MILF won’t surrender rebels behind beheading of Marines

Inquirer
Last updated 02:36am (Mla time) 07/17/2007

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.

 

Imam killed

 

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.

 

An alibi

 

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.

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