FROM THE PLAINS OF KUTAWATO: Is this how the Phiilppines conducts its counter-terror campaign?

But first.

I and several other Moro (Muslim) lawyers were meeting in San Juan, Metro Manila, Saturday afternoon (August 4, 2007) to discuss the Anti-Terror Law when, during the meeting, one of those present received a frantic phone call from his friend in Maharlika Village, Taguig, Metro Manila. Their house was being raided by the police. No search warrant. They were just told it's a matter of national security and that they were looking for bombs and bomb-making equipment.

Those in the meeting decided to immediately go to that house in Maharlika Village. It's a relatively big two-story house, owned by a well-off Moro family. But once we got there, the police had already left without apparently finding anything.

Upon hearing that the police proceeded to another house and were picking up someone, the lawyers headed for that place, too, but saw cops already on the street and about to leave. We approached the cops and, after identifying ourselves as lawyers, asked the commanding officer and his team leader what was going on.

We were told that it is just a follow-up operation and they were about to leave. When prodded to explain, they admitted they were about to take with them someone who granted their "invitation" to go with them to their camp to assist the police cartographer draw the sketch of a terror suspect.

Aware of the all too common instances of police invitations turning into more permanent stays in a detention center, we reminded the cops of the legal requirement for an arrest warrant of which they had none. But a leader of the homeowners' association who was also present suggested — to show that the community, too, is eager to cooperate in an anti-terror investigation — that the police bring their cartographer to the barangay hall where he can then sketch the suspect's appearance with the assistance of the woman they were "inviting." This offer the cops turned down and immediately left. It seemed they were more interested in avoiding any more questions from the lawyers than insisting to bring with them their quarry.

It was after the cops had left that we were able to question their would-be quarry. She said she was at the house when the cops arrived. The house, with rooms for male and female tenants, was actually a boarding house for transients from Mindanao who came to Metro Manila to apply for menial jobs overseas – either as construction workers or domestic helpers. In fact, she too had just arrived from Mindanao less than two weeks ago as an OFW-wannabe– she did not finish elementary schooling.

Just like in the first house, the cops told her they intend to search the house for some bombs and went inside without showing any warrant. While conducting their search, the woman had enough sense to stay inside and watch the cops. AFTER A WHILE, AND THE SEARCH NOT HAVING PRODUCED ANYTHING, THE COPS ORDERED, BARKED AT EVERYONE TO STEP OUTSIDE AND LEAVE THE COPS INSIDE. MOMENTS LATER, THEY WERE TOLD THEY CAN ALREADY STEP BACK IN. AND ONCE INSIDE AGAIN, IT WAS THEN THAT A BOMB WAS "DISCOVERED." IT WAS "FOUND" IN THE ROOM FOR MALES WHICH WAS ALREADY SEARCHED EARLIER WITHOUT HAVING PRODUCED ANYTHING.

From the exchange that followed between the cops and the woman and her neighbors, we were able to gather that:

1) The cops arrested a man — a would-be bomber the cops claimed – the day before. That man by the name of Kaharudin Mutalib stays in the house and in that room where the bomb was "found."

2) Kaharudin Mutalib, just like the female invitee, is also a transient who recently arrived from Mindanao and likewise intends to land a job abroad as an OFW. He had just been to the recruitment agency only last August 1.

3) As with many transients in Maharlika Village who need to support themselves during their stay in Metro Manila, he worked as a part-time tricycle driver in the village. After leaving the house yesterday to work his route, he didn't come home in the evening.

4) Not only were the cops claiming Kaharudin is a would-be bomber, but they are also linking him to bombing incidents in Southern Mindanao. To support this claim, they showed to the lady from the homeowners' association messages in the inbox of Kaharudin's mobile phone. It showed incriminating messages that made references to bombings in Southern Mindanao. It also contained what seemed like instructions to go ahead and prepare the bombs ("ihanda mo na").

5) The lady from the homeowners' association was incredulous of the messages because, besides not being couched in codes as one would expect from messages of that nature, they were also in Tagalog and she was told Kaharudin is not that fluent in Tagalog. He comes from a far-flung village in Maguindanao known as Libutan where Tagalog is hardly, if ever, spoken.

6) Thus, she asked the cops if she can take down the phone number which sent the apparently incriminating messages. THE COPS REFUSED AND IMMEDIATELY TOOK BACK THE PHONE. The lady by the way works for an agency under the Office of the President.

7) The cops were looking for the other males who were sharing the room with Kaharudin.

8) The cops did not coordinate their search with the local barangay officials as they are required under regulations.

9) The commanding officer of the cops was a certain Supt. Arvin Pagkalinawan and their team leader was a Sgt. Jesse Kamalig.

10) Obviously, there are far more sinister aspects to this incident than just failure to follow constitutional requirements, itself already a grave matter. But, as pointed out by the tenant of the subject house and the lady from the homeowners' association, why wasthe bomb "found" only after the cops ordered her and others to step outside and thus be unable to observe what the cops were doing? Why were the supposed incriminating text messages relating to past bombing incidents and planned bombings not couched in a coded language that only the conspirators could understand? And also why send bombing instructions in a language which the intended message recipient could barely understand? And why were the cops reluctant to give the number from which those incriminating messages came from?

Last question. Is this incident a portent of how the Philippines will conduct its counter-terrorism campaign after the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law, strangely titled Human Security Act? If it is, then all the fears expressed about the law by various sectors are not unfounded. But then again, as the usual suspects in terrorist crimes, ordinary Muslims have been getting this kind of treatment even before the passage of the law. So with the passage of this law, perhaps they should brace themselves for their human rights situation to get worst. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Zainuddin
Malang is executive director of the Center for Bangsamoro Law and Policy. This piece was originally posted to the mindanao1081 e-group on August 4).