Philippine National Police (PNP) Officer-in-Charge Leonardo Espina on Wednesday broke down during an inquiry at the House of Representatives into the slaying of 44 police commandos in Maguindanao more than two weeks ago.
Espina could not hold back tears when he narrated how some of the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were mercilessly killed by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Espina revealed that based on the initial medico-legal reports, at least 23 of the SAF members were stripped of their bullet-proof vests and shot repeatedly in the head.
“Without a doubt, we are for the peace process. We are the peacekeepers. We know the price to pay for war but we seek very clear answers on the overkill[ing]of my people. I cannot sleep because of it. Two inspectors…they did not suffer lethal shots [from the battle]. They were just hit on their feet. [Pero] binaril sa ulo [But they were shot in the head [later],” Espina told congressmen.
“Binaril ng 9mm [gun]sa ulo, dalawang beses [They were shot with a 9mm]. They were fatal shots. They did not die because they committed suicide. They were shot at close range, with a short firearm. This happened even if they [rebels and MILF]can easily see that they’re SAF [troops],” he said.
Espina added that the MILF rebels should not have ambushed the police commandos because they have long signed a peace agreement with the government.
“Bakit nilinis nila yung 44 [commandos]? Legal ito eh. Terorista ‘yan, Kriminal ‘yan [Why did they have to eliminate the 44 commandos? The operation was legal. Marwan is a terrorist. He is a criminal]. Aside from the two SAF members I’ve mentioned, 20 others were killed with shots to the head and the investigation is not yet even over [and we are already hearing atrocities that my men suffered],” he said, his voice cracking.
“I want answers [on]the cruelty. Why are we even talking of coordination to justify the killing of my people? We need justice. This can’t go on. By the time of my death, I should be able to say something to my men when I face them after I die . . . There should be fair play and justice,” Espina added.
Representatives Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City and Karlo Nograles of Davao City sought viewing of a video showing how the SAF men were killed but Representatives Bai Sandra Sema of Maguindanao, Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila), Edgar Erice of Caloocan City (Metro Manila) and Christopher Belmonte opposed the request.
Granting the request “could play with the emotions of the people,” Biazon, a former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said.
But for Nograles, showing the video is necessary to unearth the truth.
“We need to show it so the resource persons can authenticate it, instead of being subjected to the judgment and emotions of the public. Otherwise, the public would accuse us of hiding something,” he said.
The House panel agreed to show the video to 55th SAF Company commander Rey Arillo, who identified the man shot by the Muslim rebels as a member of his company.
“I saw the video. I can also identify the person in the video. He is an officer assigned to the 55th,” Arillo said.