Why the cruelty?
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a peace agreement that speaks loftily about “pursui[ng] a solution to the Bangsamoro Question with honor, justice and dignity for all concerned.” There is no honor, justice or dignity in the 6-minute video showing the cold-blooded execution of a member of the 55th Special Action Force Company in Mamasapano.
Instead, what is shown is the wanton violation of the fundamental rules of humanity that govern the conduct of armed conflict. There is the failsafe rock-bottom standard that applies even when the armed parties disavow all existing regulations. It is called the Martens Clause, and it says that armed combatants shall always remain subject to “the laws of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience.”
When combatants are wounded and are no longer capable of waging war, they are placed hors de combat, literally “outside the fight.” The Geneva Conventions protect them from “murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.” The section on humane treatment expressly states: “It is prohibited to order that there shall be no survivors.” These rules have also been adopted as domestic law by the Philippine Congress, and therefore apply anywhere on Philippine territory, and that includes MILF territory.
When the acting chief of the Philippine National Police, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, testified on Wednesday at the House, he cited a medico-legal report stating that his men died even if they suffered only minor wounds in the battle. He said some were shot in the head at close range, and another was stripped of his bulletproof vest and then shot twice. “[My men] were very much alive and you did not allow them to go back home,” an anguished Espina told the MILF representative. They were just “simple men” doing their job, he said.
The commando shown in the video, PO1 Joseph Sagonoy, was 26, the second of four children of coconut farmers in Lobos, Northern Samar. His dream as a child was to serve in uniform.
It’s time for the MILF to answer questions that nag even those Filipinos who support the peace process.
One, what was a confirmed terrorist, the Malaysian Marwan, doing there? There is no doubt that the area where he was killed is in MILF-controlled territory. That was why Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles was worried that the “intrusion” by armed government personnel would imperil the peace process. That was why the MILF men thought they were being attacked. So if MILF leaders ask the government why it sent troops to enter their turf without “coordination,” perhaps we can also ask the MILF why a confirmed terrorist enjoyed sanctuary in that turf.
Two, assuming that Marwan was under the protection, not of the MILF, but of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, that brings us back to the same question. Why did the MILF harbor him in territory secured to their authority by the peace agreement?
Indeed, what is the real score between the MILF and the BIFF, supposedly a breakaway group? The peace pact provides elaborate and nuanced arrangements that slowed down, if not totally paralyzed, any rescue operation to save the SAF 44. Yet the BIFF is not bound by that agreement, and is free to act as the attack dog for the MILF. If so, the MILF/BIFF good cop/bad cop routine has proved costly.
Three, where is the fugitive Abdul Basit Usman and who are the men who murdered and mutilated the fallen SAF troops? The MILF must surrender them to the government. This will demonstrate its commitment to the peace process and show that it is in effective control, and that indeed it is the government’s “peace partner.” And it will define its true relationship with the BIFF.
This is important because right after the Jan. 25 “misencounter,” while Palace apologists were falling all over themselves to appease the MILF and call for “confidence building” with the Bangsamoro, they seemed to forget that it is the confidence of the Bangsa Filipino in the peace process that needed rebuilding.
Fourth, how long did it take before the MILF leaders realized that indeed they were not being attacked? The MILF is a main participant in the peace process. Why was it too difficult to pick up a cell phone to call their government counterparts?
Fifth, the comprehensive agreement with the MILF says that “law enforcement … shall be the primary function of the police force of the Bangsamoro.” If it can turn a blind eye to terrorist fugitives and a BIFF that has allied itself with the notoriously violent Islamic State, it certainly does not inspire confidence. If it flouts the law now, how much more when it gains full autonomy?
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