MILF won't give up men

MILF won't give up men
This file photo taken on March 27, 2014 shows Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels shouting "Allah akbar" (God is great) as they celebrate the signing of a peace agreement during a rally at Camp Darapanan in the town of Sultan Kudarat on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

COTABATO CITY - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Sunday rejected calls to surrender its fighters involved in the Jan. 25 clash in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, in which 44 elite police commandos were killed.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the ceasefire agreement his group signed with the government stated that the MILF would be the one to impose disciplinary action on its members involved in any violation of the truce.

"We will follow what we have agreed with them in the ceasefire mechanism," Iqbal told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.

He said the same policy was implemented by the government in punishing security forces that violated the provision of the ceasefire agreement.

Earlier, Iqbal said the MILF was investigating the clash.

On Sunday, Iqbal said even returning the firearms of the slain Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos was difficult for the MILF.

"It's hard to convince them (MILF members) because what happened there was a legitimate encounter and we also lost men," he said.

Aside from the 44 policemen, at least 18 rebels and five civilians were also killed in the fighting that ended the SAF operation to capture international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan," and his Filipino lieutenant, Basit Usman.

The commandos killed Marwan in a raid on his hideout in Tukanalipao village, Mamasapano, but Usman, although wounded, managed to escape.

Surrender Usman

The government is demanding that the MILF surrender Usman or help find him or clear the way for government security forces to go after him.

The MILF has denied coddling Usman, saying the bomb expert is in territory held by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), whose fighters were also involved in the Mamasapano clash.

The BIFF has also denied sheltering Usman. A group that broke away from the MILF in 2010, the BIFF has boasted that it had no casualties in the Mamasapano clash and it has refused to return the firearms taken by its fighters from slain SAF commandos.

Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, PNP officer in charge, said the return of the slain commandos' firearms was not enough to show the MILF's sincerity in pursuing peace.

He said the MILF should also surrender its members responsible for the deaths of the policemen.

Malacañang has no comment on Sunday about the MILF's decision not to surrender its fighters involved in the Mamasapano clash.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Palace instead preferred to wait for the filing of charges against those who killed the policemen.

"It is best to wait for the filing of charges, as this is speculative at this time. In any case, it is the responsibility of the government to enforce the law," Coloma told the Inquirer, echoing the position taken by Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles.

President Aquino has come under widespread public criticism for his handling of the Mamasapano debacle.

What does Aquino know?

The government has extended financial, educational and livelihood assistance to the families of the slain commandos, but the families are not satisfied, demanding to know who gave the order to launch the operation to take down Marwan and what the President did when he learned about the fighting early on Jan. 25.

Speaking to journalists, some of the families reported that Mr. Aquino was irritated or dismissive when asked during their meeting in Camp Crame on Wednesday how the government intended to work for justice for the slain policemen.

They also reported that the President scolded them when they asked him about his role in the SAF operation and the actions he took as the fighting was raging in Mamasapano.

Malacañang and the PNP denied there was confrontation during the President's surprise meeting with the families at Camp Crame.

The Palace attributed the families' complaints to their grief over their loss.

Questioning Aquino

As of Sunday, it remained unclear whether the Senate or the PNP board of inquiry would summon the President to explain his role in the SAF operation, the progress of which he reportedly followed through his close friend, suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima.

Purisima, who has admitted providing the intelligence that set off the SAF operation, resigned as PNP chief at the height of public anger over reports that he directed the mission from his house in Camp Crame.

Coloma said the Palace did not know whether the PNP or the Senate had decided to request the President to answer questions or provide information to the Mamasapano inquiries.

But he said Mr. Aquino was "committed to ferreting out the truth" and that his "current and future actions are based on his assessment of what will best serve the national interest."

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