DOJ conducts preliminary probe of 90 respondents in Mamasapano case

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The Mamasapano clash resulted in the death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — On Friday (November 27), the Department of Justice (DOJ) will conduct a preliminary investigation of 90 respondents named in a complaint of direct assault with murder filed in connection with the battle between police commandos and Moro fighters in Mamamsapano, Maguindanao.

The investigation aims to find out if there's probable cause to file charges against the 90 invidividuals.

The complaint was filed last September by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the National Prosecution Service Special Investigation Team (NPS-SIT) based on a 224-page report it had released on the January 25 clash.

There has been some debate, particularly between the Senate and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), on whether to call the battle a "misencounter" or a "massacre." But what has remained clear is that it resulted in several deaths — 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) and 18 from the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). There were also several individuals injured — 12 police officers and 14 Moro fighters.

These figures come from the Chronology of Events released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).


Chronology of Events: Tukanalipao, Mamasapano Incident

The complaint focuses only the criminal liabilities of the respondents, specifically in the killing of 35 commandos of the 55th Special Action Company (55th SAC) of the SAF.

Citing interviews with five eyewitnesses, there were about a thousand individuals from the MILF, BILF, and private armed groups who attacked and killed the 35 commandos of the 55th SAC.

In a news release published last September 22, the DOJ said: "The team notes that some of the SAF commandos were killed by the respondents by means of close range pistol shots to the head and body when the victims were already injured or dying and no longer had any means to resist or defend themselves."

The team also recommended prosecuting the 90 respondents for the theft of government property — that is, firearms, ammunition, communications and navigational equipment, protective gear, uniforms, combat boots — and even personal effects of the commandos.

Of the 90 respondents, 26 are members of the MILF, 26 of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and 52 belong to private armed groups or have no affiliation.

This complaint, the DOJ pointed out, does not cover the death of other commandos — the nine others who belonged to the 84th Seaborne Company. These nine were those who tried to arrest Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, an Indonesian terrorist bomb maker at his hut in Barangay Pidsandawan, Mamasapano.

The nine commandos killed Marwan, who reportedly engaged them in a firefight, before being killed themselves as they tried to get out of the area.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who has resigned to pursue her senatorial bid for 2016, ordered the NBI-NPS-SIT to proceed with the second phase of investigation, which would focus on the circumstances leading to the killing of these nine commandos.

The Mamasapano clash shocked not only Filipinos but people in other countries as well.

It also risked stalling the approval of a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would complete the peace pact forged by the government with the MILF, after decades of bloody conflict in Mindanao.

The clash also chipped away at the popularity of President Benigno Aquino III, who has been hoping to complete the peace process by the end of his term.

Reports released by the Senate, which conducted hearings on the incident, and the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry (PNP-BOI) all concluded that Aquino would have to take responsibility for the bloody operation, Oplan Exodus, along with Dir. Getulio Napeñas, who was then chief of the SAF.

[Click here to download a copy of the BOI's "Mamasapano Report 2015": boi_final.pdf ]

The independent investigations also concluded that Dir. Gen. Alan Purisima committed usurpation of authority for taking part in the planning of the operation despite being under preventive suspension in connection with corruption complaints filed against him at the Office of the Ombudsman.

Again, the reports noted that Aquino would have to take responsibility for allowing this.

The PNP-BOI also noted that Aquino broke the PNP chain of command by dealing directly with Napeñas, bypassing the PNP officer-in-charge, who was then Deputy Dir. Gen. Leonardo Espina.

The Senate report also pointed out that the Armed Forces of the Philippines could have provided artillery support earlier in the battle, which could have prevented more deaths.

In another report, the International Monitoring Team (IMT), a 60-member international group of Malaysian-led observers, said both sides involved in the clash committed various violations of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.