THE OFFENSIVE is on hold and the arrest warrants to the Marine killers are still unserved. But tension stretches up and down the national highway in Basilan where Marines conduct random checks of all travelers. EDWIN BACASMAS
Radio error did Marines in
Reinforcements can’t contact troops on the ground
MANILA, Philippines — The wrong radio frequency, plus the failure to inform the military official concerned, severely curtailed the capability of the Marines to fight back during the bloody July 10 encounter in Basilan province that left 14 soldiers dead, 10 of them beheaded.
An investigation by the Armed Forces of the Philippines revealed that the 1st Marine Brigade in Basilan had provided the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) based in Zamboanga City the wrong radio frequency, preventing communication with the troops who were then under attack from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Barangay Ginanta in Albarka town (formerly Tipo-Tipo).
As a result, helicopters sent as reinforcement could not fire because they had no contact with the troops on the ground, a source privy to the investigation but not authorized to speak to the media, said. The helicopters hovered for two to three hours over the scene of the battle but had to turn back because they were running out of fuel.
Contact with the ground troops was vital because the helicopter gunners needed to know the exact positions of the Marines and their attackers, the source said.
The AFP concluded its investigation into the encounter two weeks ago but did not disclose details of its findings. The joint government-MILF panel has also completed its own investigation.
More government troops were being sent to Basilan to hunt down 130 people placed on the original list of suspects in the ambush, Rear Adm. Emilio Marayag, chief of the Naval Forces in Western Mindanao, said in Zamboanga City.
But the government-MILF team said it found only 10 people were involved.
In Manila, acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said witnesses had identified four Abu Sayyaf members as the ones who decapitated at least four of the Marines.
It was not clear who beheaded the other six, and Gonzales said there were “indications … that at least two of the six may have been alive when they were beheaded. They were tortured before being beheaded.”
The fact that the wrong radio frequency was relayed to Westmincom was nothing but “pure incompetence,” said the source.
This also reinforced criticism that some of the Marine commanders who are in Mindanao right now have insufficient field experience. They were thrust into operations because a number of the battle-tested field commanders are in jail on charges of having taken part in the so-called February 2006 coup.
“The Marines are really outraged with what happened in Basilan,” said another source aware of the rumblings in the corps since the encounter.
Malacañang pulled out 65 Marines detailed with the Presidential Security Group and sent them to Mindanao to take part in the offensive in Basilan on July 21, a source said.
A radioman of the Command Group under Maj. Nestor Marcelino has submitted an affidavit to AFP investigators attesting that the wrong radio frequency was relayed to Westmincom and, in turn, was transmitted to the pilots. Marcelino was relieved of his duties shortly after the July 10 encounter.
“Indeed there was no contact with the aircraft,” said the source, who also based his statement on interviews with survivors.
Contrary to earlier reports, the helicopters were not pulled from scene by Westmincom, the source said. Instead, the pilots, on their own, cancelled the mission, he said.
Lt. Gen. Eugene Cedo, Westmincom commander, was in Cagayan de Oro City at the time of the attack.
But investigators found out that a senior Westmincom officer based in Zamboanga City was not informed by his subordinates of the encounter until 4 p.m. that day. Fighting between the soldiers and the MILF broke out at around 10 a.m. and lasted for eight hours.
It was only then that the senior officer called a colonel in the 1st Marine Brigade to ask for an update on the operation, and learned that the helicopters were not firing.
The same senior officer also learned later from the brigade’s After Battle Report (ABR) that the troops fired only six rounds of 105-mm howitzers because, one of them said, “it was the ceasefire committee who ordered them not to fire because they were engaging friendly forces (the MILF).”
Government troops and the MILF reached a ceasefire only at 5 p.m.
The seven-vehicle military convoy was passing through Albarka town on its way back to barracks in Lamitan City after a fruitless search for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi. Three of the vehicles carrying 50 soldiers were attacked by about 400 MILF rebels.
2 suspects surrender
Two MILF members included in the list of 130 persons to be served search warrants and being hunted for the ambush surrendered “voluntarily” on Tuesday between Sumisip and Albarka, Marayag said in Zamboanga City. He did not identify them.
“They also turned over an M203 rifle that belonged to one of the 14 slain Marines,” he said.
But Sattar Alih, the MILF representative to the Basilan ceasefire monitoring team, said the suspects did not belong to the MILF.
He said Nasiri Awwarin used to be a guerrilla but was dismissed for involvement in banditry. The other suspect, identified as Jul Sapii, was not a member of any rebel group but was the younger brother of one of the Albarka attackers, he said.
“We don’t know if they were actually involved in the actual attack last July 10 but the mere fact they had in their possession one of the soldiers’ firearms, then they could have been involved in the later incident,” Alih said, referring to the beheadings.
Alih said Sapii and Awwarin were actually “met by some military and local officials to stand as witnesses to the incident.”
Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, chair of the government’s ceasefire committee, earlier told reporters at the Garden Orchid Hotel that the testimony of “two vital civilian witnesses” could strengthen the findings of the joint government-MILF team.
Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao, chief of police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said that aside from Basilan, police in other parts of the Zamboanga peninsula had been alerted against the suspects.
“Even if they are outside our jurisdictions, we can serve the warrants,” Goltiao told radio dxMS.
In Basilan, about 200 local residents and non-government peace advocates rallied near the ambush site calling for efforts to avoid a resumption of hostilities.
The action against the MILF was delayed from last week following a warning by Japan and Canada that they would halt their aid programs in Mindanao if the fighting escalated. With reports from Julie S. Alipala, Edwin O. Fernandez and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao; Alcuin Papa and Christine Avendaño in Manila; and Agence France-Presse
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — Tensions remained high in the troubled southern part of the country on Sunday, despite the military suspending operations against Muslim separatists accused of killing 14 marines.
A 2,000-member task force assigned to hunt down suspects linked to the killing stayed in place on Basilan island after the government halted the operations until after an investigation into the July 10 attack.
Fourteen marines were killed, 10 of whom were beheaded, as they searched for the kidnappers of Italian Roman Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi, since freed unharmed.
Colonel Ramiro Alivio, commander of a military brigade deployed in Basilan, said “intelligence operations and security patrols” were continuing but that there have been no large-scale movement of forces by either side and no armed contact has been recorded as of Sunday.
The 12,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been observing a three-year ceasefire while in peace talks with Manila, has said its forces killed the soldiers because they had strayed into its territory.
The Muslim separatists have denied mutilating the bodies and rejected a military demand to turn over those behind the attack.
In a statement Sunday, the MILF appealed for help to “calm down the already tense situation,” although it added that “massive deployment of troops without prior coordination is a violation of the (government-)-MILF ceasefire agreement.”
The military activity has forced nearly 6,000 Basilan residents to flee their homes, the civil defense office in Manila said.
A joint government-MILF investigating team was due in Basilan shortly to determine who was responsible for the beheadings.
A lower court in Basilan has meanwhile issued arrest warrants against 130 people, mostly MILF guerrillas, suspected of killing the marines.
The offensive against the MILF was delayed until Tuesday following a warning by Japan and Canada that they would halt their aid programs in the south if the fighting escalated.
COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Health workers in Basilan rush to work to prevent the possible outbreak of diseases as conditions in various evacuation centers start to worsen, a ranking health official said.
At least 5,000 individuals—including women and children—have fled their villages since two weeks ago in anticipation of full-scale violence between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
More people are expected to flee their homes when the military and the police finally move into MILF territories in Albarka town.
President Macapagal-Arroyo earlier gave the joint government-MILF investigating team only three days from Friday to unmask those behind the July 10 deaths of Marines in Barangay Ginanta in Albarka.
Fourteen Marine soldiers were killed in the encounter, 10 of them beheaded.
Dr. Tahir Sulaik, regional health secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said health workers in Basilan are conducting preventive measures in anticipation of health problems among the evacuees.
Sulaik said they were particularly concerned about the possible outbreak of diarrhea and other water-borne diseases because of the condition in evacuation centers.
He said aside from teaching the evacuees how to maintain cleanliness in their surroundings, they also conducted medical checkups in various evacuation centers.
“Children were also given liquid and tablet-form vitamins,” he said.
Sulaik said health workers also disinfected water sources in and around the evacuation centers.
Omar Matuan, administrative officer of the regional health office, said during his dialogue with local leaders and health workers, he emphasized the importance of cooperation with the evacuees to prevent diseases.
Basilan Vice Gov. Al-Rasheed Sakkalahul admitted that helping each other in times of emergency is the key to greater survival.
Just as residents of Basilan grapple with evacuation, the entire village of Manalo in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan mourned as Marine Cpl. Arjurin Eleazar was buried last Thursday.
Eleazar, who was accorded hero honors through resolutions passed by the barangay council, the Sangguniang Panlunsod and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, was one of the 14 Marines killed in Basilan last July 10 while on their way home from operations in search for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi.
Eleazar was one of the 10 Marines who were beheaded and mutilated.
Before his body was brought to the cemetery, it was first brought to the barangay hall for necrological rites where the village officials, his teachers during his elementary days and residents paid their last respects.
Resolution No. 17-2007 of the barangay council was read and given to his parents during the rites.
“This time has come, which, for us, seems to be the hardest thing to accept. We would like to thank everybody who supported us through this,” Emily Eleazar, Arjurin’s aunt, said.
Adoracion Latube, Eleazar’s teacher during his elementary days, described him as a role model among his peers.
“He was very responsible and you could see that his parents gave everything they had for him and his brothers and sisters to grow properly,” Latube said.
“He was a friend to all—his schoolmates as well as his teachers,” she added.
As a recognition, Latube also said the Parent-Teacher Community Association of Manalo Elementary School agreed to install him as a hero.
“From now on, his name will be mentioned to our pupils a hero,” she said.
For his part, Manalo village chief Rafael Ibañez said Eleazar indeed deserved all the accolades he received.
“I hope the youth will emulate him,” he said. “I had known him to be responsible and disciplined. In 14 years as a barangay captain, I never heard of any complain against him nor had he any bad record in the barangay,” Ibañez added.
Elements of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 10 stationed here gave full military honors to Eleazar during his burial.
And to show support to their fallen comrade and express their rage over how he was killed, the Marines fired off their rifles.
Eleazar’s younger brother, Aldrin, later had his share of expressing his rage as he was given the chance to fire a rifle.
Aldrin is a senior student in one of the colleges here taking up BS Criminology.
Later after the ceremony, he said the bullets he fired were wasted. “It should have been aimed at the killers,” he said. Charlie Señase, Inquirer Mindanao and Geraldford P. Ticke, contributor
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — (UPDATE 7) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered punitive actions against the attackers who killed 14 Marines in Basilan on July 10 put on hold for three days to give way to an investigation by the a joint fact-finding team of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
At a command conference at Camp Navarro here, Arroyo gave the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) three days from Friday to determine who killed the Marines and beheaded 10 of them during a clash in Al-Barkah town, Armed Forces chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.
He also said that, notwithstanding the reprieve given the MILF, Arroyo ordered the military will continue to launch operations against the extremist Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and other parts of Mindanao.
“Until such time that the results of the investigation come in, there should be no [punitive action],” Esperon told a news conference at the Edward Andrews Airbase.
But, he added: “We expect D-day on Tuesday.”
The military chief acknowledged that the three-day reprieve is meant to preserve peace talks between the government and the MILF.
Once the CCCH identifies the perpetrators and cases are filed in court, Esperon said the Basilan police would serve the arrest warrants with the military acting as a “strong back-up force.”
“By going through legal processes, we shall avoid unnecessary action and reaction,” Esperon said.
But he minced no words about his desire to punish the Marines’ killers.
“We must go full force and steadfast and uncompromising in punishing the beheaders [sic], the more that we allow this to pass without getting punished, we will be encouraging more beheading,” he said.
Esperon also said that it was “not a matter of who perpetrated [the beheadings] anymore.”
“It’s just a matter of punishing them so that people will not think that it is perfectly all right to behead, this barbaric act has no place,” he said.
Acting defense secretary Norberto Gonzales agreed, saying: “No more amnesty for beheaders this time and in the future.”
At least 130 MILF leaders and members were named in the arrest order issued by Judge Leo Jay Principe of the Basilan Regional Trial Court Branch 1 on Thursday.
Principe recommended no bail bond for the nine murder charges against the accused and P200,000 bail bond for each of them for the four counts of frustrated murder.
The military has said the warrant would be its “passport” to moving against the Marines’ killers.
Chief Inspector Danilo Bacas, information chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) police, said among those ordered arrested are Hamsa Sakandun, Nat Mudalan, Suhod Dimaya, Sulaiman Murata, Hadji Dan Asnawi, Lun Hadji, Rogie Indama and Nurhasan Jamin, all MILF or Abu Sayyaf leaders in Basilan.
During the command conference, Esperon said Arroyo also approved the procurement of mortar rounds and tubes to be used against the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf.
Arroyo, in a fatigue vest with the tag of commander-in-chief over a white shirt and Khaki pants, arrived at the Edwin Andrews Airbase before 10:30 a.m.
She was met by Esperon, Lieutenant General Eugenio Cedo, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, and Lieutenant General Romeo Tolentino, Army chief, among others.
The MILF appealed to the government Thursday, through the joint CCCH, to hold off punitive actions against the Marines’ attackers until the investigation has identified them.
The CCCH inquiry is set to start in Basilan also on Friday.
Police Director General Oscar Calderon said the police will spearhead the serving of the warrant against the suspects.
“We are the law enforcement agency so we will be the one to serve the warrant against the group,” Calderon said.
Esperon gave the go-signal for punitive actions after the MILF failed to surrender the Marines’ attackers last Sunday, the deadline given by the military chief.
The MILF took responsibility for the attack on the Marines in Al-Barkah town, saying the troops encroached on its territory, but denied beheading and mutilating the 10 dead troops.
Meanwhile, Malaysia and international donors appeared to be trying to stave off another conflict in the south, with chief Malaysian negotiator, Othman Abdul Razak, meeting with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad last Wednesday.
After that, the rebel chief ordered guerrillas to exercise “maximum restraint” and pledged their commitment to the peace process, according to guerrilla spokesman Eid Kabalu.
Donors Canada and Japan expressed alarm over a possible outbreak of hostilities in letters to the government this week, saying the fighting may prompt them to suspend aid operations in the south.
But Gonzales said the government would act as a “sovereign state” and that the donor countries’ concerns would not affect its decision on whether or not to move against the Marines’ killers.
“That [concern] will not affect our decision. We have expressed our gratitude to our friends for their help, but if we have to make a decision, we will do so as a sovereign state,” Gonzales said in a radio interview.
Beheaders of Marines identified
MANILA, Philippines — My sources in Basilan identify at least two persons who allegedly beheaded and mutilated the dead Marines who were ambushed by Moro rebels and the men of former Gov. and now Rep. Wahab Akbar.
The culprits are reportedly two henchmen of Albarka Mayor Karam Jakilan. Jakilan is Akbar’s close associate, according to my sources.
One of them is allegedly a former detainee charged with murder, extortion and kidnapping.
The men reportedly killed an imam whose death was blamed on the Marines. They suspected the imam of being an informer of the Marines, say my sources.
* * *
No amount of money that Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia reportedly distributed to some of his colleagues got him the position of Speaker.
It was Garcia’s money against the charisma of Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia.
Garcia was not even nominated by any of the congressmen who became beneficiaries of his “rain of money” as a Luzon lawmaker described the alleged vote-buying.
The Cebu congressman allegedly distributed P500,000 each to some lawmakers with a promise of P1 million more if he got elected as Speaker.
Now, where did all that money come from?
Some people point to the 81-year-old congressman’s son, Winston Garcia, general manager of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
Even if it’s not true, the suspicion is there.
After all, where there’s smoke there’s fire.
It’s high time the young Garcia was replaced as chief of the big money-making government-controlled corporation in order to avoid such suspicions in the future.
* * *
The Court of Appeals (CA) recently met en banc to discuss whether or not to recall to Manila all the justices assigned in its branches in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro City.
It’s time those justices were reassigned to Manila to erase the stigma of corruption attached to the two CA branches.
It is said that some justices in the two CA branches, especially those in Cebu, have been selling their decisions on temporary restraining orders to litigants who can afford to pay the “correct price.”
My sources in Cebu say that the lawyer-son of a prominent retired magistrate acts as a middleman between some Cebu CA justices and wealthy litigants.
* * *
The Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) is not getting cooperation from some personnel at the Bureau of Customs.
PASG chief Antonio Villar, who has the rank of undersecretary, wrote Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales to complain about the refusal of some of the latter’s men to give his office assistance.
On July 14, PASG agents intercepted two container vans coming from the piers that they suspected contained highly-dutiable cargoes that were undervalued.
The PASG agents sought the help of customs personnel but were allegedly rebuffed.
They were identified as Customs Policeman Jimmy de Leon, lawyer Floro Calixian and Maj. Isabelo Tibayan.
The three men, according to Villar, refused to receive the apprehended vans for safekeeping.
Tibayan, deputy customs police chief, is the son of a broker who handles the importation of highly-taxable luxury cars.
He is also a nephew of a former top customs official.
* * *
My source at the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) says the agency is checking on whether the following candies have formalin: Kalaman-C mint, Kendi, White Rabbit buttertoffee, Tamarind Deliciosa, Vi-Va Caramel Sweets, Blast Menthol, I Love You, Remember Me, Only You, Let’s Have a Date, I’m Sorry and Do You Love Me candies.
They are manufactured by a local confectionery that imports White Rabbit from China which was found by BFAD to have formalin.
The chemical is used for embalming purposes and is also utilized to prolong the shelf life of some food.
MANILA, Philippines — Many readers were shocked upon reading in this column Thursday about the alleged participation of the men of former Basilan governor and now Rep. Wahab Akbar in the massacre of Marines in the province.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and Akbar’s men reportedly conspired in ambushing the Marines who were returning home after a futile search for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi.
Here’s another shocker: The MILF was telling the truth when it denied that its members committed the beheading and mutilation of the dead Marines.
My source in the military intelligence alleges that the people who beheaded and mutilated the dead Marines were Akbar’s men!
Akbar, as you know, is a former leader of the Abu Sayyaf who surrendered to the government.
With the massacre of the Marines, it would look like Akbar’s loyalties are still with the Abu Sayyaf.
The MILF and Akbar’s men, according to my source, ambushed the Marines to give covering fire for the Abu Sayyaf who were fleeing with Bossi.
My source, quoting some people in the community where the ambush took place, said the Abu Sayyaf thought the Marines came to the area to rescue Bossi.
In fact, the Marines, according to an official government report on the massacre, were on their way home and were just passing through.
Akbar’s men allegedly beheaded and mutilated the dead Marines to show their fellow MILF ambushers they held sway in the area.
* * *
Representative Akbar, whose wife is now the governor, should be made to account for the crime of his men, if true.
Military intelligence should dig into the source of the 800 pieces of M-16 and M-14 rifles, grenade launchers and mortars that were reportedly given to Akbar before the May 14 election.
If the military intelligence earnestly investigates the source, it would face the proverbial blank wall.
Because, according to my informant, the weapons given to Akbar came from the government itself!
Why was Akbar given such a huge cache of weaponry?
My informant, who is himself with military intelligence, said that Akbar made a government bigwig win in Basilan during the 2004 election.
Also, the government thought wrongly—that Akbar would be fighting his former Abu Sayyaf comrades.
* * *
A member of a police group assigned at the piers that has been disbanded with the creation of the PASG (Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group) is still collecting protection money from smugglers.
The guy goes by the alias “Kalabaw.”
The guy may soon face arrest for allegedly using a policeman’s name in the tong collection racket at the piers.
* * *
Why do the South Expressway authorities allow vehicles with no taillights to cruise along the expressway at night?
I saw a car ahead of me Tuesday night nearly run smack into a slow-moving truck with no taillights at the expressway.
The South Expressway authorities apparently don’t care if lives and limbs are lost so long as they earn money from toll.
Military Chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. reiterates the government’s Sunday deadline for the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to surrender its men who were allegedly responsible for the July 10 Basilan carnage that left 14 Marines killed, 10 of whom were beheaded. INQUIRER.net/JOEL GUINTO
, AIM… A Marine adjusts his mortar during a test firing at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province on Thursday. The tests are part of an investigation into why Marine mortars “misfired” during an encounter in Tipo-Tipo Basilan last week that left 14 Marines dead, 10 of them beheaded and mutilated. INQUIRER.net/JOEL GUINTO
MANILA, Philippines — Moro guerrillas Monday rejected government demands for them to immediately surrender those responsible for beheading 10 Philippine Marines in an ambush on Basilan province, and braced for more clashes.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels have acknowledged attacking a convoy of Marines who were returning from a search for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi last Tuesday, but denied they decapitated 10 of them.
The gruesome killings have caused outrage in this predominantly Roman Catholic country, with at least one Church leader calling the guerrillas “inhuman.”
“We will not surrender any of our fighters,” chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said.
“It is premature to talk about a surrender,” MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu told The Associated Press by telephone. “There has to be an investigation first. We do not mutilate bodies, we have nothing to do with this.”
Kabalu said the Commission on Human Rights and Malaysian-led ceasefire monitors should investigate the attack, and added that their own investigation showed no rebels were involved in the beheadings.
The MILF suspects the beheadings may have been done by angry relatives of a Muslim imam, or preacher, who was found shot and hacked to death at the battle scene.
The imam was allegedly last seen alive by villagers in the Marines’ company, Kabalu said.
He said hundreds of armed MILF men on Basilan had taken a defensive position due to possible military attacks.
Marine spokesperson Lt. Col. Ariel Caculitan strongly denied the Marines killed the preacher and accused the rebels of looking for a scapegoat to deflect criticisms.
He stressed the Marines were attacked while peacefully returning to camp as documented by a TV crew which was with them, he said.
“All-out war is one of the alternatives, but it could be the last resort,” Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon warned, hinting at pinpoint surgical strikes on those responsible for the killings.
“As much as possible we want to conduct operations that are intelligence-driven … We do not want to be indiscriminate about this because (the area) is densely populated,” Esperon told reporters.
He said since the rebels admitted they were behind the ambush, “they must now bring out the offenders … who beheaded our Marines.”
Survivors of the July 10 ambush said the attack was apparently well-planned.
Attackers were young men
Cpl. Marvin Gualon of the 38th Marine Company and PFC John Moneth Daniel of the 28th Marine Company also said the attackers were young and that many of them were expert snipers.
Daniel, 24, said it was about 9 a.m. when the 38th Marine Company, the convoy’s tail end security, received a radio call to disperse after the military truck they were riding got stuck in the mud.
Daniel said some soldiers tried to pull the truck out of the mud while others positioned themselves 10-20 meters away to provide security.
He said that Sgt. Bernard Abes, their most senior officer, had ordered the soldiers to go by twos and reposition themselves when they heard gunfire.
Gualon said the gunners, Sgt. Gerardo Licup and Abes, were already directing them to seek safer positions. When Licup was about to stand up, an M-203 grenade exploded, injuring him.
A single sniper shot later rang out and hit Licup, killing him instantly.
The firing became intense, sending the Marines scampering for safety, Daniel said, adding that during the heavy firing, he was hit in the buttocks.
Besides adopting a U position, which is an effective assault tactic, the attackers also enjoyed the advantage of firing from high ground.
Gualon and Daniel said more than 20 gunmen, aged from 16 to 30, appeared and took control of the stalled truck.
Daniel said one soldier was hit when a portion of his knee protruded from behind a tree.
“When our spotters tried to peek through the small openings of the tank, they were immediately fired upon. The bullets from the enemies would always enter the openings,” said Sgt. Christopher Villarin, a gunner.
Feeling they were being overpowered, the survivors said Abes gave an order to find those who were wounded and evacuate them. They said Abes also made it clear that their dead comrades should be retrieved.
Daniel said he saw Abes crawling toward the other members of the team and tried to find out who were safe, injured or dead.
After retrieving both the wounded and slain soldiers, Daniel said Abes directed his group to follow their tank, telling them, “I will get the others first.”
It was the last time they saw Abes alive.
“He was the type of person who will never leave his men behind,” Daniel said.
At Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Monday attended the wake of the slain soldiers and comforted their families.
Esperon dismissed MILF claims that the Marines should have coordinated with the guerrillas before entering a supposed MILF area.
Esperon said Basilan was “not a recognized MILF territory.”
Asked whether it was true that the military provoked the ambush after allegedly killing an imam, Esperon said he would leave that for the investigators to determine.
“They (MILF) will say that, they can give that as an alibi but that might not be the result of the investigation,” he said.
But AFP Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Antonio Romero told reporters in a separate interview that the military was also looking into the “actions of our people, our commanders on the ground” to find out what really happened.
Plea for justice
“Were they the ones who really triggered the fighting, or sila ba talaga ang inunahan (were they fired upon first)?” Romero said.
Regarding the death of an imam on the day of the ambush, Romero said: “We are also looking into that angle but we do not know if these are connected to each other. So we have to investigate.”
In Cebu, the family of slain Marine Private 1st Class Reuben Doronio Jr., one of those beheaded, sought justice for his death.
Marine M/Sgt. Renante Encabo said that Doronio’s mother “could not accept it because there was treachery in his death.”
“She wants an all-out-war to be launched against those groups. She wants justice,” said Doronio.
Doronio’s mother, wife and some relatives received his remains at the Mactan Ebuen Airbase in Lapu-Lapu City Monday.