Palace: Returning SAF guns not enough

Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - February 19, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The return of 16 firearms taken from slain Special Action Force (SAF) commandos by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is not enough proof of the rebel group’s sincerity as a partner in peace, Malacañang said yesterday.

“The return of the firearms is just a partial response to the President’s call for the MILF to show concrete proof of its sincerity as partner of the government in the peace process,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said in a briefing yesterday.

He said the MILF should also hunt down terrorist Basit Usman, identify its members involved in the death of 44 SAF commandos and hold them accountable, and return all the weapons and equipment taken from the slain policemen.

Coloma said the government also expects the MILF to keep the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) – its purported breakaway group – from getting in the way of anti-terror operations.

“That’s why we need concrete proof. If there’s no manifestation or action, then it means their cooperation or solidarity with the government is not enough,” Coloma stressed.

He said that based on his understanding, the return of firearms is separate from decommissioning, which is part of the MILF’s agreement with the government panel while the Bangsamoro Basic Law is being deliberated upon in Congress.

He said the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro came before the Mamasapano incident.

The SAF commandos were on their way out of the village where they had just killed Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, when they clashed with MILF and BIFF fighters. The trapped commandos were decimated when no reinforcement came. The commandos’ other target, Filipino terrorist Basit Usman, was reportedly wounded in the encounter.

Come and get them

Meanwhile, the BIFF said it took the weapons and ammunition of 10 commandos killed by its men, and taunted government forces to come and get them back if they can.

“Let them come here and take bullets that they want us to return,” BIFF spokesman Abu Misra said in a telephone interview.

He said the BIFF is definitely not returning the weapons and ammunition as it intends to use them against government forces.

Misri said among the high-powered weapons seized by their fighters from the fallen SAF commandos was a 90 mm. recoilless rifle (90RR).

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is demanding the return of all firearms taken from the dead policemen. He said contrary to reports, only one BIFF fighter was killed and no one injured in the Jan. 25 encounter with SAF men.

The BIFF, through its spokesman, also denied giving sanctuary to or even knowing Marwan or Usman.

While welcoming MILF’s gesture of returning some of the firearms seized from the SAF policemen, PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. said they would try to account for the remaining weapons through regular police work.

“It’s a good sign and good development,” Cerbo said of the turnover of firearms. “Although we don’t stop in our efforts to account for all the missing firearms.

“We have other operations, just like in the past. It’s a wrong perception that Mamasapano is an area that can’t be penetrated. We have a police station in Mamasapano,” he said.

“When it comes to regular police operations, serving of the warrants of arrest, we are able to implement them,” Cerbo said.

Cerbo said the parts and serial numbers of the firearms surrendered to representatives of the coordinating council for the cessation of hostilities would be checked against records to ensure they were indeed equipment of the SAF.

No spoils of war

Senators Ralph Recto and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also appealed to the MILF to return all the weapons and equipment of the slain SAF men as such can’t be considered war booty.

“If Mamasapano was a ‘misencounter’ between two supposed partners in peace, then the “killer keeper” principle does not apply. These can never be spoils of war nor trophies of battles,” Recto said.

“I hope they also return personal effects of the SAF 44 like cellphones, wristwatches, wedding rings, wallets containing photos of their loved ones,” Recto said.

“Government-issued properties are very different from personal belongings. It’s very important for their loved ones that their belongings are returned,” he said.

“If the return of weapons will be done in many ‘gives,’ I share the wish of our heroes’ loved ones that the next installment will include their personal effects,” Recto said.

“Thus I hope that established protocols will result in the return or retrieval of more firearms because after the return of the 16 today, it leaves 47 – enough to arm two platoons – unaccounted for,” he added.

Recto said he received reports that there are still 139 body armors, GPS tracker units, hand grenades and night vision goggles that remain unaccounted for. There were also reports of close to 700 magazines still missing.

Marcos agreed that the MILF should account for more equipment stolen from the troops.

He also said the MILF should also do something about the activities of the BIFF and other armed groups in areas under its control.

“Of course, we’ll just have to see what the MILF can do. As long as it is clear that it’s on a best effort basis then we will have to take that for what it is,” Marcos said.

“At least this is one step, so okay that’s good. But there are many other steps that need to be undertaken both from the MILF side and the government side,” Marcos said.

On the government side, Marcos said he wants to clarify more issues regarding the PNP chain of command. “The chain of command issue is not yet clear. We now have knowledge of the details of the operation, but what happened upstairs on the command level is not yet clear,” he said. With Christina Mendez, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jaime Laude

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