Int'l humanitarian law violation eyed vs MILF

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 24 2015 11:16 AM | Updated as of Apr 24 2015 07:18 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The recommendation to file criminal charges against the 90 Muslim rebels involved in the Mamasapano killing has been deferred in order to look for additional liability of the suspects under international law, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday.

“I asked the team to reexamine the applicability of the IHL and determine if there could be possible offenses under the IHL for the crimes committed,” De Lima said, referring to International Humanitarian Law.

De Lima said she has ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s special fact-finding team to reconsider their findings on the criminal liability of Moro rebels and private armies in the killing of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) policemen in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25.

The DOJ team has recommended the filing of direct assault with murder and theft against 90 gunmen of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and armed civilians.

In their 225-page report, the probe team did not recommend any charge for violation of Republic Act No. 9851, or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity.

They said the law is inapplicable in this case, citing the existing ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.

De Lima did not agree, and cited the possibility of preparing charges under both the Revised Penal Code and RA 9851 as she deferred action on their recommendations.

“The perspective of the team is that the charges should match with the testimony of the eyewitness and that there should be no duplicity. But there is no duplicity when there are elements under the IHL present in other set of evidence,” she pointed out.

De Lima said she told the seven-member team led by Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera to submit a legal memorandum on this issue after several days.

She said she would await the position of the team before she could order a formal preliminary investigation on the case.

The DOJ report only covers the cases of 35 slain SAF men who belonged to the 55th SAF Company that engaged the MILF and BIFF fighters and armed villagers in the cornfields of Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano.

The cases of the nine other slain police commandos from the 84th SAF Company in Barangay Pidsandawan, as well as five civilians and 18 MILF fighters who were also killed during the clash, would be subject of further investigation by the team that was given two more months to complete the probe.

De Lima also directed the team to investigate further the involvement of US military personnel in the Jan. 25 encounter.

She revealed the key witness “Marathon” mentioned that there were two Caucasian-looking fatalities during the clash between members of the elite SAF and armed men in an attempt to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

“The team said that circumstance on what exactly was the participation of the US cannot be ignored,” she stressed.

In its report made public last Wednesday, the DOJ team said the Mamasapano clash “was murder all the way and around when the MILF, BIFF and the (armed civilians) crossed the river over to the cornfield to finish off the dying members of the 55th SAF command, by means of gunshots to the head and other parts of their bodies.” –With Christina Mendez

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