Muslims hold rally to demand justice for eight people killed by government soldiers in Sulu province. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 28, 2008) – A Muslim human rights group on Wednesday accused the Philippine military of covering up soldiers accused of killing 8 people in Sulu province.
The Philippine military absolved dozens of members of the Army Light Reaction Company and Navy Special Warfare Group in the murder of seven civilians and an off-duty soldier during a raid on the village of Ipil in Maimbung town on February 4.
The Western Mindanao Command's Judge Advocate General's Office absolved all the soldiers involved in the killings and said the attack in the village was a legitimate operation. "It was a legitimate encounter with the Abu Sayyaf and that is according to the report and findings of the JAGO," Army Major Eugene Batara, a regional military spokesman, said.
Colonel Fred Lleosa headed the JAGO team which investigated the killings, he said.
Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan said among those killed in the raid were two children, two teenagers and a pregnant woman, including a seaweed farmer and a village councilor. He also accused soldiers or murdering innocent villagers.
He said a fact-finding board was created Wednesday to study and file appropriate criminal charges against the soldiers and their commanders implicated in the killings.
“There should be no cover-up to the killings. We want justice and justice we will get. We will file criminal charges against those involved in the killing of innocent people,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) which held separate investigations into the raid also accused the soldiers of killings innocent civilians.
But the Philippine Commission on Human Rights said was no Abu Sayyaf in the village and that seven of those slain in the military attack were innocent civilians.
“None of them was an Abu Sayyaf member. Seven civilians and a government soldiers were killed in that attack,” CHR Regional Director Jose Manuel Mamauag said in a separate interview.
The Suara Bangsamoro, an umbrella organization of Muslim human rights groups, urged the Philippines Congress and the Senate to investigate the killings and reports that four US soldiers were spotted on a navy boat just off the village of Ipil as local troops were firing on civilians they mistook as Abu Sayyaf militants.
Amirah Ali Lidasan, national president of Suara Bangsamoro, her group has long expected that the military will absolved the soldiers. “We believe the CHR’s findings because they were based on testimonies of survivors and the whole seaweeds-farming community of Ipil. We have long feared that the Western Mindanao Command investigation will want to whitewash the investigation and absolve their soldiers for the crimes,” Lidasan said in a statement.
“The Philippine should be concerned in giving the Moro people the long-awaited justice that the military deployed in our communities have time and again have been absolved. This cycle of injustice is only one of the many reasons why the Moro people cannot stomach the Arroyo administration and her anti-terror and militaristic policies,” she said.
The Western Mindanao Command had previously said, even before the start of investigations, that those killed in the raid were either members of the Abu Sayyaf members or coddlers of the group and in several occasions claimed the victims were killed by the Abu Sayyaf or hit in the cross-fire.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's largest Muslim rebel group, also criticized the findings of the military investigation.
"The findings are sanitized aimed at lessening the burden of responsibility to members of the elite troops under the Light Reaction Company and the navy's Special Warfare Group. Acting as judge for itself will lead to nowhere and no justice is expected forthcoming," the MILF said.
The MILF also praised Mamauag for his unbiased report of the CHR investigations into the killings. "Conscience-guided men, like Mamauag, deserved to be commended by everyone, despite differences of loyalties and orientations," Muhammad Ameen, chairman of the MILF Secretariat, said.
The CHR findings detailed how troops attacked the village and plundered houses owned by civilians.
Mamauag has recommended the filing of criminal charges against the soldiers involved in the raid.
Survivors of the carnage testified in investigations that soldiers opened fired on villagers as they pleaded for their life. Four of those killed were shot at sea as they fled for safety on boat.
One of the survivors Rawina Wahid, wife of the slain soldier, Pfc. Ibnul Wahid, said her husband was hogtied and tortured by soldiers before being shot at the back of his head.
"My husband told the soldiers that he is a member of the Philippine Army, but they never listened and dragged him out of the house, bound his hands behind his back and then shot him. They did not listen to our pleading and they killed my husband," she said.
She said she also saw four US soldiers on a navy boat where the body of her husband was brought. "I saw four American soldiers on the boat before Filipino troops blinded folded me," she told reporters. Wahid said she boarded the boat that took her husband's remains to a military base in Jolo town.
One of the victims had been shot at close range in the forehead, his right eye was gorged out and right ear missing. One had a missing finger while another had burns on his body and legs.
The slain civilians were identified as Marisa Payian, 4; Wedme Lahim, 9; Alnalyn Lahim, 15; Sulayman Hakob, 17; Kirah Lahim, 45; Eldisim Lahim, 43; Narcia Abon, 24. Two of the raiders were also killed and five others wounded when they mistook each others as enemies and traded gun fires, according to the CHR report.
Reps. Yusop Jikiri, of Sulu province and Mujiv Hataman, of Basilan have separately called for a congressional investigation into the killings in Maimbung town.
Muslim religious groups and human rights advocates are reportedly planning to hold a series of street rallies to demand justice for the victims. But many are worried that Muslims, angered by the cover-up of the military into killings, may mount sympathy attacks targeting government soldiers in Sulu.
Dozens of Christian soldiers had been killed in Sulu in random machete and gun attacks the past years by angry villagers because of atrocities and human rights abuses of the military on the island of over half a million Muslims. (Mindanao Examiner)