Beheading suspect

suspect.jpgBASILAN SUSPECT. Buhari Jamiri, one of the suspects in the 10 July beheading of 10 Marines in Basilan island, is escorted by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation shortly after arriving at the Department of Justice in Manila. He has denied beheading anyone and is seeking to be a state witness. INQUIRER/ RYAN LIM


Arroyo sends docs to Mindanao

By Juliet Labog-Javellana, Christine Avendaño, Julie Alipala, Charlie Sease
Last updated 05:33am (Mla time) 08/07/2007

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Monday sent doctors and medical personnel to attend to people affected by the fight between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Zamboanga and Basilan and warned the rebels that they face grim consequences if any harm should befall the medical team.


“These medical professionals are on a mission of compassion. They will treat people whose lot you have worsened by your belligerence when the peace we have pursued would have allowed them to join the rest of the nation in productive pursuits,” Ms Arroyo said in a speech at the 21st anniversary of St. Luke’s Heart Institute in Quezon City.


“Harm them and Hades will come to you,” she said, referring to the god of the dead in Greek mythology.


The President dispatched the medical mission as the military was poised to hunt down those behind the beheading of 10 of the 14 Marines killed during an ambush by the MILF in Basilan.


The original deadline for the MILF to surrender those who mutilated the Marines last month was extended by the President to give the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee time to investigate the attack and the beheading of the Marines.


troops.jpgON GUARD. Marines keep a close watch against trouble as they travel in a convoy through Basilan, where they lost 14 of their comrades in a clash last July 10. A fact-finding body has identified at least 4 members of the Abu Sayyaf of being responsible for the beheading of at least 4 of the slain troopers and security forces are readying to move against the suspects. INQUIRER/EDWIN BACASMAS

Basilan Highway

basilanhighway.jpgTHE 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

Radio error did Marines in

Reinforcements can’t contact troops on the ground

By Yvonne T. Chua, Luz Rimban
Last updated 01:05am (Mla time) 08/03/2007

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.


Pure incompetence


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.


Officer relieved


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.


Late information


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.”


Civilian witnesses


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

South quiet after Philippines suspends offensive

Agence France-Presse
Last updated 11:38am (Mla time) 07/29/2007

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.

Health woes hound Basilan evacuees

Last updated 06:30am (Mla time) 07/29/2007

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.


Hero’s burial


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.


Role model


“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.


Military honors


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