THE deaths of 44 policemen of the Special Action Force (SAF) in the hands of the Muslim rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is not just a massacre. It is the mass murder of several unarmed and wounded combatants that may constitute a war crime under the “laws or customs of war” (or international humanitarian law).
A SAF member who survived the battle against hundreds of MILF and BIFF fighters said they were attacked from three directions in an open field near the hideout of wanted international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan.
“We ran out of ammunition so there was no way we could stop them from coming close,” the policeman said. The SAF commando also disclosed that some of his wounded companions who ran out of ammunition crawled near an irrigation dike, but the rebels finished them off with rifle shots to the head.
The summary execution of unarmed and wounded SAF commandos was also confirmed by villagers in the area of the firefight.
Villagers narrated how BIFF fighters finished off no fewer than 10 wounded policemen with shots to the head. “Two of the wounded policemen who were executed even managed to strap tourniquets on their legs, which were hit by bullets in the initial encounter,” said a villager.
These reports alone should have impelled PNoy to treat the Mamasapano incident not merely as another unfortunate encounter between government forces and Muslim rebels but as a crime against persons – and a war crime punishable under the Geneva Convention.
Instead of a plain fact-finding probe through the so-called Board of Inquiry formed by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, PNoy should have immediately called for a criminal investigation into deaths of the 44 SAF commandos. He should have mobilized teams of forensic investigators from the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) or the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to collect evidence just like any other criminal incident.
Together with medico-legal examiners and pathologists, forensic investigators can conduct an autopsy of the victims to determine whether the SAF commandos were shot at close range, summary execution-style, as narrated by several witnesses.
An autopsy can also show whether certain wounds suffered by the slain SAF commandos were inflicted “post-mortem” or after death, as alleged by some of their colleagues, which would prove that the Muslim rebels intentionally defiled or mutilated the bodies of the dead policemen – another criminal offense under our laws.
It appears, however, that PNoy is in a rush to bury the slain SAF commandos – along with negative flak that he’s been getting as a result of the botched operation.
Aside from giving out a slew of cash and non-cash dole outs to the families of the slain troopers, PNoy quickly convened a necrological service for the fallen SAF members, calling them heroes who sacrificed their lives for the country. That, however, is of little comfort to the grieving families who have lost a husband, brother, son or father.
What the families of the slain SAF commandos want is justice.
But aside from the usual rhetoric that his government was “determined to render justice to the fallen troopers,” PNoy has not given any specifics on how he will ensure that justice is served.
Since the incident a week ago, PNoy has not made any demand on the MILF leadership to surrender the firearms and personal belongings (such as the cell phones, wallets, IDs, etc.) of the slain policemen. We’re sure many of our countrymen have seen the newspaper photos showing the slain SAF troopers stripped of their boots, watches and other personal effects.
PNoy has also still not demanded that the MILF surrender, or at the very least, identify the gunmen involved in the firefight so they could face the probe conducted by the government investigators. These are the crucial evidence and information needed by investigators if they are to establish any criminal wrongdoing during the Mamasapano incident.
Apparently, PNoy is not too keen on conducting a criminal investigation in the Mamasapano slaughter. He’s probably afraid it may open a can of worms, especially in light of his highly unusual presence in Zamboanga right before the raid in Marwan’s lair.
Perhaps PNoy’s also afraid that the incident will derail the peace agreement that he forged with the MILF. Indeed, it’s quite offensive and tasteless that PNoy is campaigning for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law while the families of the slain policemen are still in mourning.
It is obvious PNoy is more concerned about his “legacy”—the success of his peace deal with the MILF—than the fate of the SAF commandos who will most likely end up as a mere statistic, an unavoidable casualty of war.
True, most Filipinos want peace in Mindanao. But not peace at all costs. And certainly not peace without justice.