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Prosecutors’ panel to probe MILF, BIFF rebels

The Department of Justice has formed a panel of prosecutors to conduct a preliminary investigation on criminal charges against 90 commanders and members of  the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters   and private armed groups  tagged in the death of Special Action Force   commandos during the Mamasapano massacre  last   Jan. 25.

In Office Order No. 1511, signed by Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, the DOJ  appointed five state prosecutors to conduct the preliminary investigation on the complaint filed by a fact-finding team last Sept. 22.

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Rosanne Balauag will chair the panel with Asst. State Prosecutors Aldrin Evangelista, Benito Oliver Sales III, Rasssendell Rex Gingoyon and Alexander Suarez as members.

The DOJ panel is tasked  to find out if there is probable cause to warrant the filing of the charges of direct assault with murder and theft against the respondents.

To be covered by the PI are 13 commanders of MILF and six commanders of BIFF. But the names of the respondents were not made public so as to prevent them from evading possible prosecution.

They were accused of acting “in conspiracy with one another to attack, employ force, seriously intimidate or resist the 35 SAF commandos, who were uniformed police officers and, thus persons in authority.”

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier assured that the PI would not affect the ongoing peace process between the government and the MILF, believing that the rebel group would cooperate in the legal processes.

De Lima stressed the respondents could be summoned to the PI proceedings in the DOJ through the MILF leadership or the Coordination Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

The fact-finding panel of prosecutors and National Bureau of Investigation agents based the report on accounts of eyewitnesses—including alias Marathon—who identified the liable MILF and BIFF commanders and have been placed under witness protection program.

The viral videos of the encounter that circulated in social media sites also helped in the investigation and that their sources have been traced.

Based on the results of the probe, the killings of the SAF commandos appeared to be “spontaneous and not an institutional act of the MILF.”

The charges covered the cases of 35 slain SAF men who belonged to the 55th SAF company that engaged MILF and BIFF fighters and PAGs in the cornfields of Brgy. Tukanalipao.

The cases of the nine other slain commandos from the 84th SAF company in Brgy. Pidsandawan as well as the five civilians and 18 MILF fighters who were also killed during the clash as well as the reported US involvement in the operation are still undergoing investigation.

De Lima said the fact-finding report on the second part could be released tomorrow, Thursday.

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