Malacañang has condemned reports that the government paid the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to return the weapons stolen from slain Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano last month.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte slammed Father Eliseo Mercado for peddling “baseless accounts.”
“The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process is very disappointed at the allegations that have been made by Father Eliseo Mercado that the government purchased the weapons to make it appear that the MILF was returning it to government. We do not have any information on the basis of Father Mercado for saying those statements,” Valte said over Radyo ng Bayan.
“Let’s not muddle the issue. The fact is [the]weapons were returned . . . as a manifestation of their continued interest to be our partners in the peace process. In a climate like this, let’s be very careful about the information that we believe,” Valte added.
The Palace said government is also bent on getting back the firearms stolen by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) rebels who joined the MILF in fighting the SAF commandos in Mamasapano.
“When it comes to the call of the BIFF…if they don’t want to return the stolen weapons, we can look for other ways,” Valte said.
OPAPP Executive Director Luisito Montalbo said there is no truth to the reports that the government bought back the SAF weapons.
“We don’t know where that is coming from. Certainly, there is no truth to that,” Montalbo said. “We find it very disappointing that Fr. Jun, whom we’ve known for a long time and who used to directly engage our Office as a peace advocate, would come out publicly with claims that are unsubstantiated and unverified.”
He branded the allegation as “wrong and also unfair to our ground forces, the ceasefire committees and international monitors who personally documented, facilitated and officially witnessed the retrieval of the weapons from the MILF.”
Nevetheless, Montalbo said his office’s legal unit has started looking into the allegations.
“We cannot allow such untruths and violations of our rights to go unchallenged. It is not just the name of the agency that is at stake, but hundreds of its employees who have no way to protect themselves from being maligned in this way,” he said.
At least 16 high-powered firearms were presented to the government on February 18 by MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.
WITH JEFRY M. TUPAS