15 fishermen slain off Basilan
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Armed men believed to be pirates attacked a group of fishermen near Sibago Island in Basilan on Monday, killing at least 15 of them, military and police officials said.
“Niratratan daw sila (They were peppered with bullets),” Mayor Belman Mantos of San Pablo town in Zamboanga del Sur told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone, citing the accounts of two survivors.
Navy reports earlier placed the number of fatalities at 20, but Mantos said fishermen who responded to a radio distress call counted 15 bodies in three fishing boats, the Alquibert, Honeybee Nichole and Princess Lei-Ann.
Chief Superintendent Bienvenido Latag, police director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said “we still do not know who were responsible.” Coast Guard authorities have said that piracy is a serious problem among fishermen in Western Mindanao.
The shooting took place some 10 nautical miles off Sibago, which is part of Muhammad Ajul town in Basilan, Latag said. Three fishermen were wounded, he said.
A report from The Associated Press quoted the police as saying that there were about 10 attackers. No arrests have been made yet as the news reached authorities late because of the remoteness of the area, senior police official Felicisimo Khu said.
Police received information that seven bodies were found in one boat, five bodies in another, and three bodies in the third boat. A similar report was made by the town’s mayor, Talib Pawaki, according to Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the military’s Western Mindanao Command.
Cabangbang told the Inquirer that investigators could still not say who were behind the attack. He cited reports that the gunmen could be fishing rivals of the victims, but he also pointed at the problem of piracy in the area.
The bodies were brought to Pagadian City, he said.
Mantos said only the bodies of Wilmar Lonson, Kenneth Roger Castillo, Ronald Buhian and Leonardo Tamparong were brought home.
He said the two survivors, Arvin Oponda and Boyet Lopez, had earlier left their group’s fishing area near Sibago. “They used two smaller bancas to locate and check the site of the fish sanctuaries, which were quite far from where the three fishing boats were moored,” he said.
Based on their accounts, a total of 18 fishermen sailed from San Pablo town last week to fish near Muhammad Ajul. The group took off for Sibago Island on Thursday from Barangay Baliwasan in Zamboanga City, Mantos said.
They sent a distress call through their single side band radio at around 8 a.m. on Monday, the mayor said.
“This is very painful. Where were the authorities?” he told the Inquirer by phone.
In March 2010, 15 fishermen were killed by armed men near Pitogo town in Zamboanga del Sur.
Money to pirates
The Philippine Coast Guard had reported that fishermen would give money to pirates to be spared from attacks. A fisherman would pay P1,500 a month for a boat carrying an icebox and P500 for a small motorized banca that can carry three persons, it had said.
In 2008, a Naval Task Group was assigned to Pagadian after the provincial government of Zamboanga del Sur requested that the Navy intensify its campaign against piracy. On its first week of operation, the group arrested 21 suspected pirates.
For unknown reasons, the unit was dissolved after a few months.
Basilan Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul was on his way to the area yesterday, protected by a platoon of soldiers and police, to investigate the killings, Khu said. With an AP report
Originally posted: 1:33 pm | Tuesday, January 24th, 2012
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