Charges of direct assault complexed with murder, theft recommended vs 90 suspects
MANILA (UPDATED) - Government investigators are recommending the filing of charges of direct assault complexed with murder against 90 people linked to the January 25 Mamasapano incident.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) said charges of direct assault complexed with murder have been recommended against 90 individuals belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups (PAGs), as identified by eyewitnesses, including alias "Marathon" who is with the department's Witness Protection Program (WPP).
Quoting the investigation conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the National Prosecution Service (NPS), the DOJ said that while the 55th Special Action Company (SAC) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) fired the first shot that started the January 25 gunbattle at the cornfield in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, the suspects finished off dying members of the police unit.
The 225-page report said, by 8 a.m. of January 25, the suspects already knew they were fighting police commandos. Some SAC members were also already surrendering but the suspects continued firing at them -- showing that they were intent on wiping out the unit.
"It was murder all the way and around when the MILF, BIFF, and PAGs crossed the river over to the cornfield to finish off the dying members of the 55th SAC, by means of gunshots to the head and other parts of their bodies," the report said.
"There was a conspiracy among the MILF, BIFF and PAGs elements to kill the 55th SAC commandos. This conspiracy took the form of the phenomenon that is called 'pintakasi'. The MILF, BIFF and PAGs elements were impelled by a common intention, and banded together against the 55th SAC to kill and wipe out the latter.
"The point where criminal liability clearly attached for the MILF, BIFF and PAGs involved in the 'pintakasi' was when they learned that they were shooting it out with police officers. At that point, they became liable for direct assault... [W]hen the firefight deteriorated still into the killing of the 55th SAC members, even as the latter already raised their arms in surrender, the perpetrators became liable for the complex crime of Direct Assault with Murder," the report added.
The NBI-NPS special investigating team also recommended charges of theft after weapons and other belongings of the commandos were taken.
The identities of the witnesses and the suspects were not yet disclosed by the DOJ "for security purposes." It said "[t]o prematurely identify these suspects before the charges against them are filed gives 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."
'IN BETWEEN MASSACRE, MISENCOUNTER'
In the investigating team's appreciation of the facts and available evidence, the incident was not a "massacre," as graphically described by the Senate, nor a simple "misencounter," as clinically suggested by the MILF.
Rather, "[t]he complicated truth is somewhat in between these two extremes," it said.
According to the DOJ, the team approached its inquiry "from one immovable standpoint" -- that the state has sovereignty over all its territory and that the areas occupied by the MILF in Maguindanao and other parts of the country are part of it.
"The Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF, despite its laudable purpose of laying the groundwork for eventual autonomy for certain Muslim areas in Mindanao, does not remove these parts from Philippine territory, nor divest the State of its power to exact punishment for violations of its penal laws. The State's ability to exercise such power is deemed read into any agreement it enters into," the report read.
"Being an inseparable part of the Philippines, Maguindanao or any other place physically occupied by the MILF for that matter, should be accessible to GPH forces whenever the latter discharges its duty to protect the State from groups who threaten its very existence. If the residents in that area, whether MILF, BIFF, PAGs, or even civilians stand in the way of law enforcement operations and they have no legal justification, they should be prosecuted -- no different if the same set of facts happened in a cornfield or riverbank in another part of the country. In short, Philippine penal laws that apply elsewhere, must apply perforce in Maguindanao. They must apply to ordinary civilians, MILF, BIFF, PAGs, and to SAF commandos equally in Maguindanao."
Forty-four SAF troopers were killed in the Mamasapano encounter. However, the DOJ report only covers the 35 slain members of the 55th SAC, which served as a blocking force.
It said there are no third-party eyewitnesses in connection with the assault by the 84th SAC on the house of international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and the subsequent firefight in Barangay Pinsandawan.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima last week said the team was given another two months to further investigate the deaths of the 9 troopers from the 84th SAC.
The second phase of the investigation will also include the deaths of civilians who got caught in the crossfire, and the alleged killing of MILF members by PO2 Christopher Lalan, the lone survivor of the 55th SAC.
MILF WON'T SURRENDER FIGHTERS
The MILF, however, reiterated that it will not surrender its troops involved in the firefight in Mamasapano.
MILF First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar maintained that their fighters only acted in self-defense and did not commit any crime.
Jaafar also insisted that only the rebel group can sanction its members involved in the January 25 encounter. -- With reports from ANC; Jorge Cariño and Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News