Gov’t clears names of 36 persons wrongly tagged as Abu Sayyaf in Sulu
OMAR, SULU –– Abduka Isah, 49, a father of 11 children, has been in hiding for five years after some families in his place falsely accused him of being a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
This week, town and military officials cleared his name, along with those of 35 others earlier tagged as followers and supporters of ASG subleader Alhabsy Misaya.
“Their backgrounds were thoroughly investigated and there were no cases (against them), just wrong tagging,” said Mayor Abdulbaki Adjibon of Omar town, as he assured the 36 they were cleared after they went through a series of screening and evaluation.
“As far as I am concerned, they are not Abu Sayyaf, they are not lawless (elements) but victims of circumstances,” said the mayor. “They were just accused by some groups (of being Abu Sayyaf members) and because of fear, they went into hiding and were forced to abandon their families,” Adjibon said. “Their families suffered from wrong tagging and accusations,” the mayor said during the group’s acceptance ceremony at Barangay Lahing-Lahing here on Saturday, Dec. 5, where each of the 36 persons received a sack of rice and a bag of essentials to tide them over during the pandemic.
Isah said his constant hiding in the last five years for a crime he never committed had taken its toll on his family’s health and resources.
“(Before), I (used to) feed my family through the income I got driving a wooden hull,” he said. “But when I was tagged, I went in hiding and could hardly support my family,” he added. “I worried about the lives of my children.”
He said the terrorist-tagging started during the 2016 elections when he avoided aligning himself with a certain political family. During election time, villagers were usually expected to support a particular group or family, he said. “(But i)f you say, ‘no,’ they would get back at you or your family, but we merely avoided them,” he said.
When he failed to show up with the group during one of the occasions, a powerful family had spread the word that he was a member of the ASG.
This forced him to flee and seek the help of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) for protection. Isah thanked the MNLF for sheltering him during his time of distress.
This week, military and town officials cleared Isah, along with 35 other people falsely-accused as Abu Sayyaf supporters, and offered them livelihood to aid their return to normal lives.
The mayor said it was the MNLF who informed the local government about the ordeal of the falsely-accused townspeople, with some of them turning over seven M1 Garand rifles and an M653 rifle.
Colonel Allan Angelo Tolentino, battalion commander of the 8th Marine Battalion Landing Team, gave the assurance that, except for those charged with arson, those who surrendered have been cleared. “It was fear that forced them to hide without even verifying their names at the police station,” said.
The town of Omar, which belonged to the second district of Sulu, had eight barangays. Created in 2007 under Mindanao Autonomy Act No 194, Omar has 25,000 people, most of them living on farming and fishing.
Commodore Toribio Adaci Jr., commander of Naval Forces Western Mindanao, said the government would assist the 36 persons to return to their normal lives with fund aid from the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process.
Adaci expressed regret that the wrongful (terror) tagging had deprived some families of a father or head of the family.