MILF may have acted in bad faith, says Alunan
MANILA - Don't call it a "misencounter" but a massacre.
This is the opinion of former Interior and Local Government Secretary Rafael Alunan on the killing of 44 Philippine National-Special Action Forces commandos in an encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Sunday.
Alunan said a "misencounter" usually happens between two friendly forces after each side fails to identify each other.
"It happens when both sides fail to identify each other. Gunshots are fired but when one gets to identify a friendly, they stop. they order a ceasefire. In this particular case, the firing was fast, furious and continuous and massacred more than (40) people. It was an overkill and not a misencounter. It was a plain and simple massacre," he said in an ANC Dateline Philippines interview.
Forty-four PNP-SAF men were killed while 12 others were wounded in the encounter with MILF rebels in Tukanalipao village in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas earlier described the clash as a misencounter, saying the police commandos were hunting two "high-value" militants when they ran into a group of rebels who thought the police were mounting an attack.
Roxas said the PNP has formed a board of inquiry that will investigate possible operational lapses that led to the encounter with Moro rebels.
He said the inquiry will look into the culpability and liability of officers or men who led the SAF operation as well as the external liability of the attackers.
He noted that the operation was not coordinated with the command group of the PNP. "Malalaman na lang lahat yan sa board of inquiry," he said.
Mohagher Iqbal, head of the rebel peace panel, said the police failed to coordinate their operations with the ceasefire committee.
"They entered our area and attacked us, what are we going to do?" he asked. "What happened was self-defense."
Iqbal said he was confident the peace deal would not be affected because both sides were committed to it.
CHAIN OF COMMAND MUST ANSWER
Alunan, however, said the clash should have stopped immediately after the MILF recognized the PNP-SAF commandos as government forces.
"The firing took place over a period of one day or at least several hours and the commandos were dressed in proper uniforms. They are easily identifiable. It was not that the MILF did not know how SAF commandos are dressed. The SAF commandos are all over the place and they have been dealing with them in the past so they know what SAF commandos look like in the field," he said.
"For them to say they were surprised by the SAF and acted in self-defense is a lot of BS."
Alunan said the protocol for special operations varies especially if there are serious doubts about the reliability or dependability of supposedly friendly forces.
The former DILG chief urged the government to investigate reports that members of the 105th and 106th brigades of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway group led by Ameril Umbrakato, were cohabitating in the area where the SAF men were attacked.
He said he received reports the SAF group, numbering 392 police commandos, went straight to the BIFF encampment to get terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias ''Marwan'' and Basit Usman, a Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-making expert, in Tukanalipao village and were attacked on their way out.
"If those facts were correct, it only proves that the MILF acted in bad faith. They were very treacherous and it only raises to the fore that they are not really a sincere partner in the peace process," he said.
Alunan said that even before the deadly clash, there were some people who have been disappointed with the ongoing peace negotiations between the MILF and the government after some sectors were excluded in the talks.
He said the clash "sort of validated their views that [the MILF] is not really a sincere partner for peace."
Alunan said the investigation should start from the top of the chain of command, noting that the SAF will not conduct an operation without orders.
He pointed out that after Islamic extremists raided Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur in 1995, then President Ramos ordered the immediate relief of three top police and military commanders to pave the way for an investigation.
"The SAF is an operating force. They were ordered to do something. Now there are people above them who are supposed to coordinate, who are supposed to thoroughly review and vet their operational plans. They are the ones who decided to give the green light. It is not just the Special Action Force but the entire chain of command [who should] answer for this," he said.
He added that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., who is in charge of the anti-terror council, should also shed light on the incident.
"Something as strategic as this operation, which calls for arresting an international fugitive with a price on his head must be, should have been and must have been vetted by the anti-terror council," he said.
He also urged the MILF to present the fighters responsible for the massacre of the PNP-SAF men.
"They are supposed to be friendly forces and they have no business killing our people. If the MILF is sincere about this - they should present all of those people responsible for the massacre," he said.