Army soldiers in Lanao Norte sent to Basilan
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — “Seek justice and neutralize all lawless elements.”
This was the order of Philippine Army Commanding General Arturo Ortiz to the 104th Brigade troops who have been repositioned in Basilan from Lanao del Norte.
“My directive to Army troops in Basilan is to seek justice for the 19 Special Forces and other victims through continuous pursuit and intelligence operation to locate and neutralize all lawless elements and Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan,” Ortiz said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Maj. Gen. Noel Coballes, chief of the 1st Infantry Division based in Pulacan, Zamboanga del Sur, said the 104th Army Brigade would still maintain some forces in Lanao del Norte, “but the brigade is now in Basilan along with the Special Operations Task Force Basilan.”
Coballes said that aside from the earlier arrival of 91 Special Forces, about 100 Army personnel arrived in this city Friday for eventual deployment to Basilan.
“This is not augmentation, just regular deployment and to fill in some losses we incurred,” Coballes said.
Some sectors, however, expressed concerns over how President Aquino’s directive would be implemented.
Alih Aiyub, a professor at the Western Mindanao State University here, expressed apprehension over Mr. Aquino’s “all-out-justice for the 19 slain soldiers.”
Aiyub said state forces have been mandated to serve and protect the civilians and part of their oath has been “to die protecting the community.”
“All-out-justice (should mean) human rights for the civilians, humanitarian law for both warring groups like the AFP and the MILF,” he said.
Aiyub said based on what happened in Al-Barka in Basilan, where 19 soldiers were killed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces, “both the military and the Moro rebels violated the humanitarian law, the ceasefire agreement and even human rights.”
“They should be made accountable for these violations,” Aiyub, a former human rights worker, said.
“Dapat malinaw na hindi mga sundalo o ang rebelde ang mabibigyan ng importansya dito, it must be the communities that have been suffering so much from both parties’ atrocities, they have been displaced all over again (It should be made clear that the soldiers or rebels are not the sectors given the most importance here, it must be the communities that have been suffering so much…),” he said.
Earlier, Basilan officials called on the military to coordinate first with the local authorities before launching any combat operation, particularly in Al-Barka town.
Basilan Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul said prior coordination would enable them to move civilians from targeted areas or establish peace zones to place them out of the line of fire.
“We are asking them to give us enough time to move civilians out before they get inside to get lawless elements,” he said.
Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad backed Sakalahul’s appeal.
He also said the military should make sure the objects of the imminent manhunt were the real culprits.
“Not just anybody like what happened in 2007 when most of those in the list were not even involved in the beheading of the Marine soldiers in July of the same year,” Jumoad said.
Chief Supt. Bienvenido Latag, police chief for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said they were still evaluating the list of suspects so they could serve the warrants of arrest to the right persons.
Latag said the police and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Basilan were “looking over the list and coordinating with local officials to determine the background of some suspects.”
He said the “military official who directed the Special Forces to serve the warrant of arrest against the suspects last October 18 failed to coordinate with the PNP.”
“There is an agreement that thru joint operation that our police will serve as sheriff with backing from the AFP, but this was never observed,” he said.
“This military official who ordered the Special Forces to conduct police action failed to acknowledge the existing ceasefire mechanism where they have to wait for the MILF to turn over the wanted persons,” he added.
Von Al Haq, MILF spokesperson for military affairs, said the Philippine government has not clarified how it would go about seeking all-out-justice.
“So far, wala pa kaming natatanggap na directive on how to go about it, kung paano ang magiging coordination ng Philippine government forces in the area (So far, we have not received any directive on how to go about it, on how the coordination would be done with Philippine government forces in the area),” he said.
Al Haq said the MILF central committee has ordered its forces in Basilan to be in a defensive position, “unless provoked or attacked.”
But Al Haq also criticized the President’s view of justice.
“For President Aquino, his all-out-justice is exclusive to the 19 soldiers, and not all-out-justice for civilians victimized by war. Mr. Aquino’s all-out- justice is not fair because he failed to consider that innocent people have been displaced and many have died in the encounters,” he said.
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