2 fishermen’s bodies found off Sulu a week after massacre at sea
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines–The bodies of two men believed to be among the 11 fishermen, who were reported missing after 15 of their supposed companions were massacred off Sibago Island in Basilan last week, were found in Tongkil in Sulu Sunday night.
The two bodies, which were in advanced state of composition, were inside the small fishing boat that had apparently drifted to Sulu after at least 10 unidentified gunmen allegedly opened fire on a group of fishermen on board three boats on January 23.
The massacre was said to have been sparked by disputes over fishing grounds.
Colonel Jose Johriel Cenabre, deputy commander for Marine Operations of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, said the two bodies found Sunday remained unidentified.
The markings on the boat led authorities to conclude that the two were among the massacre victims.
Sunday’s discovery leaves nine other fishermen still missing.
Three fishermen survived last week’s attack, one of whom remains in critical condition.
Survivors Arvin Oponda of Dumalinao town, Zamboanga del Sur and Jessie Loques of Bukidnon, said they were spared maybe because the gunmen thought they were mere hook-and-line fishermen as they were in smaller boats.
Last week, both Oponda and Loques accompanied local police, military and naval forces to Sibago Island to “retrace” the incident.
Commander Giovanni Bayani Gaerlan, deputy commander of the Naval Forces in Western Mindanao, said the incident took place some 13 nautical miles or about 23.4 kilometers distance to Sibago Island.
“They (Oponda and Loques) were close enough to see what was done to their companions,” Gaerlan said.
At the site of the massacre, the two, visibly scared, pointed to two floating devices, locally known as “payao,” marked with the names Anok and Altia. The floaters are used to attract fish particularly tuna, which abound in the waters off Sibago Island.
Basilan Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul said Anok and Altia were not Yakan-sounding names, “but we were informed these markings are names of the owners of these devices and they are reportedly staying on Sibago Island.”
Sakalahul said he had instructed town mayor Talib Pawaki to make an accounting of all payaos.
Pawaki said there are Anoks residing in Sibago. “We do not know who owns the Altia floater,” the mayor said.
Sakalahul ordered Pawaki to tell all payao owners based in Sibago to report either to the Basilan police or to the 32nd Infantry Battalion.
As of this writing, no one has followed the vice governor’s order.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of Western Mindanao Command, said local authorities in Basilan are “almost near to unmasking the real perpetrators.”
“Another angle that we are looking at is that one of the financiers of these fishermen ordered them to fish in some payao but failed to pay the payao owner,” Cabangbang said.
Oponda and Loques said the Sibago islanders are hospitable people.
“They were nice to us,” Loques said, adding that when the incident happened, they were looking for payaos named “Star 1 and Star 2” when the massacre happened.
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