Moro group fears crackdown with Esperon as Chief of Staff

Kawagib (a Maguindanaon term for rights), an alliance of different Moro organizations based in Mindanao, said that choosing Esperon to lead President Arroyo’s fight against the communist insurgency would mean another nationwide crackdown against Moro civilians similar to that which took place in 2001.

“The general has figured in the military crackdown against suspected Abu Sayyaf members, including those suspected civilians who fed and supported the Abu Sayyaf.    Esperon was the head of the Army’s 103rd Brigade in Basilan,” said the group.

The military crackdown started on July 13, 2001. Incidentally, the President announced Esperon’s appointment on July 13, Thursday.

Kawagib also feared that targeting civilians suspected of aiding the communist insurgency would become a “norm” in the military’s drive, without necessarily eliminating the New People’s Army.  

This was the same method used by the military in 2001 in Basilan, the group said.

Kawagib claimed that Esperon’s crackdown in 2001 included warrantless arrests, raids of mosques and houses in Moro communities, putting up checkpoints, saturation drives, torture and forcing detainees to sign documents admitting their membership in the Abu Sayyaf.

Also in 2001, more than 500 Moro civilians were arrested and used as fall guys for crimes committed by the Abu Sayyaf such as kidnapping of foreign tourists, school children and teachers, and the killing of a Claretian priest.

At least 30 of those arrested and detained at the 103rd Brigade filed a case against Esperon for torture based on the findings of Commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag of the Commission on Human Rights in Region 9.

The crackdown was a result of President Arroyo’s declaration of Basilan under a state of lawlessness, but its effect reached Sulu, Zamboanga City and Metro Manila, the group said.

The crackdown was aimed at “draining the pond of the fish”, it added.

Kawagib was established in February 2006 to provide paralegal services for Moro victims of human rights violations. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)