MANILA, Philippines – Members of the military court martial will convene this week to decide on the verdict of the remaining officer tagged in the bungled operations in Al Barka, Basilan in 2011, which claimed the lives of 19 members of the Army’s Special Forces and injured several others.
A closed-door deliberation will be held on Friday among the seven members of the court martial to discuss the ruling on Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Pena, then commander of the Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion, according to Colonel Jose Feliciano Loy Jr., a member of the court martial, in an interview Monday with INQUIRER.net.
He added that each member will then cast a vote in a secret balloting to decide at the end of the executive session.
Loy said Pena finished presenting his evidence and arguments mid-May, adding that the announcement of verdict will be held after June 28.
Early this year, the general court martial convicted Special Forces Regiment Airborne Commander Colonel Almikandra Undug “guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” as he committed “imprudence without inappropriate clearance from higher headquarters and violation of the chain of command” when he allowed the military scuba diving course students in actual operations on October 18, 2011.
Undug, a bemedalled officer recognized for the capture of Abu Sayyaf’s Commander Robot in 2003, faced admonition and lowering in the military’s linear list of 50 levels, which could affect his promotion.
If not for the incident, Undug, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1982, would have been a one-star general by now.
However, Loy said that the AFP Chief of Staff, being the final convening authority and who has the powers to approve or disapprove the sentence, has not yet acted upon the verdict.
In October last year, the court martial cleared two officers – former Commandant of Special Forces School Lieutenant Colonel Orlando Edralin and former Commander of Special Operations Task Force Basilan Colonel Alexander Macario – for “insufficiency of evidence.”
Nineteen soldiers of the Special Forces of the Philippine Army were killed after they clashed with Moro Islamic Liberation Front members in Al Barka town, Basilan on October 18, 2011.
The troops were supposed to arrest Abu Sayyaf leaders Furuji Indama and Long Malat and MILF subcommander Dan Laksaw Asnawi when they were ambushed by the rebels. The incident turned into a day-long clash.