The Philippines on Monday marked the first anniversary of a bloody incident in which 44 elite police commandos were shot dead by a Moro group currently involved in a landmark peace agreement with the government.
Along with the deaths of the 44, 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (M.I.L.F.) members and five civilians also died in an event now referred to as the Mamasapano Incident -- commemorated Monday with prayers and observances.
At a Quezon City military camp President Benigno Aquino III dedicated Medals to those who lost their lives and three others who survived, while warning police against entities who he claimed want to sow disunity in the institution.
"There are still some taking advantage of the controversy on your pillar to break out unity, they are using the tragedy for their own agenda," Aquino said.
''I am confident that you will continue to follow a path that is right and fair, you must continue to defend our bosses."
On Jan. 25 last year, the commandos (SAF) descended on the remote town of Mamasapano in the south's conflict-ridden Maguindanao province to arrest two wanted militants. The officers ran into the M.I.L.F.and splinter group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, resulting in the deaths.
The involvement of the M.I.L.F. had threatened to derail the peace process in Mindanao and resulted in Congress halting the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) -- which seals a peace agreement signed by the government and the M.I.L.F. in 2014 that aims to bring an end to 17 years of negotiations, while granting Muslims greater political autonomy.
On Monday, the president told the relatives of the slain troopers he was becoming anxious with the slow pace of justice for those who died.
He has blamed SAF chief Getulio Napenas for going ahead with the operation without coordination with the military, which he says would have given timely and ample support for the beleaguered elite force.
In the wake of the incident, Napenas was removed from his post.
In Maguindanao, leaders and members of the country's one time largest Moro rebel group also marked the anniversary with prayers to remember their fallen comrades.
“We do not commemorate in grandest fashion; we simply offer prayers for our slain fighters,” M.I.L.F. Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told reporters at the M.I.L.F.'s main base in Maguindanao, central Mindanao.
He added that they also pray for all: "SAF, M.I.L.F., and civilians," and referred to the deaths as "circumstances beyond our control."
Ebrahim reiterated the M.I.L.F. stance on the reopening of an inquiry into the incident, saying “it will only add insult to injury that has already been healed as far as the M.I.L.F. is concerned.”
Ebrahim warned that the reopening the probe could be used to dampen the Bangsamoro peoples’ hopes for the passage of the draft BBL.
The bill, a product of 17 years of peace negotiations, still remains unacted upon by Philippine Congress.
“The issue could be used by some for political gains,” Ebrahim said, adding that so many probes had already been made.
Since the incident, there has been a Senate probe, a M.I.L.F. investigation, a Department of Justice investigation and an International Monitoring Team inquiry.
“We hope it will not be used to junk the BBL,” Ebrahim underlined.
In a statement emailed to Anadolu Agency, peace process presidential adviser Teresita Deles stressed that the unfortunate event only served to strengthen the agency’s resolve to continue pushing for peace in Mindanao.
She maintained that the commemoration of the tragedy should focus solely in seeking justice for the deaths of the elite cops, Moro combatants and innocent civilians instead the incident being used to further political agendas.
“In remembering Mamasapano we are making a fervent prayer -- for justice for those who perished and [were] negatively affected by the tragedy, for healing and peace for the families and communities, and of the nation, and clarity of mind and wisdom for fellow Filipinos that they may always see and discern the truth from deception -- for our country and the just and lasting peace it deserves,” Deles said.
In Ilocos Norte -- on the Philippines northern coast -- at least 44 flags were displayed along with a wreath to commemorate those who fell.
The death of the commandos was the biggest loss of government elite force members in history.