched an all-out offensive against the BIFF, partly to hunt for Usman. The ongoing hostilities has displaced more than 100,000 Maguindanao residents.

The political fallout that ensued following the debacle has stalled progress of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress – a product of the peace agreement between the government on the MILF. 

President's responsibility

The Senate report on the Mamasapano that culminated a series of hearings found that President Benigno Aquino III must "bear responsibility" for the operation, in part for allowing then suspended police chief Alan Purisima to be involved.  

Some sectors have called on Aquino to apologize for the debacle following the release of the report. Hataman, a close ally of the President, however believes he has nothing to apologize for. 

"Bakit siya mag-a-apologize? For what? Tandaan natin ganito lang, marami nang namatay diyan na security forces, hindi lang SAF. Ngayon ang tanong ko - anong napakaespesyal sa SAF? Pareho silang ng mga sundalo na sumumpa sa Republika ng Pilipinas para sa sa katungkulan," Hataman said. 

(Why would he apologize? For what? Let us remember - there are many security forces who have died there, not just SAF. Now my question is - what is so special about the SAF? Like soldiers, they swore to the Republic of the Philippine to fulfill their duties.)

"Kailan lang isang kapitan ng ranger ang namatay. Sampu ang namatay sa Jolo. Hindi naman nag-aalboroto ang pamilya para sabihin na bigyan mo kami ng ganito. Dapat tandaan mo namatay ka sa gitna ng labanan. Namatay nga yung walang armas, ano pa yung may armas? Para sa akin, ipaliwanag mo (ng Presidente) kung bakit nangyari ito. Pero mag-aapologize ako for what?

(Just recently, a ranger captain died. Ten died in Jolo. Their families did not demand for compensation. You have to remember you died in battle. If those without arms died, what more those with arms? For me, the President needs to explain why this happened. But he would apologize, for what?) – Rappler.com