DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 January) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday night confirmed the arrest and detention in Kuala Lumpur of 26-year old Datu Mohamad Abduljabbar Sema, chair of Barangay Rosary Heights 7 in Cotabato City who is suspected to be among the perpetrators of the September 2, 2016 bombing at the Roxas Night Market here that left 15 persons dead and 69 others injured.
Duterte told a gathering of this city’s business sector at the Marco Polo hotel that the perpetrators of the September bombing in the night market near the hotel “have all been accounted for,” including the “anak ni Sema, mayor ng Cotabato.”
“Ngayon dito sa — kayong nagputok diyan sa Maute, they have all been accounted for. Nahuli ko na lahat iyan. Iyong isa diyan anak ni Sema, mayor ng Cotabato. He is now detained diyan sa Malaysia” (Now here — those from the Maute [group] who perpetrated the bombing, they have all been accounted for. I caught all of them. One of them is the son of Sema, mayor of Cotabato).
The arrested suspect is a son of Muslimin Sema, chair of a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who served as mayor of Cotabato City (1998 until he was unseated in March 2001 and was re-elected mayor from 2001 to 2010) and Bai Sandra Ampatuan Sema, three-term 1st district Representative of Mindanao and one of three Deputy Speakers from Mindanao out of 14 Deputy Speakers nationwide.
The son, according to a VERA Files report published on its website on January 13, was arrested on Nov. 24, 2016 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport upon his arrival from Bangkok aboard Air Asia flight AK 891.
It is not clear what the young Sema’s role in the Davao bombing is. VERA Files’ police sources “declined to give specifics … pleading lack of authority to speak to the media.”
Fifteen persons were killed and 69 others injured when an improvised explosive device went off at the massage services area of the Roxas night market evening of September 2.
Duterte verbally placed the country under a state of lawlessness when he visited the blast site dawn of September 3 and on September 4 signed Proclamation 55 declaring a “state of national emergency on account of lawless violence in Mindanao.” The declaration has not been lifted.
Police filed multiple murder charges against nine suspects – three of them women — in mid-September. On October 7, three suspects, allegedly members of the extremist Lanao del Sur-based Maute Group, were arrested in Cotabato City on October 4 were presented to the media by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. Among those taken from the suspects were a video footage on the explosion taken from a mobile phone focusing on what would shortly be the blast site.
Fours others were arrested on October 29 at the alleged hideout at the Southern Philippine Development Authority compound in Cotabato City.
Good working relations with Malaysia, Indonesia
Duterte credited his “good working relations with (Malaysia’s) Mahathir and (Indonesian President Joko) Widodo,” although apparently he was referring to the current Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak when he mentioned former long-time Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad)” in his fight against terrorism.
He said the Philippines has yet to await the arrival of the naval fastcraft so if there is a pursuit of kidnappers from either Malaysia or Indonesia “inside my (Philippines) waters,” either Malaysia or Indonesia could “go ahead and blast them off.”
“Ako ang order ko talaga sa Navy, sa Coast Guard, basta nag-kidnap, tapos trying to escape, pasabugin mo na silang lahat. Sabi nila, ‘hostage po.’ Sorry, collateral damage” (My order to the Navy, the Coast Guard, is if there is a kidnap incident, and kidnappers are tyring to escape, blast them off. They will say ‘but there are hostages.’ Sorry, collateral damage), Duterte said.
“Now, if they are blasted everyday, that would stop or at least place us in a very — and into a parity. Hindi ka lalamang sa kalokohan mo, talagang pasabugin kita. Kaya huwag kayong magpa-kidnap sa totoo lang,” the crowd laughed.
He said he vowed the bombers would be caught “and we were able to.”
Duterte also thanked the Americans for their assistance in getting the bombers through drone cameras.
“And also I’d like to thank, of course, the Americans. I am not saying that’s a…Their imperialism days, it’s different from the… Huwag kayong magkumpiyansa ngayon. When you go out of ano…Aside from my camera, iyong sa siyudad natin, may ibang camera pa so ‘yung mukha mo nakikita talaga. You know one thing with this drone, anak ka ng…Sa gabi hindi mo makita, nandiyan lang pala sa tuktok ng Marco Polo. They can take pictures. So we have their faces. So it was very easy for us to catch them.”
“Iyong iba (The others) … I am sorry may mga Moro tayong kapatid dito. Talagang pinatay ko. It’s not easy to just bomb a place and say…At least safe in the sense that we can prevent it, if you’re on time ‘coz we are able to almost all kinds of tao dito nakunan na ng picture eh. But sometimes it cannot be prevented but…” Duterte said.
Citing a well-placed source, VERA Files reported that the young Sema, an Islamic scholar, had been tracked traveling to and from Bangkok, exiting to Cambodia and that when his 30-day visa free entry was about to expire, “he decided to go to Malaysia, intending to return to Thailand after three days. But he was arrested upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur.”
“He is now under Malaysian custody in an undisclosed location that is reportedly not a police facility. The Philippine government sent law enforcement representatives to Malaysia to take his deposition last month,” VERA Files reported.
VERA Files also cited an unnamed source that “the mother is working for the release of her son through a pardon from President Duterte” while another source “confirmed to VERA Files that the father sought the assistance of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza on this case. The mother has also been following up the case with Dureza.”
MindaNews asked Muslimin Sema and his wife in text messages last Friday on the report that their son was arrested in KL in connection with the Davao bombing. The father replied “not true” while the mother said “negative.”
“No comment,” Dureza said in a text message to MindaNews.
MindaNews sought the comment of the Sema couple Sunday morning, on the President’s confirmation of the arrest and detention of their son. They have not responded as of 10:40 a.m.
PH to seek custody
VERA Files reported that during a chance interview on Dec. 16 at the sidelines of Pilipinas Conference at The Peninsula, Defense Secretary Lorenzana said the Philippines will request custody of Sema.
“Of course, of course, we will request so that we can bring him back to the country,” Lorenzana told VERA Files.
VERA Files added: “When asked about the implications to the peace process, as he is the son of an MNLF leader who will soon be appointed as BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) member, the Defense chief said, ‘So what? (Still we will insist custody) because he is a criminal.'”
The elder Sema is not going to be appointed as BTC member as he cannot qualify for an appointment for now. He ran but lost in the mayoralty election in May 2016. It is lawyer Omar Yasser Crisostomo Sema, his son with his first wife, who has been nominated to the BTC, not the elder Sema. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)