AFP, House, CHR to probe killing of 7 Tausug
The Armed Forces of the Philippines is investigating the killing of seven young men suspected to be members of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu province last week whose relatives have vehemently denied their links to the bandit group, the military’s top investigator said on Thursday.
“We are directed by our Chief of Staff (Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr.) to conduct this investigation in Patikul and we want to find out the truth and to give justice to all,” Lt. Gen. Rafael Valencia, the AFP inspector general, told the Inquirer.
Permission to harvest
In a phone call to the Inquirer, Valencia, who was in Zamboanga City, said several of his staff flew to Sulu on Thursday to begin the investigation.
The seven who were killed, including a minor, had sought permission from the 45th Infantry Battalion to harvest lanzones and durian from their farm at Sitio Bato, Barangay Kabuntakas, Patikul town, on Sept. 14.
The next day, relatives who learned about their deaths, recovered their bullet-riddled bodies at the headquarters of the Joint Task Force Sulu in Jolo, Sulu, where soldiers said they were Abu Sayyaf bandits who had clashed with government troops.
Accounts of witnesses
Three witnesses, however, said that even before the fruit pickers reached their farm around 11 a.m., they saw the group already in the custody of Army Scout Rangers from the 32nd Infantry Battalion.
Col. Gerry Besana, public affairs officer of the Western Mindanao Command, said there was a “legitimate” encounter between Task Group Panther under Lt. Col. Samuel Yunque and Capt. Michael Asistores of the Scout Rangers and more than 100 Abu Sayyaf bandits under Radulan Sahiron at around 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 14.
Aiza Salakadang Casimra, an information officer for the Regional Human Rights Commission of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said her agency was conducting its own investigation and had dispatched a team to Patikul on Sunday.
Speaking to the Inquirer, Mahmur Arula said the victims were his cousins—Alpadal Diray, 16; Makrub Diray, 25; Mijar Hairan and Basiluddin Hairani, 30; Issah Hamsan, 21; Benajal Tula and Maknun Sakirin, 22.
“They were not terrorists. They were just trying to earn a living by harvesting their own crops in that area,” Arula said.
At the House of Representatives, members of the Makabayan bloc and several other representatives early this week sought a congressional inquiry into the killing of the seven young men.
In a resolution filed on Tuesday, the lawmakers called on the House human rights committee to investigate the incident because of the conflicting claims of the military and the relatives of the victims.
The resolution was signed by Kabataan Rep. Sara Jane Elago, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, Gabriela Representatives Arlene Brosas and Emmi de Jesus; Act Teachers Representatives France Castro and Antonio Tinio, and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.
Zambales Rep. Cheryl Deloso-Montalla, chair of the human rights committee, and Tawi-Tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali, chair of the committee on peace, reconciliation and unity, and vice chair of the committees on Mindanao affairs and on Muslim affairs, also signed the resolution.
Apparently informed that the Scout Rangers involved were on a “test mission” at the time, Sahali said she wanted to know whether it was true that the troops, “before they graduate, needed to kill some Abu Sayyaf.”
“There would be no problem if they truly were Abu Sayyaf. But what if they killed innocent people?” Sahali said.
She said the inquiry could start after the budget hearings.
Threat to Inquirer reporter
Valencia, the AFP inspector general, appealed to people in Sulu to cooperate with the military investigation.
He also said he came across some Facebook posts that slammed and threatened Inquirer reporter Julie Alipala, who reported about the claims by relatives of the victims that they were innocent.
“We are also alarmed how some people are harassing journalists who are performing their job,” Valencia said. “We would also like to find out who are behind those threats against a reporter and if threats are coming from active members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
In a letter to Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco, head of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, Inquirer executive editor Jose Ma. D. Nolasco asked for an investigation and to “unmask the people behind the irresponsible posts” against Alipala.
“The Philippine Daily Inquirer views with grave concern this online attack on Ms Alipala,” Nolasco said.
“We fear for her safety, especially in this age when social media posts are used to summon an army of trolls to destroy a perceived enemy’s reputation and incite misguided fanatics to murder.”
The Facebook page, PHIL LEAKS: Huwag Tularan, on Sept. 17 accused Alipala of being a “Certified Bayarang Kulumnista ng mga teroristang Abu Sayyaf Group.”
Some of those who commented posted outright threats against Alipala. A certain Ricardo Macapagal said, “Tokhang yan.” Another, Rhoel Dispo, posted: “Dpat barilin na yan sa ulo.” Bong Medina said, “dapat ito ang na aambush.”
PHIL LEAKS had targeted political activists, many of them belonging to left-leaning groups and other so-called enemies of the state.
In a letter to her editors, Alipala said: “I just can’t imagine [that] a reporter diligently doing his or her job, taking all sides of the coin for a complete story, will be labeled a terrorist.”
Nolasco said the Inquirer “vouches for the integrity of Ms Alipala and stands by her story.”
“She is among our veteran reporters covering community issues, crime, insurgency, and conflict and peace initiatives in Mindanao since 1998,” Nolasco said. —REPORTS FROM JULIE ALIPALA AND JEROME ANING
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