Patikul update: awarding (wrong) medals amid probes on alleged massacre

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 September) — President Rodrigo Duterte’s awarding of medals to 14 of 17 soldiers wounded in Patikul, Sulu drew criticisms as it happened amid ongoing investigations  on the alleged massacre of seven persons the military claimed were Abu Sayyaf members killed in an encounter on September 14 but whose families said were civilians harvesting fruits.

Aside from the criticisms that it generated, the awarding also raised yet another issue: even if the soldiers are cleared by investigating bodies and are truly deserving of the Presidential award, Executive Orders 17 and 35 on the Order of Lapu-Lapu would show that the President  may have awarded them the wrong medals.

President Rodrigo Duterte flew to Jolo, Sulu on September 24, 2018 to visit 14 of 17 soldiers “slightly wounded” in the September 14 encounter in Patikul, Sulu, and confer o them the Order of Lapu-Lapu Kampilan medals. The awarding drew criticisms as it came while investigations on the killing of seven persons in Patikul were ongoing. Photo courtesy of Western Mindanao Command

The Western Mindanao Command in a press release on September 15 had said seven Abu Sayyaf members were killed in the Sept. 14 encounter and six others were injured while 17 soldiers were “slightly wounded due to shrapnel.”

Only 14 of the 17 were at the Camp Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital in Jolo Sulu when the President visited on September 24 as the three other soldiers  had earlier been transferred — two in Camp Navarro hospital in Zamboanga City and one in V. Luna hospital in Quezon City.

Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command told MindaNews on Tuesday that only 14 of the 17 “slightly wounded” soldiers were still in Jolo. “Fourteen slight, medyo hindi slight pag evacuated. Pero ok naman na sila,” he said.

The President went to Jolo on Sept. 24, 10 days after the soldiers were “slightly wounded.”

At their bedside, Duterte, accompanied by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez, and other officials, conferred on the 14 the Order of Lapu-lapu, Kampilan Medal.

Wrong medal?

The Order of Lapu-Lapu comprises four medals as Executive Order 35 issued on July 28, 2017 amended EO 17, expanded the number of medals from three to four, ranked in the order of precedence: Magalong, Kalasag, Kampilan and Kamagi.

The Kampilan Medal, according to the EOs, is awarded to “officials and personnel of the government and private individuals who were seriously wounded or injured or suffered great loss of property as a direct result of their participation in an activity pursuant to a campaign or advocacy of the President.”

The 17 soldiers were “slightly wounded due to shrapnel” according to the military’s press release on September 15.

The fourth medal category – Kamagi – is, according to EO 35, awarded to “officials and personnel of the government and private individuals who, not falling under any of the abovementioned Order of Lapu-Lapu medals, actively participated in and contributed significantly to an activity pursuant to a campaign or advocacy of the President.’

Nominees for the Lapu-Lapu awards are to be recommended by the heads of agencies. Section 4 of EO 17 states that the President shall confer the Order of Lapu-Lapu upon recommendation by a Committee composed of a representative from the Office of the Executive Secretary as Chairman, and two representatives from the Presidential Management Staff, as members.

MindaNews asked Galvez on Friday for reactions to criticisms about the awarding and asked him as well why Kampilan medals were given to the “slightly wounded” soldiers. He sent no reply.

The Western Mindanao Command in a press release on September 25 said the 14 battle casualties awarded by Duterte are “among the 17 who incurred shrapnel wounds after battling with more or less one hundred (100) fully armed Abu Sayyafs under senior leader Radullan Sahiron and sub leaders Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan and Idang Susukan at 1:30pm of September 14, 2018 in Barangay Bakong, Patikul, Sulu.”

That encounter, it said, resulted to the killing of seven Abu Sayyaf members and wounding of six more including Sawadjaan.

The Westmincom said the two battle casualties in Zamboanga were awarded the Wounded Personnel Medal by the Westmincom chief. There was no mention of award for the soldier transferred to V. Luna. hospital.

“Heroes out of murderers”

In a press statement on September 25, Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Bangsamoro) said they are “enraged” that the President “honored the 17 Scout Rangers involved in the Patikul massacre in a ceremony in Jolo, Sulu yesterday.”

“This callous maneuver of the government is a desperate attempt to wash the blood off the hands of the offending soldiers. This charade of making heroes out of murderers went on despite the findings of a government investigation testifying to the innocence of the seven victims of the massacre,” it said. It also called on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to “immediately file legal action against the perpetrators of the massacre,” noting that the CHR and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) had conducted a joint investigation and that it concluded that the victims were all civilians and not Abu Sayyaf members.

Three probe teams have been sent to Patikul, Sulu to look into the alleged massacre of seven persons on Friday, September 14, 2018. The military claims they were Abu Sayyaf members killed in an encounter. Relatives of the victims said they were civilians harvesting mangosteen fruits. Photo courtesy of Mahmur Arula

The CHR and RHRC have yet to release their findings as the joint investigation is still ongoing, CHR Executive Director Jacqueline de Guia and RHRC chair Abdulnasser Badrudin told MindaNews.

De Guia told MindaNews on September 23 that the families had given their consent for an exhumation of the victims’ bodies to determine the cause and manner of death.

The RHRC on Wednesday served subpoenas on three military officials in Sulu to answer within five working days the allegations in the affidavits of the victims’ families and witnesses, Atty. Fatten Hinay, RHRC sub-regional head for BaSulTa (Basilan, SUlu, Tawi-tawi), told MindaNews.(see other story)

Three government agencies had deployed teams to Patikul, Sulu to investigate what really happened on September 14: the CHR and the RHRC’s joint probe and the AFP Inspector-General’s office.

Galvez told MindaNews on September 18 that a team from the Inspector General Office was “activated” a day earlier yesterday” to “ensure that all raised issues will be answered.”

In the House of Representatives, the Makabayan bloc and the chair of the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity filed a resolution on September 18  urging its Committee on Human Rights to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation,  “on the killing of seven Tausug youth by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Patikul, Sulu.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)