DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 03 May) — A mother and her two children were killed while her two younger children are still recuperating at the provincial hospital of Maguindanao following a joint police-military operations in Barangay Panadtaban, Rajah Buayan town Tuesday afternoon against suspected drug personalities including the husband and father of the slain and injured victims.
Rajah Buayan Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan was still awaiting official reports from the police and the military as of 7 a.m. Wednesday but he told MindaNews that he had spoken with police investigators who said the operation was “to serve search warrant on targeted drug den” in the village and that the operation was cleared with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
The mayor said the Techical Suport Platoon of the Maguindanao Police Public Safety Company headed by Senior Inspector Boloy conducted the operation with support from the Army in the area, against the target, Welly Akil Utto alias Akung, allegedly a member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who is a “drug trader and user.”
Ampatuan said that while the police were about to serve the warrant signed by Judge Beroya, they were fired upon so they returned fire.
“Di nila daw alam na may mga sibilyan dahil sa pagmanman (They said they didn’t know there were civilians around because when they monitored) the day before, the subject house was marked as drug den na meeting place ng seller at buyer,” the mayor said.
The operatives recovered a firearm, four motorccyles, shabu and parapheranlia, he added.
The mayor acknowledged there was “failure of intelligence” and apparently a leak in the police operations because as soon as the operatives got off their vehicles, they were immediately fired upon.
“It is indeed sad that innocent persons such as (the children) get killed … pero itong mga kriminal walang pakialam…. halang ang kaluluwa ng mga kriminal na ito,” (but these criminals don’t care), Ampatuan said. “Criminals are not sad… even if the one killed is their son or daughter.”
The mayor said “a culture has prevailed that death is not anymore sacred to these people.” He noted that the house was “used as a drug den not minding that the lives of their family is at stake” and the suspects even dared fight the law enforcers serving the warrant.
Ampatuan added that a resident of the barangay sent him a text message that was corroborated by Sangguniang Bayan members Nasser Mangwa and Ben Sambolawan, that the police arrived at the village after lunch but the men inside the house of Banjo Tantong lobbed a grenade at the law enforcers who returned fire.
He said the houses in the village are close to each other and that before the law enforcers could get near, they were already fired upon. “Wala silang napasukan na bahay” (They were not able to enter a house).
Ampatuan added that the police investigator told him Banjo’s house was used in the trading of drugs and that where they store the drugs is near his house.
The resident said “Willi at Robin at Candao” were inside Banjo’s house along with his wife and teenage child who were killed and the three younger children who were injured and rushed to the hospital, one of whom expired at the emergency room.
The resident also said Banjo’s group and several others fled while the police were approaching the houses, a number of them reportedly injured.
Ampatuan said the village is notorious for nefarious activities and is reportedly where the drug shipment via the Ligawasan marsh is docked, as well as the proceeds from cattle rustling activities in neighboring towns in Sultan Kudarat province and Maguindanao, and is also a lair for guns-for-hire operating in Tacurong, Esperanza and Isulan towns in Sultan Kudarat.
If law enforcers are fired upon by criminals while doing their job, “could they have the chance to think that they should not fire back because innocent persons are among the subject of law enforcement who fired first?” Ampatuan asked.
He noted that the subject of the search warrant was clear: “a house where drugs are sold operated by trader/pusher. The same house is a regular residence of a family. It was too late for law enforcers to know that the wife, a teenager son and a baby of one of the persons subject of law enforcement is at that house. The criminals threw grenade on the law enforcers who continue closing in. The criminals scampered away leaving behind the mother and two children.”
It is not clear if Banjo’s house is also covered by a search warrant.
In his Facebook post early Wednesday, Mayor Ampatuan expressed grief over the death of the children, recalling how his younger sisters, aged 5 and 7 were killed during martial law.
He said his father, a politician, “was so forgiving” as he told them “gyera ito kaya walang pinipili, bata o matanda ay pwedeng mamatay… katulad ng bagyo na di namimili na pwedeng masalanta” (this is war and war chooses no age, the young and old could get killed… it is like the storm, it does not choose victims).
In this ongoing war against illegal drugs, Ampatuan said “it may always happen that innocent lives might be mistakenly taken even with most prudent preparations by law enforcers as criminals fire on law enforcers.” But he acknowledged that “emotions run high if innocent lives are sacrificed in this war on drugs. I reason out but I cry… May Allah Guide us more.”
Even the provincial health officer, Dr. Tahir Sulaik, wept upon seeing the bloodied children aged between one and five years, whom he identified as Hassan, Maharra and Aldrin Tanto.
He told MindaNews that an ambulance of the Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion arrived at the Maguindanao Provincial Hospital in Shariff Aguak town at around 3 p.m. carrying the three “duguan” (bloodied) children.
Sulaik said they asked what happened and were told “na rescue nila sa Malibpolok” (they rescued them in Barangay Malibpolok) during a firefight at 2:30 p.m. Sulaik was informed later that it was in Barangay Panadtaban.
The doctor said the eldest of the three children, estimated to be around 4 to 5 years old was in critical condition and his intestines had spilled out. Hassan did not reach the operating table. He died at the emergency room.
Hassan’s sister, Maharra, aged around 2 to 3, and brother Aldrin, one year old, are still recuperating, Sulaik said.
Maharra was hit on the right arm while Aldrin was hit by so many shrapnels on the head and body.
Sulaik said he was informed the children’s mother, Normina, was killed along with her teenage child, Kadil. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)