ZAMBOANGA CITY—A Moro human rights group on Friday decried what it described as fresh cases of enforced disappearance against Muslims suspected of being terrorists amid President Aquino’s signing into law of the Anti-Enforced, or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 last month.
Abdulbaser Datumanong, coordinator of Kawagib (Rights) for the Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi areas, said this week alone, two apparent cases of enforced disappearance had taken place here and in Basilan.
Datumanong said Muin Hamja, 40, was forcibly taken by alleged policemen on suspicion of being an Abu Sayyaf member in Barangay Kumalarang in Isabela City in Basilan around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Hamja’s abduction, he said, took place as the Muslim community and rights advocates were protesting Tuesday’s kidnapping by state agents of Sheikh Basher Mursalun in Barangay Labuan.
Mursalun, he said, is an Islamic scholar, who is also the principal of a madrasah (Arabic school) in this city.
As in Mursalun’s case, Datumanong said Hamja’s family had searched for him the whole day on Thursday. Police and military authorities in Basilan told him they did not have him.
“However, a concerned citizen sent a text message to Kawagib with information that Hamja may be detained at the regional police headquarters in Zamboanga City,” Datumanong said.
The Western Mindanao police office has not issued a statement on the claim.
Datumanong said it was not the first time that Hamja was victimized by enforced disappearance, which, under the law that President Aquino signed last month, is now a criminal offense.
“The first was during the crackdown against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan in October 2001 but [he] was released later for lack of evidence,” he said.
Hamja’s brother, Muhammadiya, who was also allegedly forcibly abducted by state agents during the said crackdown, was released after four years. He was taken in again in 2008 and remained locked up at the Basilan provincial jail up to this day, Datumanong said.
“Kawagib is on alert for a possible start of another crackdown on Moro men on suspicion of being Abu Sayyaf members,” he added, citing the cases of Hamja and Mursalun.
Sheikh Jamal Munib, chair of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines for Western Mindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, said Muslim religious leaders here could “vouch for his (Mursalun’s) integrity and we know he is completely innocent of any imputation of [involvement in] criminal or lawless activities.”
“His contributions to the government in terms of civic and religious activities are even worthy of commendation,” Munib said.
Mursalun’s father in-law, Sheikh Almahdi Baginda, president of the Institute of Qur’an Wal Hadith, said some sources, whom he would not identify, had told their family that Mursalun was not abducted but arrested by operatives of the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC) and the police’s Special Action Force.
The PCTC is concerned with cross-border drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism.
“My son-in-law was driving home and witnesses told us they initially saw a black Mitsubishi Adventure bumping the rear part of the motorcycle he was driving,” Baginda said.
He said the same witnesses had told them that after falling off his motorcycle, Mursalun was shot by some of the armed men, who got off the Adventure before dragging him into it.
The armed men sped away with Mursalun, Baginda said.
Investigators later told them they had recovered the getaway car, with license plate MGP 829, in Barangay Patalon because it was abandoned by the suspects after blowing off its tires, Baginda said.
“But we were also told [by other witnesses] that a white van later picked up the men and my son-in-law,” Baginda said.
“We are condemning this latest human rights violation against us and we are really disturbed, affected and alarmed because if this can be done on an alim (scholar), it can also be done on ordinary people,” Munib said.
Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo, city police director, said the police could not yet say for certain who the suspects were, as the investigation was still going on.
He said the abandoned getaway car had a license plate issued by a Land Transportation Office in another region and not in Western Mindanao.
“We are still trying to find out who the owner is,” he said.
He also downplayed claims that government agents were behind Mursalun’s disappearance, as there had been no coordination with the city police if it was indeed an arrest.
Col. Glenn Macasero, commander of Task Force Zamboanga, also said he had no information on any fresh mission. Julie Alipala and Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao