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Military court finds remaining officer in bungled Basilan operations guilty

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A soldier carries a wounded comrade airlifted by helicopter from Al-Barka, Basilan, for treatment in Zamboanga City last month. At least 19 soldiers of the Special Action Forces were killed in a clash with Moro rebels. AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – The remaining officer facing charges in the bungled operations in Al Barka, Basilan in 2011 which claimed lives of 19 of the Army’s Special Forces and injured 14 others was found guilty by military court on Tuesday.

Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Pena, then commander of the Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion, was found guilty for violating three provisions under the Articles of War 97 Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline, General Court Martial President Brigadier General Teodoro Cirilio Torralba III read in the pronouncement of the verdict.

Pena was unanimously convicted by the seven-law member panel of the court martial over AW 97. He was not convicted guilty of AW 84 or Negligence or Loss of Military Property due to lack of evidence.

Last year, Pena was also cleared of AW 96 or Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer and a Gentleman due to insufficiency of evidence.

With the verdict, Pena will be sentenced to: 1) reduction in 200 files below the lineal list 2) suspension of two years in promotion 3) suspension of leading a command position and 4) admonition.

Torralba said, however, that the AFP Chief of Staff, as convening and final authority, may reduce the sentence.

The suspension of Pena for two years has not yet been deemed served, even as he was in floating status for nearly two years. His sentence, according to Torralba, will start upon the approval of the AFP Chief.

“The floating status of [Colonel] Pena is preventive in nature; it is not yet the decision of the court, so once the convening authority approves the decision read by this court, that is the final decision,” Torralba said.

“As far as the handbook of the  general court martial is concerned, it is specifically stated that the sentence will start upon the approval of the convening authority,” he said.

Pena is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class 1991.

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 chain of command” when he allowed the military scuba diving course students in actual operations on Oct. 18, 2011.

Undug, a bemedalled officer recognized for the capture of Abu Sayyaf’s Commander Robot in 2003, faced admonition and demotion in the military’s linear list of 50 levels, which could affect his promotion.

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” over the botched operations and are back in full duty status.

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 Oct. 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.

In reaction, Pena said he had no regrets.

“Trabaho lang ang ginawa ko, yun ang decision nila so tatanggapin ko (I just did my job; that’s their decision so I’ll accept it),” he said.

He said has no regrets and he has left everything to God.

Regarding his future, Pena said: “Kung may bibigay sa akin kahit simpleng trabaho ang AFP I will accept it (If I would be given simple tasks I will accept it).”

“I will continue with the service, [and I will rebuild myself],” Pena said.


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Tags: Al-Barka , Basilan , Court martial , Military




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