Noy to MILF: Name SAF killers, show sincerity
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2015 - 12:00am

National day of mourning declared  

MANILA, Philippines - The peace process must continue, but the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) must show its sincerity in wanting peace, President Aquino said last night.

In a nationally televised address, the President said that at the minimum, the MILF must identify those who were involved in the slaughter of 44 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF) who were trying to arrest two high-value terrorists last Sunday in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Calling the SAF men “heroes,” the President also said the guns and personal belongings of the dead must be returned.

The MILF must also “step aside” as government forces continue to hunt down Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, Aquino said, even as he noted that Marwan might have been killed by the SAF team.

Aquino announced that tomorrow would be observed as a national day of mourning for the 44 men, who were attacked by what the President said were combined forces of the MILF, its supposed breakaway group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and a “private armed group.”

Between the two of them, Marwan and Usman had at least 10 outstanding arrest warrants dating back to 2002 for various terrorist attacks and plots, the President said as he emphasized that the operation to get them was a continuing one that did not require a specific green light from him.

He expressed confidence that the MILF “is studying how to demonstrate their sincerity in the peace process.”

The President asked the nation to suspend judgment until all the facts have been established by both the Philippine National Police and a probe team formed by the MILF.

“I expect that in the soonest possible time, there will be more concrete proof of cooperation on the part of the MILF to go after peace, go after the truth and making those guilty responsible,” Aquino said in his speech delivered in Filipino.

Usman belongs to the Abu Sayyaf and is believed to have links with JI, a Southeast Asian terror cell linked to al-Qaeda.

Answering a question after his speech, the President said that since the MILF has areas under its control in Maguindanao, its men would have to “step aside to make the operations” against Usman and anybody else who would try to shield him successful.

He said there should be no more worries that government troops would run into another “misencounter” while pursuing terrorists.

“I expect – but they will have to discuss this among themselves – what is the extent that they will help us? Recovery of the firearms; identification of the people who actually did the acts; recovery of personal effects and things like that, I think, will be reasonable to expect from them,” he said.

“At this point in time, I am very, very confident that they will… and they are studying exactly how to demonstrate their sincerity in this peace process,” Aquino said.

“When I say they should show their sincerity,  (government forces) can operate in that area relatively freely. They have access to informants that we may not have access to at this point in time,” he explained.

He said it would be easy just to make a list of names without proof, only to see the suspects absolved later. “We are after finding out who are really accountable and make the real guilty responsible,” Aquino said.

He said the MILF had formed its own fact-finding team, and “we can expect that there will be that much more cooperation from them when we file the appropriate charges, once we have developed the necessary evidence.”

Lack of coordination

The President said there was a lack of coordination among government forces before the mission was carried out.

He said all the details of the operation as well as the questions surrounding the clash with the MILF and the BIFF – including the supposed lack of coordination with the MILF – would be answered through the Board of Inquiry formed by Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II.

The President stressed it would be difficult for him to make allegations without facts, especially since the coordination expected between the Philippine National Police-SAF operatives and the Armed Forces of the Philippines did not occur in the first place.

Aquino said there had been a major breakthrough in the peace process because of the trust that the two sides had established, citing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed by the government and the MILF in March last year.

Another proof of such trust was when both parties worked to save a Japanese national kidnapped in Maguindanao as well as the thwarting of a bomb plot in the same area, both in 2014.

Aquino also noted the pronouncement of MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim that the MILF would form a Special Investigative Commission to find out details and the truth about the incident.

He appealed to the public to avoid speculating on what really happened, and quoted from the Bible that “the truth shall set us free.”

The President warned there were those already taking advantage of the tragic Mamasapano incident to erode trust between the two sides.

“There are those suggesting to stop pushing for the (passage of the proposed) Bangsamoro Basic Law at the House of Representatives and the Senate. This should not happen,” he said.

“The whole of the peace process depends on this measure. If we will fail to pass this bill the soonest time possible, the peace process will be derailed, the status quo will remain,” Aquino said.

If this happens, the President said more people would lose hope and instead choose to commit atrocities. He added it would be like helping Marwan and Usman achieve their goal of perpetrating crimes and driving communities to evacuation centers because of incessant fighting.

He also said giving up on the peace process would defeat the very purpose of the SAF operatives in sacrificing their lives.

The President said amid the tests and challenges, the more the nation should unite and move forward with the peace process, particularly the passage of the BBL and the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

Aquino stressed this would be the only way to correct the political system in Mindanao and for the majority of the people in the area to benefit from peace.

The President said there were mechanisms in place so the government and MILF forces could work together in carrying out law enforcement operations.

In declaring Friday a national day of mourning, Aquino said the dead commandos deserved honors for their sacrifice.

“Without question, these people are heroes; they who willingly put themselves in danger to address threats to our security; they who were wounded; they who gave their lives in the name of peace,” he said.

“As President and as father of this country, I am greatly saddened that our policemen had to lay down their lives for this mission. To honor those who perished, I am declaring a national day of mourning to symbolize the sorrow and empathy of our entire country,” Aquino said.

“I guarantee: the state will give the maximum assistance it can, within the limits of the laws and rules. On this occasion, I also take the opportunity to appeal to the public: if possible let us extend our utmost support to the bereaved, and maximize the help we can give to the families of those who fell, in recognition of the valor of these heroes who gave their lives for the realization of the peace we have long desired,” he said.

ABU SAYYAF AL HAJ MURAD EBRAHIM AQUINO MAGUINDANAO MARWAN AND USMAN MILF PEACE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE PRESIDENT PROCESS
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