Closure on Marwan?
President Aquino yesterday sought to close the lid on the Pandora’s box he had himself helped to open, by presenting a series of photographs taken in the hut of the Malaysian terrorist Marwan moments after the elusive bomb-maker was slain. The photographic evidence, Mr. Aquino said in a special news conference, proved that the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force troopers were the ones who killed Marwan and cut off his finger.
In other words, the first and official account of the events of Jan. 25, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, still stands.
It was the President who publicly raised the possibility of an “alternative version of events” during a Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum last week, pointing in particular to the photo of a dead Marwan which ran in the Inquirer last January. “I still have quite a number of questions, and there are various agencies of government tasked to ferret out the truth of exactly what happened in its entirety. There is an alternative version of events that happened there, which is undergoing very intense scrutiny,” he said then.
To be sure, rumors about the possibility of an alternative version had circulated for some time. The President offered confirmation at the Inquirer forum. “There are certain quarters who did point out certain questions that arose from viewing that picture. Does this support the so-called official version of what transpired? Now, if it doesn’t support [the official version], can it be explained or not? That is an ongoing process. There is no conclusion at this point.”
Yesterday, the President presented the conclusion that government investigating agencies had reached—and it was not a surprise.
Mr. Aquino: “What does the alternative narrative say? It was posited that one of Marwan’s companions killed him—the same one who cut off his finger and gave it to the SAF. But it is clear from the presentation today: The SAF were there; we can no longer doubt that it was the SAF who took Marwan’s finger. This also means: All the other accounts about the alternative narrative are baseless, and consequently have no relevance.”
He made special mention of the finding of the National Bureau of Investigation’s cybercrime division that the new pictures he showed underwent forensic examination and were proven “authentic and unaltered.”
We can agree that the pictures do show a continuity of action, and that they do seem to prove that a SAF trooper cut off a finger from Marwan’s left hand. But do the pictures prove that SAF men killed Marwan?
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s investigation into the Mamasapano incident (which claimed the lives not only of 44 SAF troopers and three civilians but also of 17 MILF regulars) concluded that Marwan was killed by a person or persons close to him, citing the lack of telltale signs of a sustained firefight in the hut. Unfortunately, the hut was torched before the PNP Board of Inquiry could inspect it. But all the available testimony from members of the raiding party agree overwhelmingly on the details, and have withstood the scrutiny of three sets of investigators.
Do the pictures prove that SAF men killed Marwan? The President answered the inevitable follow-up question by saying that the alternative version making the rounds involved both the killing of Marwan and the cutting off of his finger. If the photos disprove the second part, he said, then in the absence of contrary evidence, the photos must disprove the first part, too. (He even used the term “presumption of regularity,” in what must count as a novel use of that familiar phrase.)
His answer would have been more convincing if he had referenced the account of the SAF’s 84th Seaborne, which carried out the raid on Marwan’s location.
He ended his prepared speech with a word about moving on: “Now that the conversation about this alternative matter is done, the process of justice, especially for the fallen, can continue. At present, there are 90 individuals who will face fair and thorough procedures for the murder of the 35 commandos of the 55th Special Action Company …” That process is the true index by which the death of an international terrorist can be measured.