Who killed Marwan?

Who killed Marwan? How was he killed? These and many other questions are supposed to have been answered by the various official reports issued on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident. But a recent statement by President Aquino has prompted renewed interest in the details of that tragic encounter. In particular, contrary to the official Philippine National Police account that it was troopers of the PNP’s Special Action Force that killed Marwan, the story that has surfaced is that this international terrorist with a $5-million bounty on his head was actually shot and killed at close range by one of his aides.

“There is an alternative version of events that happened there, which is undergoing very intense scrutiny,” the President told his audience at the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum last week. “We are looking for witnesses that will prove or disprove certain observations.”

People are wondering why P-Noy is suddenly reopening public discussion of this debacle, which has set back the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, one of his main advocacies. I don’t believe he has any wish, or any special motive, to revisit this painful episode. The way it looks to me, rather, is that his statement was an unguarded response to a question by Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, the Inquirer’s editor in chief, wondering if he had found closure on Mamasapano.

Clearly, certain questions about this unfortunate encounter continue to haunt P-Noy. Not the least of these are those that have a bearing on whether he had committed a grave error in judgment when he took the words of individuals he implicitly trusted at their face value. I think he suspects that crucial pieces of information, not just tactical details, were deliberately kept from him. And this fatal deception led to the unnecessary deaths of many.

But, in the middle of what must have been a moment of personal soul-searching, he caught himself and decided to backtrack. “I would rather not talk too deeply about the specifics because it might really hamper our efforts to get to the truth of this matter—the complete truth.”

I don’t think there is such a thing—“the complete truth.” If we add up the reports of the eight or so investigations of Mamasapano that had been conducted, would we come any closer to what might satisfy everyone as the complete truth? I doubt it. Each one of these investigations would have been conducted from the vantage point of observers who saw only what they were looking for. The Inquirer has apologized for reporting that the President was in quest of an “alternative truth” about Mamasapano, when the exact words he used referred to an “alternative version of the events.”

I honestly do not see the difference. As Nietzsche wrote: “There are many kinds of eyes. Even the Sphinx has eyes—and consequently there are many kinds of ‘truths,’ and consequently there is no truth.” The PNP Board of Inquiry’s report was primarily meant to document the heroism of the 44 SAF troopers who were killed in the hunt for Marwan and Basit Usman. The truth of this heroism runs through the entire report.

In contrast, the report of the Special Investigative Commission of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front seemed singularly intended to prove that the MILF forces that figured in that bloody encounter had fought in self-defense, not knowing—at least initially—that it was the SAF they were fighting. The MILF report also appears obsessed with showing that the leadership was totally unaware of the presence of Marwan and Usman in their territory. But, that, too, is understandable.

Interestingly, the account of Marwan’s killing appears only at the very end of the report, almost like an afterthought. It seems to have no signifi cant relationship to the main thesis of self-defense, and yet it casts the gravest doubt on the courage of the government troopers.

Here is a portion of the PNP-BOI’s version: “They (the 84th SAC or Seaborne) reached Marwan’s hut, with the help of a guide, at about 4:00 a.m. The team was initially roused with IEDs triggered outside Marwan’s hut, prompting an exchange of gunfire between the SAF and Marwan. Marwan, who was awakened by the presence of the Commandos outside his hut, first turned off his lights before firing against the SAF men. The firefight lasted for about 15 minutes. The Seaborne fatally shot Marwan in the chest, causing his death.”

And here is the MILF’s account of the killing of Marwan: “During the ocular inspection, the Commission found that there were very few bullets on the wall of the hut where Marwan was found and killed. The trajectory of the bullets also indicates that the fatal shot did not come from the shots fired outside the house as the bullet holes are roughly 18 inches above the floor. If the shots were fired while Marwan was lying down, he could not have been hit while if he was standing and engaged the elements of the SAF in a firefight, the injuries sustained should have been at his lower body and not on the chest. There are also no bullet holes on the floor of the hut. In all likelihood, the fatal shot must have been fired at close range and while Marwan was lying on the floor.

“In the immediate vicinity of the hut, there are no indications of bomb explosion as there are no craters on the ground around the hut. Neither is there indication of an intense firefight in or around the hut.”

Not all truths are worth knowing, or reporting, Nietzsche might have told the writer of the report. Here, it seems to me the MILF strayed from its focus, and assumed the role of a forensics expert, to pursue a “truth” that appears to have no other use except to mock the achievement of the SAF commandos.

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