Govt-BIFF skirmishes seen hampering massacre probe

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ONGOING military offensives against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have interrupted government probe into the Jan 25 massacre of the 44 elite police commandos in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province, and are seen causing further delays in the investigation process.

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Presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said a parallel probe being led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has been halted due to the skirmishes. De Lima was supposed to conduct a site visit to the area where the bloody firefight took place.

“What I know is that she did not proceed. They are probably waiting for a go-signal on when they can continue,” Valte said.

The policemen perished under heavy assault by the BIFF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants right after the policemen killed top-ranked terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan. The MILF’s involvement in the massacre had sparked nationwide condemnation given the peace agreement it signed with the government in March 2014.

Apart from the investigation being carried out by the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Board of Inquiry (BOI), the Department of Justice (DOJ) is also conducting its own inquiry, she said.

“I don’t think the President has expressed any preference [for a consolidated government report], but he is expecting, first and foremost, the report of the BOI. We know for a fact that Secretary Leila de Lima is, likewise, conducting her own investigation led by the DOJ (Department of Justice) and the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), and at this point, we do not see at least a need to consolidate. The important thing here are the findings, regardless of whether the reports are consolidated,” Valte told Radyo ng Bayan.

“We don’t have fears that they might outdo each other because in our experience, that has not been the case. We have always seen parallel investigations by separate government agencies,” Valte added.

For its part, the BOI chaired by Director Benjamin Magalong, concurrent chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), continues to remain in contact with the families of the 44 police commandos.

The BOI wrote on Feb 16 a letter to the families of the 44 slain commandos of the PNP-SAF to establish communication and notify them on the progress of the investigation.

The BOI head said that the families of the slain police commandos deserve to be given timely updates and progress of their investigation of the said incident where the elite police unit of the PNP suffered its biggest loss since its creation in the 80’s.

“Our ultimate objective is not just the truth, but to bring the answers to the families of SAF 44, they must receive the rights they are entitled to and to receive timely and appropriate investigative assistance,” Magalong said.

The BOI has also utilized the CIDG’s Quality Assurance Support to the victims (QASV) system to make numerous calls to the families of the SAF-44 with Chief Insp. Arvin Fabro of the CIDG police Community Relations Section calling the families to ask if they have concerns or clarification in the ongoing investigation.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd over the weekend promised his full cooperation on the investigation being conducted by the BOI.

In a statement emailed to Camp Crame reporters, Roxas said he has submitted to the BOI information regarding text messages that he had received and sent to President Benigno Aquino 3rd and other police officials on Jan 25.

“Those that I have submitted to the BOI contain the texts—to and from the President, and likewise for the others,” he said.

Roxas has maintained in several hearings of the Senate and Congress that he, along with the officer in charge of the PNP, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, were kept in the dark regarding “Oplan Exodus,” the plan to neutralize Marwan.

“Exodus” was reportedly planned and supervised by then suspended PNP Chief, Director General Alan Purisima, who opted to quit from his post recently.

Several lawmakers are calling for Purisima to be charged with usurpation of authority for interfering in the police operation despite having been suspended on corruption charges by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Meanwhile, the BIFF has declared an all-out Jihad (Holy War) against the joint military-police operations against them.

Capt Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson and chief, Division Public Affairs Office (DPAO) of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6ID) said the primary objective for the law enforcement operation (LEO) is to bring normalcy to areas that the BIFF destabilized through rumor mongering, which has caused panic among thousands of residents in the area.

Petinglay said the troops of the Joint Task Force Central Command were already underway when they encountered a group of the BIFF at Barangay Iginagampong, Datu Unsay, Maguindanao at about 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. The firefight ended at about 2:00 p.m. on the same day with no casualties reported, she said.

More than a hundred families are now staying at the different evacuation areas in the towns of Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi Ampatuan towns, also in Maguindanao.

The highway where commuters’ buses from as far as General Santos City and nearby Sultan Kudarat province pass through was temporarily closed because of the growing number of displaced persons occupying the sides of the highway but was however cleared and opened for the passage of commuters at 3:00 p.m. on Friday.

The military and the PNP are ensuring that the skirmishes will not spill over to the highway and will contain the fighting in specific areas to avoid more displacements, according to Petinglay.

Abu Misri Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, said they have declared an all-out Jihad against the AFP-PNP joint command.

Misri said there is no need for them to be hunted down by the AFP-PNP, and that it will be the BIFF that will get near the AFP-PNP checkpoints.
Meanwhile, Maguindanao human rights lawyer Zainudin Malang said about 2,000 members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF)’s 105th Base Command have moved out of the area of operation after coordination has been made.

“Since what the Special Action Force (SAF) encountered was just a fraction of the 105th Base Command, and the 105th is only one of the MILF-BIAF’s base commands, imagine what would have happened if there was no coordination,” Malang said.

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