MANILA, Feb. 19 (PNA) — Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II welcomed on Thursday the return of 16 high-powered firearms of the slain Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) troopers from the custody of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“This is a good first step. Ibig sabihin, hindi nagtatapos dito,” Roxas said during the presentation of the SAF weapons to a PNP contingent headed by Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Roxas was joined by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang, and other high-ranking military and police officials.
Only 16 assault rifles and machine guns were returned to the government. The rest of the firearms taken from the 44 SAF members killed in the Mamasapano clash have yet to be recovered.
“It’s still indeterminate who has possession of the other firearms,” Roxas said.
He also said that not only the guns but the other equipment and belongings of the fallen heroes as well should be returned by whoever are keeping them at present.
“Hinihiling natin ang tulong ng MILF sa pag-recover ng mga armas at ibang kagamitan ng SAF troopers natin,” Roxas stressed.
He also emphasized the value of such gesture from the MILF, which ought to rebuild the trust necessary for the peace process to succeed.
“We are in the middle of the peace process and trust to each other is important, not only between the uniformed services and MILF, but also between the MILF and Filipino citizens,” Roxas explained.
For his part, Espina said they will be conducting validation of the SAF arms that were turned over by the MILF.
“We will double check the serial numbers and the completeness of parts of the surrendered arms,” Espina said.
The 16 firearms were surrendered on Wednesday by the MILF to the Government of the Philippines (GPH) peace panel.
The AFP and the PNP pleaded for the return of the remaining weapons, uniforms and personal materials of the SAF.
Roxas stressed that the blatant danger in the situation is that the remaining SAF firearms can be used against government forces or civilians.
The firearms will be brought into the custody of the Board of Inquiry (BOI) headed by CIDG Chief Police Director Benjamin Magalong for examination.
Magalong, who was also present at the turnover of the firearms, said the board is scheduled to check the environment in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
“The Board of Inquiry’s investigation is ongoing and we talked about our trip to Mamasapano next week because we have seen the picture of what happened. We just want to validate the claims and allegations regarding the Mamasapano clash site. We intend to know what the environment is around the place,” Magalong told reporters in an interview.
The CIDG chief explained that the retrieved firearms would serve prosecutorial purposes in the investigation of the Mamasapano clash.
“This is a confidence-building measure of the MILF so they could ensure the continuity of the peace process,” Magalong said.