Sajid Pakiladato: “I will not give up because I am innocent”

That radio interview was the first and last time Sajid Pakiladato, 44, allegedly the commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s  105th Base Command’s 3rd Brigade, spoke with the Philippine press. But he agreed to meet with American journalists a few days later in a secluded village some two hours away from here.

“I would not avenge her death if that’s what they think,” he told this reporter in Filipino, hinting he knows who is behind her wife’s killing.

But Pakiladato, a former Army soldier who wants to be called “farmer-businessman,” stood firm: “I will not give up because I am innocent…If they want me, I am just here but over my dead body.”

Clad in a gray Guess shirt with a caliber .45 pistol tucked in his waist, Pakiladato at the time of the interview, had some 100 heavily armed followers, including some young fighters, at his beck and call.  He says he commands nearly 450 troops.

Pakiladato also claims to own some 1,000 hectares of land mostly planted to corn along the Rio Grande de Mindanao. He claims to control the trading of this crop in the area where he lords over, explaining this helps him feed and arm his men.

Pakiladato was one of six persons named in the warrant of arrest in connection with the June 23 bombing, although his name is listed there as Sahid Pakiladatu.  The governor was not harmed but the incident sparked skirmishes between members of the Civilian Volunteers’ Organization and elements of the MILF’s 105th Base Command.

Pakiladato was also the suspect of the Ampatuan camp in the December 2002 bomb attack in Datu Piang town that killed Mayor Saudi Ampatuan, one of the governor’s sons.

Pakiladato entered politics in only in 2001. He ran but lost to the governor’s son.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal refers to Pakiladato as “politician.”

Iqbal added that although Pakiladato claims to be a commander, his “real status is under question mark,”  adding, “he applied but no decision yet (on his membership).”

“He is a politician,” Iqbal added.

The interview with Pakiladato was arranged by an MILF official.

Col. Franklin del Prado, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said Pakiladato used to be under him.  Del Prado recalled Pakiladato dreamt of becoming a commander.

“Now that he is one but on the opposite side, we are still friends,” del Prado said as he called on him to yield peacefully.

Del Prado, in fact, is in possession of a copy of the warrant of arrest for Pakiladato.

Pakiladato did not speak English in the course of the interview with the American journalists. He spoke in Maguindanaoan which an interpreter translated.

Pakiladato has sophisticated weapons. He showed us an M-16 Armalite rifle with a night-vision telescope. He refers to it as his “Balikatan M-16.”

“I bought it from a military general whom I will not name, for P250,000 each,” Pakiladato said, holding the weapon and looking through its telescope, to the delight of his men.

He said he spent at least a million pesos for four “Balikatan M-16” which he claims were left by American soldiers to Filipino troops after the series of Balikatan joint military exercises in Mindanao.

The MILF and other rebel groups have repeatedly claimed having bought guns and ammunitions from government soldiers. Even the young soldiers behind the failed Oakwood noted that a number of bullets that killed their comrades from enemy fire came from government arsenal.

Pakiladato said they also have three US-made 50 caliber machine guns and 10 pieces of M-60 machine guns.

But they still have those vintage firearms —  original and home-made rocket propelled grenades, M-203s, Vietnam-war Armalite rifles, Garand rifles and other firearms displayed by his men during the visit.  (Bong Sarmiento)