ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Police authorities finally admitted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Saturday that they have in their custody a man who went missing in Basilan on Thursday after his family and militant groups claimed he was abducted by state agents.
But Muin Hamja’s family and officials of a human rights group said as of Saturday, they still could not get confirmation of his arrest as the authorities continued to deny having the man in their custody.
Thursday’s alleged kidnapping of Hamja, according to his relatives and Kawagib, a group fighting for Moro human rights, was the second time he had fallen victim to enforced disappearance, which, under the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 that President Aquino signed last month, is now a criminal offense.
But ranking police officials dismissed claims it was a case of kidnapping by state agents, saying Hamja had been arrested.
Abdulbaser Datumanong, coordinator of Kawagib for the Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, said Hamja was first kidnapped by government agents during the crackdown against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan in October 2001 but they were forced to release him for lack of evidence.
Hamja’s brother, Muhammadiya, was also allegedly forcibly abducted by state agents during the same crackdown and was released only after four years. He was taken in again in 2008 and remains locked up at the Basilan provincial jail to this day.
Datumanong said another indication that Hamja had become a victim of enforced disappearance was that police authorities continued to deny having him in their custody.
“Jermalyn, Muin’s wife, even appealed to authorities to help her locate her husband (because when she) went to the Regional Intelligence Unit of the Western Mindanao Police Office today the PNP denied having him in their custody,” said Amirah Lidasan, also of Kawagib.
Senior Superintendent Mario Dapilloza, Basilan police director, had told the Inquirer before Lidasan was interviewed that Hamja was indeed in police custody after he was collared by a team from the police and the military on Thursday.
He described the man as an Abu Sayyaf suspect “facing five criminal cases for kidnapping and serious illegal detention docketed at the Regional Trial Court 9 in Isabela City.”
Dapilloza said Hamja was also on the government’s list of most wanted persons with a bounty of “P600,000 based on the joint resolution” of the Department of National Defense and Department of the Interior and Local Government.
He said the operation carried out by members of the police’s Special Forces against Hamja was legitimate.
Dapilloza said that after Hamja was arrested, he was taken to the headquarters of the 53rd Infantry Battalion in Lamitan City for transport to this city.
He is the being held at the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Police Office (here), Dapilloza added.
Chief Superintendent Juanito Vano, Western Mindanao police chief, also made a similar statement.
“It was not kidnapping because the one captured by our law enforcers is [the subject] of a warrant of arrest and the person has a bounty,” Vano said by phone.
He said the police did not announce Hamja’s arrest early on because the suspect was still being “processed for investigation.”
“We are not hiding him. We are just follow(ing) procedures,” Vano insisted.
Lidasan maintained it was simple case of abduction carried out by government agents because Hamja was forcibly taken based on accounts of eye witnesses.
“We from Kawagib condemn the abduction and raise this alert that this seems to be the start of another crackdown on the Moro people,” Lidasan said.