MANILA, Philippines - Based on evidence and on what official investigators have long held, international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was killed by members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF).
President Aquino made the announcement yesterday as he sought to end speculations arising from his statement that there could be an “alternative version” of the incident that left 44 police commandos killed.
In a televised national address from the Heroes Hall of Malacañang, the President also said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to file charges against 90 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups who assaulted the SAF members on the mission to arrest Marwan and bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25.
Aquino noted that alternative narratives of the Mamasapano encounter had been circulating for quite some time and that one version alleged that it was one of Marwan’s companions who killed him, cut off his finger and brought it to the SAF.
The President presented photographs of Marwan taken shortly after his death, which purportedly proved that it was indeed SAF commandos who killed the Malaysian terrorist.
“Now that the conversation about this alternative matter is done, the process of justice, especially for the fallen, can continue. At present, there are 90 individuals who will face fair and thorough procedures for the murder of the 35 commandos of the 55th Special Action Company, which is part of the SAF,” Aquino said.
The charges being readied for filing on Monday are initially only for the 35 fatalities because there were no witnesses yet for the nine other casualties from the 84th Seaborne Company of the SAF, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima explained.
The President said when the idea of an alternative narrative came out, they could not dismiss it outright and had to return to the evidence.
He said rumors even made the rounds that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Department of National Defense and the MILF were in cahoots to grab credit and claim the $5-million reward for Marwan’s head and at the same time win support for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law by showing the MILF had actually helped neutralize Marwan.
The MILF drew outrage in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash, prompting lawmakers to delay the passage of the BBL.
Aquino said it is their responsibility to investigate and uncover the truth so that conclusions would be correct and just.
“In doing this, we will ensure that this tragedy does not happen again. That is why we immediately ordered the various agencies of government to scrutinize other angles that present alternative narratives,” Aquino said.
“Now, my bosses, the new evidence is before us. I stand before you… to show you photographs we have gathered,” he said, flashing on two wide screens photographs showing Marwan’s grisly end.
One photo shows the dead Marwan still with his left index finger intact. Another photo shows a SAF trooper apparently about to cut off Marwan’s finger.
“In the next picture, we can see the same SAF trooper, holding the left hand of Marwan and in the act of severing the finger. In the following picture, we can see that the SAF is still present, and in that same picture, we notice that the left hand of Marwan is now missing a finger,” Aquino said.
“Let us recall: what does the alternative narrative say? It was posited that one of Marwan’s companions killed him – the same one who cut off his finger and gave it to the SAF. But it is clear from the presentation today: the SAF were there; we can no longer doubt that it was the SAF who took Marwan’s finger. This also means: all the other accounts about the alternative narrative are baseless and consequently have no relevance,” the President stressed.
As to why the second photograph came out only now, Aquino said no one else had supposedly asked if there were other pictures.
He said then newly appointed SAF director Chief Supt. Moro Virgilio Lazo was not yet aware of the existence of the other photos when SAF troopers were asked about them in his presence.
“When he confirmed what had happened, he reported back to us, and this was when we discovered that there were many more pictures,” Aquino said.
The President said the Cybercrime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation analyzed the photos and judged them “authentic and unaltered.’”
Aquino said there was no need to consult the MILF with regard to the findings of the DOJ and on anything related to the performance of his duties.
“My duty is to execute the laws,” he said, adding that he would ensure appropriate cases are filed against those involved in the Mamasapano killings.
“And do I have to consult the MILF with regards to that? I don’t think so,” the President said.
“They (MILF members) are supposed to be located in territories that are the subject of the peace agreement we have or the ceasefire agreement we have with them,” he said.
He said warrants of arrest would be served on the respondents once their cases reach the courts, but proper coordination would be made with the MILF to prevent any untoward incident.
Initially, the respondents would likely be subpoenaed to attend preliminary investigation, he said.
“Eventually, they might not appear. If they don’t appear, they waive their right to preliminary investigation; the court, in turn, will order us to execute warrants of arrest for these people,” he said.
De Lima said out of the 90 people to be charged on Monday, 26 were from the MILF, 12 from the BIFF and 52 from private armed groups.
But she told reporters after Aquino’s speech and press conference at Malacañang that not all of the suspects were identified by names or nicknames. “There are 19 with aliases. But they were identified by eyewitnesses, especially the main witness – Marathon. We provided him a code name,” she said.
De Lima said she would not know who would get the reward as they were focused on the cases to be filed by the NBI and the National Prosecution Service for the complex crime of direct assault with murder and theft. She said they took the firearms, equipment and other belongings of the SAF troopers.
De Lima said eyewitnesses told investigators that the SAF troopers were mowed down even when they were raising their arms to surrender.
For Rep. Samuel Pagdilao of party-list group Anti-Crime and Terrorism, there is no “alternative truth” in the Mamaspano tragedy, “only delay in the delivery of justice.”
Pagdilao was a ranking police official before he became congressman.
He said the “new twist” in the incident is “a dilatory tactic to further stall the release” by the DOJ of its “much delayed resolution” on the Mamasapano investigation promised five months ago.
“The clamor for justice from the public and the SAF 44 families is clear and the filing of cases by DOJ could be seen as a positive sign that the wheels of justice will begin to grind,” he said.
“The MILF took part in the massacre and will be among those who will be charged by the DOJ. The MILF conclusions about the fatal wounds (of Marwan), the trajectory, etc. are without the proper evidentiary support resulting from forensic investigation,” he added.
“Who actually fired the shot that killed Marwan is a non-issue, as what is important is that he has been neutralized and we have one less terrorist to worry about,” Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told The STAR.
“There is no such thing as an alternative truth. I don’t know what the President is talking about,” Marcos said.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles welcomed Malacañang’s announcement.
“We have said from the start – the rule of law must prevail,” Deles said in a text message to The STAR.
Meanwhile, a source said prosecuting MILF members for the Mamasapano deaths would be against the provisions of the 1997 government-MILF ceasefire accord.
“Filing criminal charges against them will surely derail the decommissioning of rebels as agreed by the government and the MILF as part of existing peace agreements,” the source pointed out. - Jess Diaz, John Unson, Bebot Sison Jr., Jose Rodel Clapano