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Were SAF soldiers massacred after surrendering?

Photos of the Maguindanao massacre provided to newspapers and a video posted on Youtube right after the incident point to the tragic, gruesome possibility that many of the 64 troopers of the elite Special Action Forces (SAF) may have been killed and shot point blank after surrendering.

The images also show the bodies of the SAF troops—not a single one with a weapon beside him—stripped of all their battle gear.

The SAF troops are known to be the best equipped among the entire police-military forces, with provisions from the United States as its contribution to the Philippines’ anti-terrorism campaign. SAF forces’ weapons included the most sophisticated assault rifles, hand guns, special light Kevlar helmets and armor vests, and even night vision goggles.

Yet photos of the dead SAF troops right after the incident showed them completely unarmed, or without such battle gear, as if they were civilians. They were even stripped of their camouflage suits and US-made boots. The bodies were scattered in the cornfield, and obviously weren’t in foxholes or behind makeshift shields, which they would have been if they had died fighting.

A video posted on youtube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=t85YIBqQHgI) was made apparently by somebody speaking the native dialect who nonchalantly walked over the SAF corpses, stopping momentarily to focus on some of the bodies. The video showed several SAF troopers were shot in their faces. One had his skull blown off, and then stuffed with leaves.

My immediate, admittedly emotional reaction after seeing the photos and the videos: The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, despite all the peace talks and their pronouncements that non-Muslims are their brothers, seem to see government troops as utter enemies to be wiped out.

Inset, right, SAF trooper in battle-gear; foreground photo, SAF troopers killed in Maguindanao stripped even of their jackets and boots; inset, middle, SAF trooper with head blown off; inset extreme left, shot in the face.

To conclude that what occurred, indeed, was a ruthless massacre may be wrong, but authorities should secure the videos and even the alleged battlefield to find out what really happened.

What gives credence, though, that a massacre occurred is the fact that several newspapers reported that while the battle started early morning and ended only late in the day, the SAF troopers had run out of ammunition by noon.

A military man familiar with SAF explained that this scenario was most likely as the SAF commandos are trained for quick “insertion” into operations and quick withdrawal. “It is not an infantry equipped for positional battle, with the necessary ammunition.”

The MILF itself (see their website www.luwaran.com) reported that the firefight lasted from the wee hours of the morning to late afternoon, with additional MILF troops from its nearby camps reinforcing the original platoon that encountered the SAF. This raises very important questions:

Couldn’t they just have asked the encircled SAF troops to surrender, which I’m sure they would have if they had run out of ammunition.

Since they were in control of the situation by early morning, why didn’t the MILF inform the government of the situation and arrange for a ceasefire?

Why didn’t a Philippine Army battalion nearby try to save the SAF troopers?

Despite the peace talks, are the MILF forces so steeped in their ideology that they are trained to fight and massacre government troops without even pausing to consult their superiors?

Or did the MILF leadership actually want to teach the government a big lesson: That Maguindanao is theirs now, and even a police operation to capture known foreign terrorists must be cleared with them.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas was quick to declare that SAF incident a “mis-encounter.”

That is a word that isn’t even in the dictionary, and therefore, technically meaningless. It sends a clear message, though, that the MILF isn’t to blame. His move yesterday to sack the SAF’s commanding general is a clear message that he is blaming that special force, not the MILF.

Perhaps, the MILF isn’t to blame if, in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning, a firefight broke out when the two groups encountered each other. But it was utter ruthlessness for the MILF to have encircled the SAF troops in broad daylight, and most probably killed them after they surrendered.

The gall of the MILF leadership to blame the SAF team, claiming it didn’t “coordinate” its entry into the area with the insurgent group. What they meant was that the SAF didn’t ask for permission from it. Soon, they will require all of our troops to have ingress and egress passes, and for civilians to have visas to the Bangsamoro.

I don’t think it has dawned on most Filipinos and on this arrogant President, that the massacre of the 64 SAF troopers is the worst ever mass killing of government forces in a single incident.

The Mendiola Massacre had 14 casualties, the Ampatuan-Maguindanao had 58 civilians killed. The MILF massacred 64 Philippine commandos.

France recently declared a national day of mourning and marched on the streets to protest the killing of 12 Frenchmen by terrorists. Here, the President so far seems to want to have the episode forgotten as quickly as possible. His right-hand man, Roxas, is even blaming, in effect, not the terrorists but the victims. There isn’t an outrage over this horror, this attack on our Republic and our very humanity.

What kind of a country have we become?