THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has finally returned several weapons seized from the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last month but as far as Malacañang is concerned, the rebel group has to show more evidence that it can be trusted.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the return of the weapons is proof of the MILF’s commitment to the Mindanao peace process.
More “concrete evidence” is needed, however, to prove that the group can be trusted by the government, Coloma added.
“The return of firearms belonging to the SAF 44 [partly]meets the call of President Aquino for the MILF to show concrete manifestation of their support to the ongoing Bangsamoro peace process,” he said.
“Hinihintay pa ng pamahalaan ang mas kongkretong patunay [The government is waiting for more concrete proof that they can be trusted],” Coloma added.
According to the Palace official, the MILF should help the government in arresting terrorist Abdul Basit Usman, the Filipino cohort of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, who was killed in the Mamasapano clash.
The MILF, he said, should also identify and hold accountable its members involved in the killing of the 44 police commandos.
Failure to meet the government’s demands will cast doubt on the group’s sincerity to pursue peace, Coloma pointed out
The return by the MILF of at least 16 weapons it took from the slain commandos also bolstered accusations by lawmakers and human rights groups that MILF rebels had finished off other SAF commandos who had been wounded during the clash.
A video clip uploaded on Facebook showed one gunman shooting several times a wounded SAF commando in Tukanalipao where the elite police unit killed Marwan deep inside MILF territory on January 25.
Armed Forces chief Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. led security officials in inspecting the weapons, mostly automatic rifles, including two machineguns, inside the headquarters of the 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao.
The weapons were handed over to the police but SAF sources claimed the guns had been tampered with and that many of its parts were either taken out or replaced with defective mechanism.
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF vice chairman and chief peace negotiator, said the handover of the weapons was a gesture of their sincerity to the peace process.
The symbolic turnover of the firearms was witnessed by government negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer, members of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team, officials of the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles.
The event was also witnessed by Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero of the Western Mindanao Command and officials of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division led by Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan.
Deles thanked the MILF for its gesture of goodwill.
“We accept this clear signal of the willingness and determination of the MILF to sustain the gains of the peace process,” she said.
WITH JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL