DOJ report: SAF troops 'tried to surrender'

MANILA, Philippines – Their arms were raised in surrender but their enemies, numbering close to a thousand, continued firing shots.

When the fighting was over, rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) then crossed a rickety bamboo bridge to the now-bloodied cornfields of Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, “to finish off the dying 55th Special Action Company (SAC) members.”

It’s among the key findings of a report by the National Bureau of Investigation and National Prosecution Service Special Investigation Team (NBI-NPS SIT) which recommended that some 90 fighters from the MILF, its breakaway group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups (PAGs) be charged for direct assault with murder and theft for their supposed actions in the cornfields of Mamasapano on January 25.

“Murder all the way and around” is how the report called the actions of the MILF, BIFF, and PAGs when they crossed the river to kill the 55th SAC, the designated “blocking force” in the operation.

“There was a conspiracy… to kill the 55th SAC commandos,” the report read.

‘They knew they were SAF’

Contrary to earlier claims of the MILF, the NBI-NPS report said the MILF, BIFF, and PAGs battling the 55th SAC knew they were against government forces as early as 8 am on January 25.

An MILF commander earlier claimed in an interview with MindaNews that they didn’t know it was the SAF they were against until 2:30 in the afternoon. (READ: MILF commander: No 'overkill' in Mamasapano)

“The point where criminal liability clearly attached for the MILF, BIFF, and PAGs involved in the ‘pintakasi’ was when they learned they were shooting it out with police officers,” read the NBI-NPS report.

Pintakasi happens when armed men spontaneously join in a “free-for-all” fight against perceived common threats.

Charges for direct assault with murder were recommended because the local fighters continued to shoot “even as the [55th SAC] already raised their arms in surrender.”

“Treachery and abuse of superior strength are easily 2 qualifying circumstances that attended the killing of the 55th SAC members at that point, who according to witnesses, number a thousand,” the report added.

The MILF has denied using excessive force in the encounter, and has refuted claims of “overkill” in the fields of Barangay Tukanalipao.

The PNP’s Crime Laboratory's earlier findings showed some of the 55th SAC’s bulletproof vests were removed before they were shot at.

The medico-legal reports also showed that while most of the troopers sustained gunshots through sniper fire, several were also shot at close range.

Not a massacre, nor a misencounter

The NBI-NPS report is the 5th to be made public since the January 25 clash. Investigation was also made by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, PNP’s Board of Inquiry, the Senate committee, the MILF, and the International Monitoring Team.

But the Special Investigation Team is the first report to recommend charges and pinpoint suspects based on the testimonies of eyewitnesses.

In a statement, the justice department noted that the NBI-NPS team did not label the incident as a “massacre” or a “misencounter.”

The Senate’s draft committee report labelled the clash between the SAF and local fighters as a “massacre” while the government and MILF labeled it a “misencounter.”

“The complicated truth is somewhat between these two extremes,” the report said.

The Mamasapano clash is controversial not just for the deaths of 67. It has also put in danger a peace process between the MILF and the government.

The NBI-NPS report only covers the deaths of the 35 members of the 55th SAC. The report noted that the team has yet to find witnesses to identify suspects for the killing of the 9 members of the 84th Seaborne Company, the civilians, or the 18 MILF fighters.

In a statement, the justice department also said the NBI-NPS team will not be revealing the identities of the 90 who are set to face charges, noting that doing so would “give these suspects all the more reason to evade the law and will make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to arrest them, perhaps requiring another ‘Oplan Exodus’ type of operation for their capture.”

To avoid identifying the names of witnesses, suspects and NBI field agents, the copy that will be distributed to the public has been redacted. – Rappler.com