Last Sunday’s operation in Tukalinapao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao targeting Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists Zulkifli Bin Hir alias ‘Marwan’ and Basit Usman, has turned out to be the bloodiest police operation in recent history. The botched operation resulted in the brutal killing of some 50 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF). Military sources also report that 10 more SAF members are missing and at least one civilian was killed.
We join the nation in condemning the people behind this tragedy and similarly express our grief and condolences to the bereaved families of the SAF troopers who died.
News reports from eye-witness accounts, including that of a survivor, narrated how the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members brutally killed the SAF operatives and even continued to shoot the dead bodies after stealing their uniforms and weapons. This fact was verified by actual footage showing many of the victims with their heads and body parts blown off and their SAF gear absent. Due to the barbarism demonstrated by the MILF, a number of legislators and politicians have already withdrawn their support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law. A congressional inquiry on the circumstances surrounding the encounter is similarly being readied. In a news report, General Espina together with DILG Secretary Mar Roxas have been quoted that the fallen SAF personnel will be recommended to posthumously receive spot promotions and awarded the highest possible medals with full state honors. They have also re-echoed Malacanang’s sentiments and pledged to “give justice to our fallen heroes”.
Despite this “song of sympathy” however, both the PNP and DILG have “disowned” the operation saying it was not cleared with the DILG and the PNP leadership. It might have instead been instigated due to the five million dollar bounty on Marwan and Basit Usman. It is disheartening to hear them parroting the MILF position that the policemen died in a “misencounter”.
Worse, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma in a press briefing admitted that Malacang knew about the operation, effectively confirming what a highly-placed source quoted by a broadsheet said—that “the operation was part of a grand plan to neutralize Marwan and was hatched by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime.
In this light the word “curious” is the apt word to describe how this administration is reacting to the massacre. First, the words they used to describe the incident were very nuanced: miscommunication, miscoordination, misencounter, a solitary incident. They are also “floating” the fact that there is a USD 5 million award on the head of the JI terrorist which the SAF were tasked to arrest. To experienced PR practitioners, these are actions to downplay the SAF massacre (let’s call a spade a spade). But to what end? Obviously they are protecting a peace agreement that was lopsided to begin with and has made the careers of several parties. Why this administration is still protecting this agreement begs the question—who will most benefit from it? In any case, whatever word is used to describe it, be it misencounter or solitary incident, the result is still fatal and brutal.
The GRP is acting like it will suffer the bigger loss should this peace agreement not push through while the other party is showing too much bravado after the carnage.
Mr. President, these are our boys who were murdered. While we all are for peace, let that peace be based on realities and not naiveté. There can never be real peace without justice.