No criminal charges yet vs soldiers in Maimbung Massacre; P200,000 dangled to victims’ kin

The CHR on April 18 forwarded its April 14 resolution and investigation records to the Ombudsman for the Military, recommending the filing of criminal charges and the application of command responsibility “to maintain justice in the country.”

This, as relatives of the victims of the February 4  massacre in Barangay Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu are being offered P200,000 as “blood money” per family,  allegedly from the office of Armed Forces Chief of Staff  Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, a survivor told a roundtable discussion on ”Media, Civil Society, Human Rights and Peace: Giving voice to the victims” at the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) Monday afternoon.

Esperon has yet to answer MindaNews’ query if at all the “blood money” is from the AFP.

Rachma (not her real name), one of the survivors of the carnage, said no victim’s relative has accepted the “blood money.”

Among the Tausugs, acceptance of “blood money” means settlement, which means the relative who accepts that can no longer file charges against the person or persons who did them wrong.

CHR regional director Jose Manuel Mamauag told MindaNews that in several instances in the past, cases were no longer filed because relatives of  the victims could not bear the intense pressure to accept the “blood money.” Mamauag said he hopes the CHR has a witness protection program that will help in the prosecution of the case “all the way.”  But even the Witness Protection Program under the Department of Justice, which was created by law, has been found wanting, Mamauag said.

Killed on February 4 were Corporal Ibnon Wahid, an Army  MNLF integree who was on vacation from his base in Cotabato; 19-year old Arnalyn Lahim; four-year old Marissa Faylan; nine-year old Resmi Lahim; Sulayman Akub;  Narsiya Akub, 25 (pregnant; ending her  first trimester); Jamira Kira Lahim ; and Ardisin Lahim, 34,  barangay kagawad.

The military claimed it was a “legitimate encounter” with the Abu Sayyaf but the CHR’s eight-page resolution noted that there was “neither the presence nor involvement of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf bandits” and “no proof that prior information of the presence of the ASG were sighted or culled in the area, before, during or after the attack.”

According to the resolution penned by Atty. Sharon May Sales, the issue of “legitimate encounter”allegedly with the Abu Sayyaf, “cannot hold water, in view of the witness’ separate accounts that the civilians were directly fired at and pursued without let-up, however halted when scores of unarmed residents died as a result – more so, while at it (firing directly at the fleeing civilians) – all were shouting at the top of their lungs – “Tama Na! Ma civilian lang kami! (Stop firing! We are civilians!)”

Rachma said they were awakened from sleep at around 2 a.m. on February 4 by gunshots nearby. When the shots stopped a bit, they left their houses on stilts and boarded a banca with several others, hoping they could find refuge in the mangrove. But soldiers, she said, were already there, firing at them from a distance of two meters, even as the children were crying and the adults were screaming “Civilian kami” (We’re civilians), and even as they heard someone in the distance, shout, “Hold your fire.”

Some participants to the roundtable discussion wondered if the order “Hold your fire” was issued by a foreigner, given the language used and the earlier testimony of Rawina Wahid, widow of the slain vacationing soldier, that she saw four US soldiers on a navy boat where the body of her husband was brought. "I saw four American soldiers on the boat before Filipino troops blindfolded me," she told reporters. Wahid said she boarded the boat that took her husband's remains to a military base in Jolo town.

Rachma said soldiers who were ordered to “hold your fire” did not hold their fire.

The CHR said Wahid, the integree, had already should “Papa Alpha” to warn the soldiers he was from the Philippine Army but he was “maltreated, tortured, hogtied and eventually shot to death in cold blood – from behind and in the presence of his wife, who was also begging to spare his life by presenting Army ID and military clothing as proof of service – but to no avail.”

Rachma said the first to fall among them in the banca was the pregnant Narsiya, then Arnalyn whose body covered and saved a two-year old girl. But the girl’s elder sister, Marissa, 4, was hit on her head.

Soldiers fired a flare gun to light up the sky for the helicopters’ arrival at around 3 a.m., she said.

From all indications, the CHR said, what happened on February 4 is “a clear case of grave breaches of human rights of the victims.”

The CHR recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against “members and officers of the Philippine Navy Special Warfare Group and those from the Philippine Army’s Special Light Reaction company involved directly or indirectly in the mission, planning, operation, intelligence gathering, command and control of the incident for the deaths of the victims, under the principles of direct participation and command responsibility.”

“The manner in which respondents carried out their operation clearly manifests the presence of felonious acts and the qualifying circumstances of alevosia (treachery),” the CHR resolution read.

Participants to the roundtable discussion organized by the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project in cooperation with the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC) and the Western Mindanao State University vowed to monitor the progress of the Maimbung case and other cases of human rights violations as well. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)