Marines failed to notify ceasefire teams before entering MILF town in Basilan

This was contained in the 14-page report made by a fact-finding team composed of government and MILF probers who submitted the documents to government and MILF chief peace negotiators Rodolfo Garcia and Mohagher Iqbal this morning.

The report said the Marines mistakenly thought that the MILF camps were not in barangay Guinanta but in another village, hence the lack of coordination.

Von Al Haq, chief of the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, said the investigation was able to establish that the Marines failed to coordinate with the joint ceasefire teams when they entered barangay Guinanta last July 10.

"Our forces only acted in self defense. They thought the Marines were there to attack them," he said.

MindaNews learned that the government and the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities came to know about the firefight in Basilan when Marine Maj. Mirandang Macatoon of the 1st Marine Brigade called up Capt. Carlos Sol, head of the government secretariat, around 2 p.m. last July 10.

The battle was already raging for several hours when the call was received by Sol and Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, head of the GRP CCCH, as they were travelling back to Cotabato City from Cagayan de Oro City after attending an anti-terrorism summit.

"I immediately called up our MILF counterpart and asked if their forces were involved in the Basilan clash. The MILF told us that it was their forces," Sol said when MindaNews interviewed him a week ago.

Acting on a tip, a Marine convoy of two dump trucks, an M35 6×6 truck, a Land Rover and a V150 tank led by Maj. Nestor Marcelino of the 8th Marine Battalion Landing Team entered barangay Guinanta last July 10.

MindaNews learned that the Marines did not know its way around Al-Barkah town and had to stop to ask for directions. Several local policemen pointed the way to barangay Guinanta but warned them not to pass through the village because the MILF had around 150 men stationed there.

Marcelino later told the GRP-MILF fact-finding team that the policemen gave him no warning.

As soon as the convoy reached the narrow road in barangay Guinanta, one of the dump trucks got mired in the mud, prompting the Marines to send back the V150 tank and M35 truck to help. The dump trucks were borrowed by the Marines from the Basilan provincial government.

In Maluso and Isabela City, the Local Monitoring Team, who was already aware of the entry of the Marines and its inherent danger, were making frantic calls to the GRP and MILF CCCH for the Marines to pull back.

"Hindi natapos ang mga tawag namin. Nag-umpisa na ang bakbakan (We were not able to finish our calls. The fighting had already started," said Jun Nadal of the Basilan Local Monitoring Team.

An MILF ground commander who goes by the name Kumander Hood told probers that their forces were hiding in nearby bushes when the Marine convoy entered the village.

"Binantayan namin sila pero hindi pa kami nagpaputok (We watched them closely but we held our fire)," Hood narrated.

When the V150 tank and M35 truck reached the stuck dump truck, the Marines disembarked and conducted a perimeter sweep in the area. This movement alarmed the already edgy MILF fighters who thought that the Marines were preparing for an attack.

One of the Marines stumbled on one of the MILF fighters hiding in the bushes and yelled an alarm. The MILF fired the first shot.

Around 5 p.m., the CCCH was able to convince the MILF fighters to withdraw and the Marines, those who survived, pulled back a hundred meters to an abandoned madrasah.

Later, the MILF agreed that the Marines can get their dead and wounded but the Marines refused, saying they were still being subjected to sniper fire.

The MILF fighters changed their mind later and soon asked that only those from the Basilan provincial government and the police could come in to get the dead Marines.

It was already dark. Later, those who retrieved the dead reported the beheadings. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)

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