ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/5 April) – Armed men believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf ambushed security personnel of a cooperative rubber plantation owned by agrarian reform beneficiaries in the municipality of Sumisip in Basilan early morning today, killing three security personnel.
Pursuing government troops killed at least one of the 10-men band that attacked the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Integrated Development Coop. Inc., which is engaged mainly in running a rubber plantation. Many of the cooperative’s members are themselves government militiamen.
Col. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the 104th Infantry Brigade based in Basilan, said this group of Abu Sayyaf bandits is headed by Puruji Indama, who imposed a P50,000 monthly extortion money from rubber growers. The Basilan Police Provincial Office, however, reported that the group that staged the ambush was led by Radzmir Janatul, an associate of Indama.
The agrarian reform beneficiaries, Visaya said, rejected the extortion demand. “That’s why they were attacked,” Visaya said.
The police identified the slain militiamen as Nolmer Lumbos, Nusaman Hatulla and Hasan Manjapal. The slain bandit was only identified as a certain Bakrim.
The attack at 5:45 a.m. also wounded seven other security personnel and workers of the rubber plantation.
The cooperative is regarded as one of the biggest raw rubber producers in Basilan, cultivating rubber in 1,700 hectares of land.
Visaya said the group of Indama has been sending extortion letters to businesses operating in the province and has been into kidnapping activities for years.
He said the military earlier overrun an Abu Sayyaf camp in Sumisip, which had 25 huts that could accommodate at least 100 people.
“They don’t have a fixed camp. They are mobile,” the military officer said.
This morning’s attack on the same rubber plantation was the second. Last year, six civilian members of the agrarian cooperative were slain, triggering a widespread condemnation in the island province.
Jaime J. A. Rivera, secretary general and executive director of the Basilan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. , and the regional governor for the Chamber of Commerce in Zamboanga Peninsula, said the government should double its effort in addressing the security problem.
“The worsening peace and order situation is a symptom of a palpable breakdown in authority and lackadaisical government,” he said.
Basilan, which has been a major rubber supplier in Mindanao, is in the process of staging a comeback following years of stalemate after several companies had closed down operations due to the security situation, where general plant managers are being threatened and extorted.
The whole province could generate roughly 80,000 metric tons of semi-processed and raw rubber in a month, industry executives in Basilan said.
Provincial government data showed that Basilan has at least 15 large rubber-based agrarian reform communities. They account for of 7,905 hectares planted with rubber trees.
Basilan is said to have pioneered the rubber industry in the country after American colonizers introduced rubber farming and processing. The sector flourished until the 1970s Moro revolt, where many foreign investors closed their rubber operations. (Darwin Wally T. Wee / MindaNews, with reports)