3 Unsatisfactorily-answered Questions from the Mamasapano Reports : What Should Happen Next

CURRENT SOCIETAL CONCERNS
Elpidio V. Peria
29 March 2015

Now that there are three reports from the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI), the Philippine Senate and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) already out for the public’s consideration on what actually happened in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao last January 25, 2015, the following questions remain unsatisfactorily answered, notwithstanding the attempt of these reports to be comprehensive and, factual. These questions are:

1. How come it took several hours for the ceasefire to take effect ?

The PNP BOI report (part G, pp. 33-34) narrated the efforts to effect a ceasefire in the following manner:

The Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of both the Government and the MILF initiated peace mechanisms to end the fighting and prevent further escalation of the violence by forming a Joint Ceasefire Crisis Team (JCCT) at around 730am.

... the SAF-led operations were not coordinated with the GPH-CCCH ceasefire mechanisms until 530am when the SAF was already heavily-engaged…

It was already 950am of January 25, 2015, when the JCCT, together with the IMT, proceeded to Mamasapano.

By noontime, the JCCT had already met with MILF Commanders Wahid and Guma. The meeting called for the cessation of hostilities, and allow the passage of the SAF from the encounter site to safe areas located in Tuka, Mamasapano. It was agreed that Commander Wahid will work on the withdrawal of the troops of the 105th BC away from the encounter site…

As the concerned parties were negotiating for ceasefire, the CCCH report also noted that the 55th SAC “was presumed” to be “totally overwhelmed by the 105th BC between 11am and 1pm.”

The total ceasefire was in effect by 4pm. By that time, the SAF team had sustained heavy casualties from the enemy fire.

The Senate Report (part H, pp. 46-47) narrated the ceasefire efforts in the following manner:

At 638am, on 25 January 2015, BGEN Carlito Galvez (the Government Co-Chairman of the CCCH) received a call from his MILF counterpart, Atty. Rashid Ladiasan, who informed him of the on-going firefight between MILF fighters and the PNP-SAF. Ladiasan also suggested that a ceasefire be put into effect.

A Joint Ceasefire Coordinating Team (JCCT) composed of representatives from the government CCCH, the MILF CCCH, the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Post (JCMP) and the IMT assembled at the IMT headquarters in Cotabato City at 9am on 25 January 2015. Thereafter, the JCCT proceeded to Barangay Kuloy, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao to meet with Ustadz Zacaria Guma, Commander of MILF’s 105TH Base Command and Ustadz Wahid Tundok, Commander of the MILF’s 118th Base Command. The meeting with the 2 MILF commanders took place at around 1145am. The JCCT arrived at the PNP-SAF’s TCP in Barangay Tuka, Mamasapano, Maguindanao at approximately 110pm. While the JCCT was there, the TCP was fired upon by unknown gunmen, resulting in the disabling of 3 Simba armoured vehicles of the Army.

A total ceasefire with the MILF took effect at approximately 4pm…

The MILF report (pages 22-23) had this to say about their efforts to heed the ceasefire :

The MILF CCCH, upon learning of the January 25, 2015 encounter, immediately undertook steps to effect a ceasefire and prevent bloodshed. But there were so many circumstances obtaining in the encounter site that hampered its efforts. These circumstances included the difficulty in communications as cellular phones of the BIAF members were rendered inutile because of the intermittent and weak signal in the encounter site, or were drained of power due to the power outage the night before. The fierce fighting that was already on-going when the CCCHs and the IMT intervened. It was happening in an open field and had evolved into a battle of survival for the combatants. The ceasefire mechanisms were not coordinated through the protocols under the ceasefire agreement.

Given these circumstances, the MILF CCCH immediately suggested to its counterpart that they go to the encounter site in order to talk to the commanders and inter-position themselves in the midst of the encounter. When Ustadz Wahid Tundok went to the encounter site in Sitio Amilil, his purpose was precisely to talk to his men in the field. And despite the heavy fighting, he was able to finally arrive at the encounter site to talk to some of the men to cease firing before 1330H.

From this account, it is clear that the 105BC, upon receipt of the order to stop firing, immediately ceased shooting at the 55SAC. There were lapses in heeding the call for a ceasefire. Unfortunately, it was already too late as most of the SAF’s 55SAC had already been killed in the course of the intense fighting even before the order for a ceasefire was received on the ground.

From these reports, we can reconstruct the timeline of efforts for the ceasefire in this manner:

530am- GPH-CCCH informed of the PNP-SAF operations, only at that time
638am – GPH CCCH head BGen Galvez received a call from his MILF counterpart
730am –peace mechanism initiated
900am – JCCT assembled in Cotabato City
950am – JCT proceeded to Mamasapano
1145am – meeting with the 2 MILF commanders
110pm – JCCT arrived in PNP command post
4pm – total ceasefire in effect.

One thing that can be noticed from the timeline is that the JCCT is too cumbersome, it did not act swiftly. From the time they swung into action when they assembled in Cotabato City which is at 9am, some 7 hours passed from that time until 4pm when the total ceasefire took effect. Why couldn’t the two teams just have telephoned their respective counterparts at 9am to stop the firing IMMEDIATELY and those commanders both from the PNP, the AFP and the MILF could just have relayed instructions to the field to cease fire? Aren’t there more efficient and fast-acting protocols for the cessation of on-going firefights? It is pretty clear from the length of time that lapsed, that putting the ceasefire into effect took a long time, though it was mentioned in the Senate hearing that stopping that kind of encounter is not easy to enforce.

Further questions on the part of the MILF are, if the MILF supposedly already told its people to stop firing before 130pm, how come total ceasefire among the MILF already took place only at 4pm ? On the part of Gen. Napenas, who was in contact with his SAF troops from the time-on-target he set, couldn’t he also have told his men to stop fighting at an earlier time-frame?

2. How high up in the hierarchy of the MILF did not know about Marwan, who was more than 3 kilometres away from where the MILF-controlled areas are and notwithstanding this, couldn’t the MILF leadership have been more decisive about driving away people like Marwan near their areas?

The BOI report did not have anything to say on the fact that Marwan stayed near or within MILF territory, but the Senate Committee report has this to say on this:
It bears emphasizing that the first sin in the Mamasapano incident is the fact that the MILF leadership and community allowed themselves to coddle criminals and terrorists. During the hearings, there were blanket denials on knowing the presence of Marwan, Usman and a host of other elements in their midst, and yet, these terrorists have been their residents for almost a decade. Marwan, in fact, has been training recruits in the area and breeding people who will maim and kill.

The MILF report (p. 27) has this to say about Marwan in its midst:

The MILF and the civilian residents in Mamasapano did not know that Basit Usman and Marwan were in their community. The house in which Marwan was found and killed belonged to Ustadz Baguindali, who had died in 2008. The MILF did not know that Marwan and Usman had moved into Barangay Pembalkan, Mamasapano. When Marwan was killed, he was with the group of Basit Usman, in the vicinity where the BIFF and the break-away group of Mohamad Ali Tambako are based. The house is found in Barangay Pembalkan, Mamasapano which is more than 3 km away from where the MILF combatants were living in Barangay Tukanalipao. It is not an area where the MIF has presence or control. Note that the site where the encounter between the BIAF and the 55SAC took place is not in Pembalkan, but about 2 km away in Sitio Amilil in Tukanalipao.

Note however that after this mention of lack of knowledge about the presence of Marwan in MILF areas, the MILF report (p. 28) somehow admits being aware of the presence of Marwan :

It should be noted that as early as 2005, Marwan, and other individuals with “terrorist” tags have been ordered to leave MILF camps and communities. xxx

But another way of looking at the narration is that, the MILF report is trying to say that they are admitting knowing Marwan back in 2005 and telling him and other similar individuals to go away, from that time in 2005, and that at the time of the SAF operation a decade after, they are no longer aware or have no knowledge that Marwan is still living in the area.

Just the same, there is a failure of intelligence within the MILF, or that the presence of Marwan, known perhaps to the low-level MILF fighters living near Marwan, was not communicated to the higher-ups in the MILF or that someone in the higher-ups or Central Committee of the MILF did not broach the topic of Marwan in their regular security updates thus they were not able to do something decisive about his presence.

Just the same, it only shows, as admitted by MILF’s Mohagher Iqbal in the Senate hearings, there are limits to the areas that the MILF can control, similar to what the AFP or PNP can effectively put within their authority. More than the issue of sincerity, this speaks about the limits in the capacity of the MILF in enforcing the authority of the putative Bangsamoro Government, especially when there are other armed groups co-existing with them and those which may arise after the establishment of the Bangsamoro government. This may however be remedied in the draft BBL, either giving the MILF or the Government more powers relating to security or enabling the existing authority, the Philippine Government, through the AFP or the PNP, to also do something about this problem.

3. Did Pres. Aquino have any communication with the MILF leaders at the height of, or immediately after, the Mamasapano firefight?

President Aquino’s lapse in breaking from the chain of command of the PNP, no matter how his defenders might argue there is no such thing in the PNP, is adequately documented by the BOI report and affirmed by the Senate report. But, perhaps, just in a manner of asking, didn’t President Aquino also get in touch at all with the MILF leadership, at the height of the firefight or immediately after it?

Why is this important in many aspects? This will show what other efforts the President has done, after bypassing the chain of command, to put into effect what he wants, that is, to get the head of Marwan. Or perhaps he may have gotten word from the MILF, after the incident, about assurances concerning MILF’s sincerity in the peace process; this will also indicate how solid the relationship is between the President and the leaders of the MILF, particularly the MILF Chair, Alhaj Murad. After all, these leaders just signed a peace agreement last year, perhaps there are also channels of communication between the two for these sorts of emergencies, on top of the existing mechanisms for coordination and other protocols for exchanging communications between the two leaders.

Or if any impeachment proceeding against the President may prosper, this kind of communication with the MILF leader is crucial whether the President is guilty of the betrayal of public trust, or not, depending on what details will come out, if this communication may have happened.

SO, WHAT NOW?

All these 3 questions are fodder for speculation. But this points to one glaring problem of all these reports, notwithstanding their efforts to be comprehensive and thorough : the facts therein are all one-sided in their presentation. What this means is that the truth or veracity of the assertions therein, put together as an enumeration of facts, have not been subjected to cross-examination by those who have contrary views as to their authenticity.

This deficiency points to what the next step could be in this entire unfortunate incident – the entire investigation into the Mamasapano firefight, with these three reports as basic evidence in chief either for those who wish to prosecute the accused or defend them, should now be converted into a criminal proceeding, and all those identified therein as having committed lapses, from the PNP, AFP and the MILF, be subjected to trial, for it is only through that proceeding that the truth will come out, and the validity of the assertions in these reports be realized, with some of the assertions expected to fall by the wayside, and the fuller picture of the events of that day, be clear for everyone to see, so that hopefully, it may not be repeated again.

This criminal proceeding should not stand in the way of resuming the political discussions in Congress on whether the BBL should proceed or not, but subject to amendments based on lessons also learned from the same incident. This will give everyone the assurance that the wheels of justice, which is decidedly slow, in the Philippine setting, will at least commence and that everyone accused therein, will have the opportunity to show their innocence through the process.

oOo

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