MANILA — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) assailed the Senate investigation report on the Mamasapano incident, saying that the findings failed to provide a deeper understanding of the context that led to the tragic event, and were mostly based on emotions rather than an objective interpretation of facts.
Although the CHR commended the report made by the Senate Committees on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, and Finance, CHR Chair Loretta Ann P. Rosales said she disagreed with some of the report’s conclusions, saying that it “gives the appearance that emotion, rather than objectivity, prevailed in the articulation of its findings.”
Rosales said the Senate easily jumped to conclusions and described the Mamasapano incident as a “massacre, not a mis-encounter.”
“While the Commission commiserates with the families of the victims and acknowledges that the killing of the Fallen 44 was unjustified, categorizing the incident as a ‘massacre’ is excessive,” Rosales said in a statement.
“The mere use of high-powered firearms and mortars does not automatically equate to cruelty, inasmuch as it was not clearly established who, between the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), used what,” she continued.
“Moreover, this characterization also overlooks the fact that the SAF (Special Action Force) were armed, albeit outgunned. In other words, although their situation was dire, the SAF were not necessarily ‘helpless or unresisting,’” she added.
“Worse, the Senate Report describes the situation as akin to walking into a trap. This equates the incident to an ambush, which is not borne out by the records because the MILF itself, much less the BIFF, was unaware of the arrival of the SAF.”
The Senate probe is part of the investigations carried out aside from the Police’s Board of Inquiry to shed light on the tragic incident that led to the death of nearly 70 people in Mamasapano.
Rosales also noticed the failure of the Senate investigation to highlight the welfare of civilians who died in the firefight.
“One must not overlook the fact that, outside of the Fallen 44, there were five (5) civilians and 17 MILF casualties, resulting in the death of a total of 66 Filipinos, including a child of 8 years of age,” she said, adding that the CHR has “consistently requested for full access” to investigate human rights violations against the victims.
Skewed understanding on the southern peace process
CHR also took exception to the Senate report against the peace panels of the government and the MILF, as well as the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).
She said they were dismayed by the accusations thrown against the OPAPP and the peace panel for “suffering an ‘excess of optimism — optimism that blinded them to negotiate a fair agreement for the government,’ citing the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) as an example.”
“While the BBL may have its defects, a court of law has yet to rule on the legality of its provisions. That legal luminaries have weighed in on both sides of the argument is a clear indication that even experts are divided on the matter. In any case, the BBL is pending before Congress, precisely to give Senators and Members of the House of Representatives the opportunity to review its provisions,” Rosales said.
She cited that other “internal conflicts take time to resolve.”
“In El Salvador, it took 12 years of fighting before the Government and the Frente Faribundo Martí de Liberación Nacional managed to enter into the Chapultepec Agreement. In Northern Ireland, two decades of violence preceded the signing of the Belfast Agreement,” Rosales said.
She emphasized that “the complexity of the situation in Mindanao is no different.”
“The peace process is multi-faceted: it involves not merely the decommissioning of arms and the determination of the political status of those involved in or affected by the conflict, but also the establishment of non-monetary forms of reparations, a concept which both Houses of Congress, including the Senate, are conscious of, having passed RA (Republic Act) 10368 (also known as Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013),” she said.
“While condemning what happened in Mamasapano, the Commission must caution against broad statements which serve no purpose other than to polarize public opinion,” she added.
Rosales said the report merely painted the Mamasapano incident as black and white, without taking the considerations of understanding the intricacies and complexities of the southern peace process.
She cited that faulting the MILF leadership of its failure to control its ground troops already equates to the MILF’s insincerity in the peace process.
“The inability of the MILF leadership to control a few elements of the BIAF (Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Force) has nothing to do with its sincerity in entering into peace negotiations. The actions of a few rogue members cannot and should not be interpreted as the actions of the whole,” she said.
Rosales said the Senators could have weighed on the political maturity of the MILF for its willingness to forego its armed struggle and agree to decommission its forces in exchange for a political settlement in Mindanao, which the organization has been fighting for in more than four decades.
“(The) Senate Report trivializes the maturity with which the MILF has chosen to deal with the situation, i.e. by forging on ahead with the peace process and signing the protocol on the decommissioning of its weapons and forces.”
“This has not gone unnoticed at the level of the United Nations, which has, accordingly, commended on the political maturity of the MILF and communicated the same to the Chairperson of the Commission,” she added.”