Gov’t can’t compel MILF to yield killers

MANILA – Amid calls for the government to demand the surrender of members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who were involved in the Mamasapano clash last month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday admitted that its hands are tied at the moment and it would have to wait for all investigations into the incident to be finished.

During the fourth hearing by the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs on the Mamasapano encounter, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto asked government representatives if there has been any demand for the surrender of the combatants involved in the clash that resulted in the death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) members.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said the government has asked for full accountability from the MILF side but until such time that specific names are presented by the DOJ, it would be difficult to make any demands.

“We will wait for the DOJ to say who should be surrendered. Before that, we don’t know who to demand for,” Deles said.

“It is in principle a very strong demand for accountability but with regard to surrendering, that will need to have specific names and specific crimes,” she said.

Government peace panel head Miriam Coronel-Ferrer pointed out that there are other groups involved in the clash and to be fair, the demands made by the government should apply not only to the MILF but to the other groups as well.

“Right now nothing is clear. It is not yet clear what the accusations against them are exactly,” Ferrer said in an interview with reporters after the hearing.

She said there could be several types of charges that could be filed against the combatants, such as murder and homicide.

But when it is taken in the context of conflict or war, then other laws would come in and all of these have to be sorted out first.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said that from a strictly legal standpoint, there is a proper time to demand the surrender of all those involved in the clash.

“We have to find out first exactly what happened, who are involved, identify them precisely. When the proper time comes there would be appropriate processes, legal processes like the issuance of subpoena. So we have no coercive power at this point to demand the surrender. We need to know who was involved,” De Lima said.

“Ideally we can always demand that. In fact, I should say that it should really be a palpable confidence building gesture on their part,” she added.

The MILF, meanwhile, has rejected calls to turn over its combatants involved in the deadly encounter in Mamasapano, saying this would violate their “core values.”

In an editorial posted on its website , the rebel group said surrendering its members would go against the principles governing the parties of the peace process.

“We have returned to the government the firearms in our possession and we have reiterated our full commitment to work with government to defeat terrorism in this country. But please do not force the MILF to turn over our combatants,” the editorial read.

“This will not only violate the very principles that guide the parties in their 17 long and harsh years of negotiations. It also destroys the very core values that we are willing to defend unto death if our integrity as a people and the justness of our cause are violated,” it said.

The MILF said parties involved in the peace process should be guided by basic principles like mutual respect and parity of esteem, abiding by commitments, equal and fair application of justice and upholding truth.

One party should not be placed in a humiliating position, the group added.

“(The parties should) help one another in times of crisis for mutual benefits for the sake of the peace efforts,” MILF said.

But Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said yesterday the MILF cannot assert any unilateral authority in imposing discipline and the appropriate punishment for its guerrillas in the Mamasapano clash.

Nograles said letting the MILF punish its members responsible for the carnage was a violation of the peace agreement.

He said the authority to investigate and punish violators of the peace deal rests solely on the joint government-MILF peace panel and the appropriate punishment can only be determined and imposed by Philippine courts.

MILF peace panel head Mohagher Iqbal added that the organization’s own investigation into the Mamasapano incident is still ongoing.

Iqbal said the MILF’s investigation is about 90 percent finished, with some issues needing only further verification on the ground.

Once the investigation is concluded, Iqbal said that he would not be able to release the findings immediately because he has to secure clearance from MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, who is presently on a pilgrimage in the Middle East.

For its part, the government will enforce its laws to serve justice to the 44 SAF operatives slain during the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident despite the MILF’s pronouncement that it will not surrender its members allegedly involved in the clash.

In a press briefing, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Deles had emphasized “it is the sole responsibility of government to enforce the law.”

“When crimes have been determined and those to be charged identified based on due process as embodied in Philippine laws, government will enforce the law without fear or favor,” Lacierda said.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, on the other hand, has called for the resignation of the members of the government panel in the peace talks with the MILF, who he accused of consistently taking the side of the rebel group on the issue of the Mamasapano clash.

Cayetano said that the MILF has not been forthright in its pronouncements and actions in relation to the Mamasapano encounter and that this has led to some doubts being raised by the public on the sincerity of the government in going after terrorists in the country.

He said that the government peace panel has been acting like spokespersons for the MILF in the way that they have been defending the organization on the clash.

“So that’s why I’m calling for their resignation. The President should fire them and not even get their resignation,” Cayetano said.