DOJ set to resolve SAF 44 cases soon

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice is set to resolve the criminal charges against 90 commanders and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups tagged in the killing of police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last year.

Justice department spokesman and Undersecretary Emmanuel Caparas said the agency would soon issue a resolution on the complex crime of direct assault with murder complaint that the National Bureau of Investigation filed against 90 MILF, BIFF and vigilantes over the killing of 35 police special Action Force (SAF) operatives on Jan. 25, 2015.

“The preliminary investigation has been terminated today, so we should have a resolution soon,” he told a press conference yesterday afternoon.

Caparas assured the people that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has done its part to speed up resolution of the case despite the preliminary investigation taking almost a year to complete and only four of 90 respondents able to answer the charges.

“Whether or not the anniversary of this tragedy is approaching or we just passed it, the point is the DOJ continues to do what it needs to do so that it can deliver justice to all parties involved. Let’s just say the authorities are moving as quickly as they can, as responsibly as they can, as judiciously as they can so that justice may be delivered,” he stressed.

The DOJ official said they are aware of the cry for justice of the families of the slain SAF men.

Earlier in the day, the DOJ investigating panel of prosecutors officially concluded the preliminary investigation after three hearings.

Of the 90 respondents, only four submitted counter-affidavits and denied the charges.

They are MILF field commander Pendatun Utek Makakua, who denied the charges and claimed to be a farmer; Mustapha Tatak, a barangay chairman in Sapakan, Mamasapano; and civilians Lakiman Dawaling and Khalim Keda, who were accused of being field commanders of the MILF that were involved in the killing of the 35 SAF men in Barangay Tukanalipao. 

The NBI, for its part, has submitted before the panel an inventory of recovered firearms and combat equipment allegedly taken from the slain policemen.

Facing the DOJ probe are 13 commanders of the MILF and six commanders of BIFF. But the names of the respondents were not made public so as to prevent them from evading possible prosecution.

They were accused of acting “in conspiracy with one another to attack, employ force, seriously intimidate or resist the 35 SAF commandos, who were uniformed police officers and thus, persons in authority.”

The fact-finding team of prosecutors and NBI agents based the report on accounts of eyewitnesses now under the witness protection program – including one alias Marathon – who identified the MILF and BIFF commanders involved.

The videos of the encounter that circulated in social media also helped in the investigation and their sources have been traced.

Based on results of the probe, the killings of the SAF commandos appeared to be “spontaneous and not an institutional act of the MILF.” 

The charges covered the cases of 35 slain SAF men who belonged to the 55th SAF company that engaged the MILF, BIFF fighters and militia in the cornfields of Tukanalipao. 

Last October, the fact-finding team released its second report on the cases of nine other slain commandos from the 84th SAF company in Barangay Pidsandawan as well as the five civilians and 18 MILF fighters also killed during the clash.

No one was charged because probers failed to secure witnesses to identify the killers of the members of the 84th SAF company.  

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, has reset the reopening of the Mamasapano inquiry to allow the families of the victims to mark the first anniversary of the deaths.

According to Poe, the committee approved the request of Philippine National Police chief Director General Ricardo Marquez since the PNP is also preparing activities to commemorate the Jan. 25 tragedy.

Poe’s statement came in the wake of the Palace’s announcement that it is not necessary for President Aquino to attend the Senate inquiry because he has spoken about his knowledge about the covert operations against two foreign terrorists in an area supposedly controlled by rebels in Maguindanao.

The senator earlier announced that the Senate would resume its hearings on Jan. 25, the first anniversary of the encounter. 

Poe said she has to seek clarification from her colleagues on Monday next week regarding the order of the Senate committee on rules regarding the reopening of inquiry.

Malacañang clarified yesterday it would not ask legislators to submit questions to members of the Cabinet prior to the reopening of the Mamasapano investigation should they get invited.– With Christina Mendez, Aurea Calica, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero, John Unson, Jun Elias   














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