MANILA - Many of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who were killed in the Jan. 25 clash with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, appeared to have been executed as they bore gunshot wounds in the head and were apparently shot at close range.
At least three of them had bullet wounds in the upper body, indicating that their bulletproof vests had been removed before they were shot.
These were some of the findings of the autopsy on the bodies of the slain police commandos, which were released to the press on Saturday by the board of inquiry formed by the Philippine National Police to look into the killings.
In a statement, the board, headed by Director Benjamin Magalong, chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, said the autopsy was conducted by the personnel of the Crime Laboratory Office of the PNP Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from Jan. 27 to 28.
"The operational audit team is continuously working on the evaluation of all circumstances and documents gathered in their investigation," the board said.
It said "key personalities" were still being interviewed "according to their participation in the operation."
According to the board, 331 of the 346 SAF troopers who survived the disastrous operation had submitted sworn statements.
During the hearing on the Mamasapano incident in the House of Representatives on Thursday, the acting PNP chief, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, angrily disclosed that many of the police commandos were finished off as they lay wounded on a cornfield in Tukanalipao village in Mamasapano.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been negotiating peace with the Aquino administration since 2011, has vowed to look into the possibility that its fighters executed some of the SAF officers after the firefight.
In the autopsy report, the PNP medicolegal officers said nine of the police commandos sustained gunshot wounds in the head while 18 others had bullet wounds in their "head, trunks and extremities."
The report said 17 of the troopers also bore bullet wounds on their limbs and portions of their upper body.
The board said six of the seven police commissioned officers-those with rank of police inspector or higher-sustained "fatal gunshot wounds" in the head.
Among the senior officers of the SAF units that took part in the operation, it said, only Senior Insp. Max Jim Tria had bullet wounds on his limbs.
Citing a report prepared by Senior Supt. Emmanuel Aranas of the PNP Crime Laboratory, the board said three of the slain counterterrorism policemen had gunshot wounds "on the midportion of the trunk, which indicates that the victims might not be wearing their [bulletproof] vests or [that] the vests had been removed [before they were] shot."
Bulletproof vests are among the standard safety gear issued to SAF commandos.
"Likewise, [Insp. Rennie] Tayrus sustained [a gunshot wound] in the head with smudging, which indicated that the victim was shot at close range," the board said.
It was possible that Tayrus was shot "with the muzzle of the firearm less than 15 [centimeters] from the point of entry [of the bullet]," it added.
The board said PO2 Joseph Sagonoy, believed to be the SAF officer being shot by a gunman in a video of the Mamasapano clash that has gone viral, had bullet wounds in his lower left thigh while two "fatal shots were inflicted in the head."
It said the slug of a 9-mm bullet fired from a pistol was "embedded and recovered from his (Sagonoy's) brain."
"Results indicate that the victim was shot at close range with a pistol about 60 cm to at least a couple of meters from the point of entry," the autopsy report said.
The board said the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group was tracking down the Internet protocol address that the still unidentified person used in uploading the video of Sagonoy's execution.
"The issue on authenticity of the subject video can only be addressed once [the] original source is identified," the board said.