A repeat of the January 25, 2015 incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao is inevitable should the Philippine government attempt to mount operations, even against so-called “high- priority targets,” without coordinating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This warning was made by the general who heads the Philippine government contingent to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities in Mindanao.
“I believe if we will insist that there is no coordination, we will have a Mamasapano incident again,” Brigadier General Carlito Galvez told the Senate at a hearing on February 23 regarding the Philippine National Police Special Action Force operation in Maguindanao.
The police operation was to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” who is said to have been killed, but at the cost of 44 police commandos, 18 MILF fighters and at least five civilians in the ensuing clash.
Under the terms of a long-standing ceasefire, government forces are supposed to inform and coordinate with the MILF at least 24 hours before any mission they intend to launch within territory recognized as under MILF control.
However, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano said the rules provide an exception in the case of high-priority targets.
“And everyone admitted here that everyone knew that Marwan was a high- priority target,” he said.
Asked by Cayetano for her interpretation of the rules, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima agreed that, “it would seem that the exception is what is stated that, except for high-value targets, the 24- hour rule will apply.”
However, when Cayetano asked whether this could also mean “no coordination in cases here the military or PNP (Philippine National Police) feel that their operations will be endangered,” De Lima qualified her earlier answer, saying: “We need to ask the framers of that particular agreement, what was the real intent? Because it seems a little vague, it seems ambiguous because it can be subjected to …” Cayetano maintained that the exception allowed the government to operate without coordinating with the MILF.
Galvez then cited a study showing that, from 1997 to 2012, 256 persons were killed and 570 more injured “because of no coordination.”
However, Cayetano dismissed this, saying the deaths were not because of a lack of coordination but, “dahil pinapapaty sila ng (because they were killed by the) MILF.”
He also argued that informing the MILF of operations to get high- priority targets or even informing civilians to evacuate beforehand would only allow terrorists to escape unscathed.
When Galvez warned of another Mamasapano should government ignore coordination, Cayetano retorted: “While we coddle terrorists, we will always have a Mamasapano until the government says that enough is enough.”