Who really killed Marwan?
THE RUMORS had been circulating for some time, but President Aquino established it as fact: The government was investigating the possibility that Malaysian terrorist bombmaker Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, was killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in January not by Philippine National Police Special Action Force troopers but by other persons, perhaps his own aides. The possibility that there is, in the President’s words, an “alternative truth” to the Mamasapano clash deserves a closer look—and demands that the PNP Board of Inquiry and the three Senate committees on public order, on peace, unification and reconciliation, and on finance reopen their respective investigations.
Speaking at the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Tuesday, the President said he had not yet closed the book on the Mamasapano tragedy. “Do I have closure? 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 noted, in particular, that the photo of a dead Marwan which the Inquirer published a few days after the operation raised disturbing questions. “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.”
Some critics of Mr. Aquino immediately attacked him for what they say is an attempt to change the official version of events. The President’s popularity took a serious hit because of the Mamasapano crisis: from the way he allowed a suspended PNP chief to get involved in the operation, to his perceived delay in ordering a rescue of the trapped troopers, to the insensitive decision to skip the arrival honors for the dead troopers in favor of a previously scheduled event at a car manufacturing plant. The attempt to focus attention on an “alternative truth,” his critics charged, was an effort to rewrite the Mamasapano story, to place him in a better light.
But this criticism does not make sense. The President’s survey ratings have recovered from the lows of the first quarter of the year; and the possibility that the SAF did not kill Marwan undermines his own decision to entrust the entire operation to the elite police force. In other words, a finding that aides-turned-government-informers had killed Marwan throws into question not only the operational plan itself, but the choice of the unit to execute the plan. There is no way that President Aquino can distance himself from the original and controversial decision to send the SAF in.
But if the controversial photo does raise questions—for instance: Does the pool of blood under his head indicate that he was shot from behind? Does the apparent lack of large bullet wounds signify the absence of a firefight? Does the mere fact that the photo was taken at all suggest that there was in fact no exchange of gunfire?—it is in the nation’s best interest to find the answers, wherever they may lead.
The investigation by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front concluded that Marwan was shot at close range—but that conclusion was seen then, when the report came out, as a necessarily biased view.
Some of the points the MILF investigation raised were based on a visit to Marwan’s hut: Only a few bullet holes on the walls of the hut, none at all on the floor, etc. Unfortunately, even when the military had established a virtual lockdown on the area, government investigators were never able to inspect the hut. And the hut burned down in February, torched, it was said, by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
The President’s admission that the official version might be inaccurate means that the MILF report must be revisited, and that the official government inquiries be resumed—even if it means that tougher questions must be asked, of the MILF, the SAF, and even the President himself.
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