A Philippine flag flown at half-mast at Fernando Air Base Tuesday as soldiers mourn the death of 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force killed during an encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters. The MILF claims the clash Sunday erupted due to lack of coordination, when the elite cops tried to capture Malaysian bomb expert Marwan. (MNS photo)

A Philippine flag flown at half-mast at Fernando Air Base Tuesday as soldiers mourn the death of 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force killed during an encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters. The MILF claims the clash Sunday erupted due to lack of coordination, when the elite cops tried to capture Malaysian bomb expert Marwan. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – Some 90 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and private armed groups had been recommended to be criminally charged for the Mamasapano clash, according to a report by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the National Prosecution Service (NPS).

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima on Thursday said the 224-page report was the first part of the joint team’s findings. She said she still has to go over the joint team’s findings before baring its contents to the public.

De Lima described the joint team’s initial findings as the result of “a very comprehensive work although hindi pa tapos ang trabaho nila.”

She said the team was given two more months to complete its report on the Jan. 25 clash that killed more than 60 people, including 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force, 18 MILF members, and five civilians.

De Lima said the initial report focused on determining who was responsible for the death of 35 of the 44 commandos, who were the 55th SAF company.

The second part of the report will dwell on those responsible for the deaths of the remaining nine commandos from the 84th SAF company.

De Lima said that a “third party” witness identified only as “Marathon” helped the NBI-NPS team to complete the first part of its findings on the members of the 55th SAF company.

De Lima said Marathon was a “direct witness” in the armed clash at the cornfield in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. He is now under the Witness Protection Program, she said.

As for the 84th SAF company members, the Department of Justice has yet to look for another third party witness and will include findings in the second part of the NBI-NPS report.

De Lima also appealed to the MILF to cooperate with the NBI and the NPS for the completion of the joint probe’s findings.

We hope that they would now give us access to the witnesses and families ng mga victims nila [sa MILF] and also ng civilians para ma-file-an din ng kaso iyong mga found responsible,” De Lima said.

However, MILF peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal on Thursday declined to comment on the charges against some MILF members.

The joint NBI-NPS team was earlier given until April 2 to submit its report but it requested a two-week extension.

De Lima earlier said the NBI and NPS teams invited for clarificatory questioning the witnesses named in the PNP Board of Inquiry report on the Mamasapano clash, a copy of which was given to the justice secretary.

De Lima earlier said at a House probe that charges will be filed against the personalities they have identified to be involved in the carnage, but added that they cannot be indicted in one go.

De Lima said DOJ investigators were able to talk to eyewitnesses to the Mamasapano firefight, including one who can identify MILF members, as well as those from its breakaway group, the BIFF, and other private armed groups in Maguindanao.

De Lima had said the various probe results from the PNP-BOI, the Senate, and the MILF would be of “great help” to the NBI-NPS probe but stressed that: “Mayroon din kaming sariling sources ng facts and evidence.”

PNP to support DOJ decision

For its part, the PNP said it will support the decision of the DOJ to file charges.

“The PNP will be supportive of such move from DOJ as we seek justice for our gallant heroes,” PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr. said Thursday.

Probe reports

The PNP BOI report found that President Benigno Aquino III bypassed the chain of command leading to the clash.

The Senate report meanwhile branded the killing of the 44 elite policemen carrying out Oplan Exodus as a massacre. The Senate found that the MILF, the BIFF, and other armed groups murdered and robbed the PNP SAF personnel.

The Senate recommended that charges of murder, frustrated murder and robbery be filed against those responsible for the massacre.

Meanwhile, in its report, the MILF Special Investigative Commission found no liability among its fighters for the deaths of the police commandos.

As for the NBI-NPS probe, De Lima said the joint team also looked into the MILF’s findings that PO2 Christopher Lalan, the lone survivor from the 55th Special Action Company that clashed with MILF men in Mamasapano, killed several men, including a civilian, a day after the January 25 encounter.

Killed in the incident were more than 60 people, including 44 elite policemen, 18 MILF rebels, and five civilians. The clash happened while government forces were trying to capture international terrorists in the area.  (MNS)