Philippine president honors policemen killed by rebels, questions remain

World Today

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has declared a day of mourning to honor 44 policemen killed in a firefight with Muslim rebels last week. Aquino delivered a televised speech detailing what may have happened, but it raised more questions than answers. CCTV’s Barnaby Lo reported this story from Manila.

Philippine president honors policemen killed by rebels, questions remain

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has declared a day of mourning to honor 44 policemen killed in a firefight with Muslim rebels last week. Aquino delivered a televised speech detailing what may have happened, but it raised more questions than answers. CCTV's Barnaby Lo reported this story from Manila.

Officials said the policemen were part of a covert operation to capture two terror suspects. One of them, Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as Marwan, is a suspect in a bomb attack that killed 110 foreigners in Bali, Indonesia in 2002. Authorities believed he was killed in the operation, but so were 44 law enforcement officers in what officials have described as a “mis-encounter.”

The Philippine flag has been flown at half throughout the country, marking a nation mourning the loss of some of its most well-trained, battle-hardened police officers. They arrived in Manila on Friday as heroes, but in caskets met by grieving families.

“We couldn’t reach my son on his cellphone on the 26th, so we got worried. Eventually, we were informed that he was one of the police officers who died,” a victim’s mother Helen Eva Ramacula said.

The death of the officers from the elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police at the hands the Muslim rebels, including alleged elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the MILF, came as a shock to the nation. In particular because the Philippine government had just signed a peace agreement with the MILF, the largest Muslim separatist group in the country.

In a televised speech on Wednesday evening, President Aquino admitted to knowing the police’s continuing efforts to capture Marwan, but said he reminded them of the need to coordinate with the MILF as required by the ceasefire agreement. Apparently, there was none.

Aquino vowed justice even as he deflected questions on accountability, insisting instead on waiting for the findings of a board of inquiry. He emphasized, however, the need to keep moving the peace process forward.

“It has to be finished. Otherwise, he won’t leave any legacy and otherwise, there will be continuing conflict in Mindanao. Otherwise, the government will be viewed as reneging its promise, and it will also destroy the image of the government, especially in the international community,” Dean of UP Institute of Islamic Studies Julkipli Wadi said.

The circumstances surrounding the death of the policemen underscore how fragile the situation is in the Southern Philippines and how much more work needs to be done to attain long and lasting peace.