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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

MILF: We just fought back

Mohagher Iqbal



MANILA, Philippines–Unaware of a government operation, rebel forces were “justified in fighting back” police commandos who had fired at them first on Jan. 25 on a mission to arrest high-value terrorists, according to a report that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) submitted to the Senate on Tuesday.

Without prior coordination as required under ceasefire guidelines, a gun battle was “inevitable,” said the 37-page report of the MILF’s Special Investigation Commission that looked into the episode that threatens to derail the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the charter of the proposed substate in the Mindanao-Sulu region.

The MILF also insisted that it had not coddled the terror suspects, and attributed to a “glaring failure of intelligence” of two of its base commands for not detecting the presence of Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino associate, Basit Usman, in areas near their communities.

The Special Action Force (SAF) mission, codenamed “Oplan Exodus,” was intended to arrest Marwan, Usman and Amin Baco in Mamasapano. Marwan was killed, but the operation ended in more bloodshed after the SAF commandos clashed with the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and private armed groups.

Killed in Mamasapano in Maguindanao province were 44 SAF commandos, 17 MILF fighters (not 18 as Philippine authorities claim), and at least three civilians, including an 8-year-old girl, according to the MILF report.

Protest considered

The MILF said it should file a protest against the SAF for breaking the ceasefire when it failed to coordinate its operation through the established protocols of the ceasefire mechanisms. It also noted that the SAF categorized the MILF as enemy forces despite the signing of the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Moreover, it demanded that the SAF commandos be held accountable for their own human rights violations, including the killing by survivor PO2 Christopher Lalan of four sleeping MILF men, who were then in no position to defend themselves, and of civilian Mohammad Ambilang who had not shown aggressive behavior.

The MILF also denied using unnecessary force and violating humanitarian law, saying there were other armed groups in the area.

MILF fighters told Moro investigators that some of the SAF commandos had used the dead bodies of their comrades as shields during the intense fighting.

The MILF submitted copies of its report to Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Grace Poe on Tuesday. Marcos, chair of the committee on local governments hearing the BBL, has said the hearings would resume on April 13.

Move unwelcomed

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, head of the government peace panel, welcomed the MILF’s move.
“I think they understood the significance of that kind of cooperation and goodwill to extend to our legislators,” Ferrer told reporters.

“It’s a good manifestation of how important it is for them to be able to show their sincerity in upholding and saving the peace process,” she said.

“In a way, the MILF went out of the established protocol. For me, that’s very positive and I hope the public will appreciate that,” she added.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief negotiator, earlier said the results of the group’s investigation would be submitted to the Malaysian panel, the third-party facilitator in the peace talks, in compliance with the protocol on documents.

‘There is still hope’

On Tuesday, Iqbal said during a forum, “No matter what happens, the MILF will not disengage in peacemaking efforts in Mindanao.”

He expressed hopes that Congress would pass the Bangsamoro charter. “The BBL is battered but not yet down. There is still hope. There is glittering light at the end of the tunnel because there is no other option.”

In its report, the MILF said its forces in Mamasapano had no way of knowing that government troops had fired on them. It said the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) was “justified” in firing back.

“Without prior coordination, the BIAF did not know that the forces in Sitio Amilil were government forces with whom there is a holding ceasefire agreement,” it said.

The report said that when the MILF fighters were fired upon on a wooden bridge, “the BIAF could not have done anything else but to fire back, as two of their men were instantly killed in the assault of the PNP-SAF men.”

In case there is liability on the part of its 105 Base Command for violating the ceasefire, however, the MILF should discipline its own men in accordance with the ceasefire agreement.

The MILF faulted the SAF for failing to coordinate its operation with the group as provided for in the operational guidelines of the ceasefire agreement and the implementing guidelines of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group.

Coordination would have averted the “unfortunate and tragic encounter” and safeguarded the primacy of the peace process, it said.

Overconfidence

The MILF also addressed allegations that it had harbored terrorists, a point that its critics had focused on in assailing the BBL, a product of the peace deal with the government.

The MILF expressed concern its 105 and 118 Base Commands had failed to detect the presence of Marwan and Usman in areas near its communities, attributing this to “laxity” and “overconfidence” in the relative peace arising from the ceasefire agreement and peace agreements. “Appropriate disciplinary action” was recommended against the officials of the two base commands.

The MILF also said there was a failure of intelligence on the part of its men with regard to the entry of 300 SAF commandoes in its community in Barangay Tukanalipao. “Ideally, every movement of government forces and other armed groups in MILF communities must be monitored and correspondingly reported,” it said.

The group called for an investigation to determine the liability of Lalan, who it said killed four MILF combatants who were sleeping inside a makeshift mosque in Mamasapano. Lalan was the lone survivor from the 55th Special Action Company.

The MILF said these men were considered hors de combat, or persons rendered unconscious or incapable of defending themselves.

Lalan also killed Ambilang, it alleged, despite the fact that the civilian had put his hands up in the air to show that he was unarmed. This was in the ambit of violation of International Humanitarian Law, it added.

The SAF should also be held liable for the death of Badruddin Langalen, a 21-year-old farmer who was out to charge his cell phone. Langalen’s hands were tied behind his back and he bore multiple gunshot wounds.

The MILF likewise sought accountability for the death of 8-year-old Sarah Tot, or Sarah Pananggulon, who was killed while running away with her family to seek cover. Her parents were wounded.

War booties

In denying that it had used unnecessary force, the MILF said its forces “faced their adversaries employing the weapons that were available to them, and using their advantages to the fullest.”

As for the desecration of the SAF dead, the MILF said its fighters did not move the bodies except to get their firearms. It said civilians had also entered the site to transport the bodies across the river.

The MILF admitted that its men took the opportunity to take “war booties” when their enemies were dead.

“This is nothing extraordinary. In fact, this is the usual action taken by rebel groups,” it said, adding that it was considered acceptable behavior of armed nonstate actors under the Customary International Humanitarian Law.

Nevertheless, it has returned the firearms to the government in the interest of peace.
As for the personal effects of the SAF members, the MILF said its forces had a limited period of time to take anything since they were ordered to retreat.

The MILF also found it noteworthy that civilians had returned personal effects and equipment belonging to the SAF, which showed they also had access to these.

Source:http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/681138/milf-we-just-fought-back



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