Abu Sayyaf kills 7, injures 18 rubber plantation workers in Basilan ambush

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/11 July) – Seven rubber plantation workers were killed while 18 others were wounded in an early morning ambush today in the municipality of Sumisip in the island province of Basilan allegedly staged by the Abu Sayyaf after a local cooperative refused to pay the armed group’s extortion demand.

Katoh D. Taha, general manager of the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Integrated Development Cooperative, Inc., said in a telephone interview that the Abu Sayyaf members waylaid the cargo truck carrying rubber tappers shortly before 7 a.m.

Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom), said the ambush staged by 10 Abu Sayyaf members took place at Barangay Sapa Bulak in Sumisip.

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The military reported that one of the fatalities was a militiaman but Taha said they were all plantation workers.

“This is purely extortion,” Taha told MindaNews.

He said the cooperative has been receiving constant threats and extortion letters from Puruji Indama, who the military said is a leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan, since 2007.

“They (Abu-Sayyaf) have been asking us to pay P300,000 monthly for revolutionary tax, but we turned it down,” he said.

This morning’s ambush was the third attack in the rubber plantation since last year.

Last April, armed men also killed three security personnel of the cooperative and wounded seven others. In October last year, six members of the agrarian cooperative were also slain, triggering a widespread condemnation in the island province.

Taha said that the cooperative has 112 security personnel guarding the more than 1,000-hectare farmland, which encompasses the towns of Sumisip and Tipo-tipo.

Cabangbang said that on Tuesday, eight soldiers providing security during the re-listing of voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) were wounded when an improvised bomb exploded around 8:27 p.m. in Sumisip’s Barangay Central as the soldiers belonging to the Army’s 12th Scout Ranger Company were on their way to Barangay Manggal.

Jaime J. A. Rivera, secretary general and executive director of the Basilan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., said via online chat that the business sector in Basilan is disturbed on the ongoing violence in their province despite heavy presence of government security forces.

“It’s a sad rejoinder to everything that has already been said about Basilan. We mourn the loss of lives and we sympathize with the bereaved families left behind,” he said.

Claretian priest Angel Calvo, who is the president of the Basilan-based Nagdilaab Foundation, Inc., said the cycle of violence in the island province should be stopped. “Another day of mourning for the people of Basilan,” he posted on his Facebook account.

Basilan, which has been the major rubber supplier in Mindanao, is in the process of staging a comeback following years of stalemate after several companies had closed down 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, the rubber industry executives in Basilan said.

Provincial government data showed that Basilan has at least 15 large rubber-based agrarian reform communities. They account for 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 over the decades, but slowed down in the 1970s with the Moro revolt, where many foreign investors closed their rubber operations. (MindaNews)