MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine police chief, holding back tears, said Wednesday that Muslim rebels shot to death some of his anti-terror commandos as they lay wounded in a fierce gunbattle last month that has stalled the government’s peace deal with the insurgents.
Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina told a congressional hearing that the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, which signed a peace deal with the government last year, should explain why its insurgents committed the “overkill” that left 44 of his men dead in the Jan 25 gunbattle.
Espina struggled not to cry as he spoke during the nationally televised House of Representatives inquiry into the deaths of the elite policemen, killed during a secret search mission in the marshy outskirts of southern Mamasapano town.
The commander of the slain policemen, Getulio Napenas Jr., since relieved of his job, approached Espina to console him and openly wept over the combat deaths that followed the killing of one of Southeast Asia’s most-wanted terror suspects, Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
“My men were very much alive, but you did not let them return home to be with their children,” Espina said, pausing as he struggled to control his emotions. “What is this overkill that you did to my men?”
Espina said he was unable to sleep after reading a medical report that indicated three of his men were still alive with gunshot wounds in the feet when two were shot at close range in the head. Gunmen removed the bullet-resistant vest of another wounded commando then shot him to death.
Twenty other commandos were shot in the head, he said, adding they were killed although it was clear they were government policemen.
“We are your peace keepers … We know the price to pay for war,” Espina said. “But the fallen 44 deserved nothing but justice.”
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels have said the fighting was a “misencounter” because the police commandos did not coordinate the anti-terror raid with them, adding they were not aware that Marwan and a suspected Filipino bomb-maker, Abdul Basit Usman, were hiding in their Mamasapano stronghold. Espina said the overwhelming number of rebels had no reason to mow down his men with gunfire because they were on a legitimate anti-terror mission.