MANILA (AFP) – Muslim rebels who signed a ceasefire with the Philippine government must cooperate with an investigation into the killing of 44 policemen by some of their fighters, a presidential official said Monday.
President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda hinted that this might even involve calling on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to turn over some members to face criminal charges.
“We have said that the MILF must demonstrate its sincerity that they are full partners in the peace process. We certainly will encourage them to help us find things that we need to search for the truth,” Lacierda told reporters.
He said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has been preparing charges against those responsible for the January 25 killings.
“We would hope that part of their good faith is to show us … the truth. We want to seek justice. That kind of justice that we want is a justice that seeks accountability,” he said.
Lacierda stopped short of stating the MILF must give up its fighters but said it should return the firearms it captured from the slain policemen.
A police board of inquiry is already investigating the killing of the police commandos, who were on a mission in the southern island of Mindanao to capture or kill Malaysian bombmaker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan. Marwan, a leading member of the Jemaah Islamiyah group which staged the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia, is believed by authorities to have been killed in the raid.
But the commandos were later ambushed by Muslim armed groups – including fighters of the MILF which signed a peace agreement with the government last March.
MILF officials said they were acting in self-defence and the raid should have been coordinated with them under the terms of the ceasefire.
However the killings have angered the nation and threatened efforts to pass a law that would create a Muslim autonomous area as part of the peace process.
Legislators are seeking their own investigation of the incident before they will act on the bill, which Aquino wants passed before his term ends in 2016.
Lacierda stressed that the peace process could not be abandoned, saying that nearly 120,000 people had died since the Muslim separatist insurgency began in 1972.