MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 10 July) — The police said they came under heavy fire when they were about to serve the search warrants at 2:30 a.m. Saturday in Purok Islam (earlier reported as Sitio Quiapo) in Barangay Poblacion but relatives of the eight persons who were killed in that operation claimed the victims could not have fired at the police because they were asleep and three of the five had presented themselves to the police station hours earlier.
“Is this the law we have now? What we witnessed was overkill, a gross injustice. I felt so bad that despite the intention to transform their lives, they were still targeted and brutally killed,” said Abdullah Esmail, whose youngest son Bulaw, whom he described as a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) national guard, was among those killed.
Esmail said his son was the one who convinced his friends to heed the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) “Oplan Tokhang” (knock and plead) campaign by presenting themselves at the police station in Matalam the night before the police operation, to signify their intention not to get involved in the illegal drugs trade again.
He said there was no chance for Bulaw, whom he described as a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) national guard, and the other victims to shoot first the raiding policemen because they were asleep when the police came.
Superintendent Maximo Sebastian, head of the raiding team from the Regional Police Office-12 on Saturday said they were forced to fire back as a volley of fire greeted them when they swooped down on the village.
“The place is known (for harboring) armed lawless individuals. During our surveillance, when we arrived to serve the warrants of arrest, they opened fire, so we fought back hard,” he said.
There were no reported casualties on the police side.
“They never fought”
Sebastian said they recovered one unit of cal. 45 pistol, one unit of cal. 38, four hand grenades and five sachets of suspected shabu and paraphernalia but Esmail denied these came from the victims.
“They even shot a teenager and a woman who was rushed to the hospital first but was later declared dead,” Esmail said, adding they were not given the chance to see the search warrants.
Tima Dali recalled that when the police arrived in their village, they barged into their house, broke open their door and killed her sons Aron, 30, and Malingko, 28, in their room.
Tima said her sons “never fought, they were instantly shot even if they surrendered (hours earlier)” referring to how her sons went to the police station the night before along with Bulaw.
On Saturday afternoon, the village was quiet as residents started to flee for fear the police will come back.
Mutin, an uncle of one of the slain victims said they would have accepted their fate if after presenting themselves to the police, they continued engaging in the illegal drugs trade but in this case, they were killed hours after they went to the police stations, had their photos and profile taken.
Lydia Sakilan, village leader of Purok Islam said the victims who surrendered were supposed to attend a meeting this week.
“I appeal to the President, what happened here is injustice after the efforts of surrender they were killed like animals few hours after, one by one in their respective houses,” she said.
Combined teams of Special Action Force, Police Provincial Public Safety Battalion, Criminal Investigation Group, and operatives from Regional Police Force-12 surrounded around 40 houses in Purok Islam during the operation.
But police operatives denied the relatives’ claim.
Sebastian stressed the operation was legitimate and the shootout came because they were met with bullets as they entered the community.
Sebastian said prior to the raid, police intelligence uncovered enough evidence that Purok Islam was a haven of illegal drugs where big time illegal pushers and carnapping groups meet and do business.
He said there was difficulty in penetrating the area before due to reports of armed groups. He said this is the reason why the applied for search warrants.
“We were not wrong when they resisted arrest and fired shots first towards the operating troops. That triggered the gunfight and hot pursuit operation,” he told MindaNews in a telephone interview.
Police has repeatedly raided Purok Islam in past due to persistent reports of proliferation of illegal drugs and criminal gangs, he said.
A resident in the area who asked not to be named said not all residents are involved in illegal activities. But he admitted there are visitors who come in and out and these are the “bad guys.”
He also said not all of those who were killed were residents of the village. Some were only “visitors.”
North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza lauded the success of the police operation.
In a text message to the police officers who participated in the operation, Mendoza said “Keep up the good work.”
Citing lack of financial resources, Tima Dali says she has no plan to file cases against those who killed her sons. She said she will just wait for justice from Allah.
Several groups has been calling for investigations on human rights violations committed since the war on drugs in the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)