ZAMBOANGA CITY: Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” who was the subject of a botched commando operation that led to the massacre of around 50 policemen in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province, is still alive and hiding somewhere in the nearby province of Lanao, according to the spokesman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
In fact, Emmanuel Fontanilla said the Malaysian bomb expert was not even in Mamasapano when the elements of the elite Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) stormed a purported Jemaah Islamiyah in Tukanalipao village on January 25.
He said that the intelligence information that was used as basis for the attack was “wrong.”
The commandos were also hunting down Filipino terrorist Basit Usman in the same village, acting on intelligence information. Both men are on the wanted list of the Philippines and the United States. Washington has offered $1 million reward for Usman and $5 million for Zulkifli.
The police raid left 44 commandos dead after they intruded inside the MILF’s 105th Base Command, sparking fierce clashes. The MILF, which signed a peace agreement with the government last year, said police forces assaulted the base forcing former rebels to fight back in self-defense. MILF members also stripped the slain commandos of their uniform and weapons, but it was unknown whether their leaders would return it to the police.
Earlier, Department of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, citing intelligence information, said Zulkifli was killed in the daylong battle and that there was a photograph of his cadaver to prove the terrorist was slain.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman also claimed that Zulkifli was killed and that his body was recovered by civilians and immediately buried in accordance with the Islamic tradition. He said the body cannot be exhumed because it is against Islam.
Hataman’s claim cannot be independently confirmed, but Mamasapano town Mayor Tahirodin Benzar Ampatuan said there were no reports that Usman or Zulkifli were hiding in his town.
“We have no reports that Usman or Zulkifli are hiding in our town. What the police raided was the 105th Base Command of the MILF,” he said.
Ampatuan said police also did not inform or coordinate with him when they launched the operation in Tukanalipao village. “We are not even aware of the police operation and police did not coordinate with us,” he stressed.
The 6th Infantry Division also said the police failed to inform or coordinate with them when they mounted the operations that led to fierce clashes with former rebels. The BIFF also attacked the police commandos and killed more than a dozen of them.
Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the secluded chieftain of the MILF, has ordered an investigation into the clashes.
“Our concern is the truth. There will be a lot of speculations as to what happened and until what happened is established with credibility and integrity, the said incident will weigh down our current efforts to bring peace to our homeland,” he said.
“In order to give meaning to their deaths, we must resolve not to let something like this happen again. To this end, the MILF is convening a Special Investigative Commission to be composed of members of the MILF Central Committee and BIAF General Staff who are tasked to investigate the events at Mamasapano, Maguindanao that resulted in the death of members of the MILF and of soldiers of the Philippine Government,” he added.
Meanwhile, in Manila, a cause-oriented and consumers group also on Wednesday called on Roxas to resign over what they perceived as lapses in every national government position he held after losing in the 2010 polls.
The United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC) said Roxas has to resign after committing blunders in each post where he was appointed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Roxas as head of DILG has the PNP under his wing, Javellana explained, but noted that the secretary was caught unaware of the SAF operation in Mindanao.
The Mamasapano carnage is the latest blunder that Roxas has to face, following a series of equally debilitating controversies in the PNP.
Javellana’s group made the call as PNP spokesman, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, was ordered relieved effective Wednesday. The announcement was made by his deputy, Senior Supt. Robert Po, in a press briefing in Camp Crame.
However, Po refused to give further details on Mayor’s sudden relief. But a police officer, who requested anonymity, said the relief may have something to do with “promotion.”
Mayor, former spokesperson of suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, will be replaced by Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr., deputy director of the PNP Directorate for Intelligence.
Mayor in a text message confirmed his relief as PNP spokesman and that Cerbo will be his replacement.
Mayor was named PNP spokesperson in September 2014, replacing Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac.
He is a member of Philippine Military Academy class of 1985 while Cerbo belongs to PMA class 1984.
WITH REPORTS FROM JING VILLAMENTE AND ANTHONY VARGAS