The clash between the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao was a mis-encounter, police and military officials said.
The MILF chief negotiator also described it as an "isolated" incident.
According to reports, the PNP-SAF conducted a law enforcement operation in Tukanalipao, a village known to be a bailiwick of the MILF and BIFF, to arrest suspected Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and Filipino bomb-making expert Abdul Bassit Usman. Both have been blamed for terror attacks in Mindanao.
Forty-four members of the PNP-SAF died and 11 others were injured during the encounter. Reports said five MILF and 6 BIFF members were also killed.
Von Al Haq, chief of the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), told media that the "mis-encounter" happened due to lack of coordination with their troops on the ground. Also, MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal reportedly described the incident as "isolated."
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Meanwhile, communication secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. in a press briefing on Monday said there is a high likelihood that the primary target, Marwan, who was an alleged member of Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command Markaziyah, has been "neutralized." However, interior secretary Mar Roxas said they would only confirm Marwan's death once the DNA results are released.
Coloma added that the government will continue to push for the Mindanao peace process despite Sunday's encounter. The government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in March last year in an effort to end the decades-long conflict in Mindanao. The draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is currently being discussed in Congress.
On Monday, the Philippine Flag was hoisted at half-mast at the PNP National Headquarters in Camp Crame as a sign of mourning over the death of the slain policemen.
In a press statement, deputy director general Leonardo Espina, PNP officer-in-charge, expressed confidence that justice and peace will prevail despite the momentary setback of law enforcement operations against lawless elements in Mindanao.
The PNP is preparing the highest police honors to the casualties in the Mamasapano clash as well as benefits due to the surviving kin, who are entitled to receive death benefits ranging from P1.5 million to P2 million, the statement read.