The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday recommended murder charges against 90 Muslim rebels, even though such a move could jeopardize a peace process championed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
In a statement, the DOJ said the joint Special Investigation Team created to look into the Mamasapano incident recommended in a report that charges of direct assault complexed with murder and theft be filed against the suspects.
It added that the 90 suspects were identified by eyewitnesses, including a key witness identified only as “Marathon.”
“It was murder all the way and around,” the report said, charging that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which agreed to a ceasefire with the government last year, and other Muslim armed groups had banded together to kill the Special Action Force policemen who were on a mission to arrest international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and his Filipino cohort Abdul Basit Usman.
In a summary of its investigation, the Justice department said the MILF and other Muslim bands attacked the police commandos even though they knew they were policemen.
The report charged that the attackers continued to shoot the policemen even when “the latter already raised their arms in surrender.
“After the firefight, MILF elements crossed the river over to the cornfield to finish off the dying [policemen],” it said.
The Justice department said it had to withhold the names of witnesses and suspects as this could hamper arrests of the suspects.
The government peace panel, which hoped to seal a peace deal with the MILF before Aquino steps down next year, said they were studying the report and would issue a reaction.
The MILF previously said it would not surrender men wanted in connection with the January 25 incident despite impending criminal charges.
“We maintain that our combatants involved in the Mamasapano incident defended themselves so they did that in self-defense. As far as we’re concerned, they did not commit any crime,” MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar said earlier.
Aquino had originally hoped to pass a law authorizing an autonomous region for the nation’s Muslim minority–the key part of the peace pact–before the end of his term.
But outrage over the killing of the policemen has delayed the law’s passage with numerous legislators now challenging it.
Aquino, however, said in an exclusive interview with Agence France-Presse earlier this month that he still believed the law could be implemented during his term as opposition was now softening.
The raid apparently succeeded in killing Malaysian bomb-maker Marwan, one of the United States’ most wanted.
The Justice department said also needed was further investigation of allegations that policemen had killed Muslim civilians and that the United States played a role in the botched raid.
Aquino has warned that failure to implement a peace accord could radicalize the MILF’s moderate base and cause further bloodshed in the South of largely Catholic Philippines.