Is it possible for dead men to engage soldiers in an encounter that would be soon followed by the beheading of 14 Marines? It is, if we ask the authorities who filed the charges on the basis of which the warrants of arrest were issued. The plot thickens further when the identities of a few others who are included in the warrants are taken into consideration.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Vol. VII, No. 29, August 26-September 1, 2007
Is it possible for dead men to engage soldiers in an encounter that would be soon followed by the beheading of 10 Marines? It is, if we ask the authorities who filed the charges on the basis of which the warrants of arrest were issued.
Judge Leo Jay Principe of the 9th Regional Trial Court issued on July 26 warrants of arrest for murder for at least 130 suspected members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – which is fighting for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao – and the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in connection with the beheadings of 10 Marines after an encounter in Barangay (village) Guinanta, Al-Barka, Basilan on July 10.
Among those included in the warrants of arrest are Ustadz Suwaib Budihan, Abdullah Kalitut, Jalana Ramirez a.k.a. “Bungot,” Hadji Gafur Mahmud, and Munib Salih. All five are deceased, according to Dr. Abdul Manar Saliddin, chairman of the Basilan-based human rights alliance Jaga (Watch).
“They have been dead even before the July 10 encounter,” Saliddin told Bulatlat in an interview. “In fact some of them have been dead as early as 2003.”
But there are two more among those included in the warrants who are also already dead, aside from the five already mentioned, Saliddin said “We are (right now) trying to find out who among them are already dead aside from the five we were able to identify,” said Saliddin.
Encounter and beheadings
The July 10 encounter broke out amid Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) search operations for kidnapped Italian priest Fr. Giancarlo Bossi in Basilan.
According to a report by a joint fact-finding team composed of investigators from the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MILF, a convoy of soldiers belonging to the 1st Marine Brigade entered Al-Barka on July 10. The convoy was comprised by two dump trucks, an M35 6×6 truck, a Land Rover, and a V150 tank, the joint fact-finding report – submitted Aug. 3 to GRP and MILF peace negotiators Rodolfo Garcia and Mohagher Iqbal, respectively – stated.
Not knowing their way around, the Marines were pointed by local policemen toward Barangay (village) Guinanta, but were warned not to go into the area because the MILF had around 150 men stationed there.
The Marines, who thought MILF camps were in another village and not in Brgy. Guinanta, entered the said village. One of the dump trucks was mired in the mud, leading the Marines to send back the M35 and the V150 to help.
The report cited an MILF commander who goes by the name Kumander Hood as saying that his men were hiding behind the bushes when the Marines entered. “We watched them closely but we held our fire,” the report quoted Hood as saying.
When the M35 and the V150 reached the dump truck stuck in the mud, the Marines alighted and did a perimeter sweep. The MILF fighters were alarmed, thinking the Marines were preparing to attack. One of the soldiers stumbled into an MILF fighter and sounded an alarm. The MILF fired the first shot in an encounter that lasted for about seven hours.