DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 Sept) — The families of the seven Tausugs allegedly massacred in Patikul, Sulu on September 14 but the military claimed were Abu Sayyaf members killed in an encounter, have given their consent for an exhumation of the bodies to determine cause of death and how they were killed.
Lawyer Jacqueline de Guia, Executive Director of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) central office in Manila told MindaNews Sunday that the consent was given to the composite team of the CHR central office in Manila, Region 9 CHR and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s (ARMM) Regional Human Rights Commission that met with the relatives in Patikul last week.
She said the CHR’s Forensic Center will be coordinating with the families on the schedule of the exhumation.
De Guia, also spokespeson of the CHR, said they are “also exploring the possibility of putting the witnesses under the CHR WPP (Witness Protection Program) to ensure their safety as they fear for their lives.”
The composite team from the CHR and RHRC conducted an investigation on the killing “in the interest of finding the truth and determining the accountabilities should there be any violations.”
The military had claimed the seven were Abu Sayyaf members killed in an encounter but their relatives said the seven were civilians who were harvesting mangosteen fruits. A university professor said it may have been a case of mistaken identity.
A press release issued before noon on September 15 by the Western Mindanao Command’s Public Information Office, said soldiers under Task Group Panther led by Lt. Col. Samuel Yunque and Scout Rangers led by Captain Michael Aristores “encountered more or less 100 fully armed Abu Sayyafs under senior leader Radullan Sahiron and sub leaders Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan and Idang Susukan in Barangay Bakong, Patikul, Sulu” at around 1:30 p.m. on September 14, that six Abu Sayaf members were injured, among them Sawadjaan, and that 17 soldiers were “slightly wounded” during the encounter due to shrapnel.
The same press release said the troops recovered from the encounter site “one M16 rifle, four 5.56 mm magazines, one bandolier, one touchscreen cellular phone, and assorted war materiel and ammunitions.”
In a statement on September 16, de Guia said conflicting reports on the death of seven young Tausugs “demand truth, especially if they are indeed civilian victims of summary execution.”
The composite team reached Patikul on September 18 and secured the affidavits of the victims’ relatives and witnesses. The families “gave their consent for the conduct of a medico-legal examinations (on) the bodies of victims,” she added.
AFP, House probe
Armed Forces Chie of Staff General Carlito Galvez told MindaNews on September 18 that a team from the Inspector General Office was activated on Sept. 17 and deployed to Sulu to investigate what happened “to ensure that all raised issues will be answered.”
When MindaNews followed up on the AFP probe on September 21, Galvez said investigation is “ongoing.”
“We will wait until the report is completed,” he said.
MindaNews again followed up on Saturday and Sunday but Galvez has yet to send a reply.
At the House of Representatives on September 18, the Makabayan Bloc’s party list representatives Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna), Emmi De Jesus and Arlene Brosas (Gabriela), Sarah Jane Elago (Kabataan), Antonio Tinio and France Castro (ACT Teachers), Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis); and Tawi-tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali, who chairs the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, and Zambales Rep. Cheryl Deloso-Montalla, introducted Resolution 2186 urging the Human Rights committee to probe what happened in Patikul.
Sahali wrote on her Facebook page that she signed the resolution “to bring light to this darkness that befell Patikul.”
She said she had personally spoken with the generals to get their side of the story “and I understand that the AFP stands firm with their report that this was a ‘legitimate encounter,’ and that these youths are indeed members of the Abu Sayyaf Group, but we cannot also deny the fact that lives were lost and that there are mothers who are grieving in their sleep for their lost sons. They too need answers.”
She added that there are two sides of the story “and this investigation called upon in aid of legislation will give us the context in favor of justice and peace.”
Rule of law, HR, IHL under martial law
Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Bangsamoro) said what happened in Patikul was a massacre.
In a statement e-mailed to media outlets late evening of September 15, Jerome Succor Aba, national chair of Suara Bangsamoro, said members of civil society organizations in Sulu identified the victims as “husbands of Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries in Patikul who were shot by elements of scout rangers while harvesting mangosteen fruits in the area.”
The National Ulama Conference of the Philippines (NUCP) called on authorities to conduct a “thorough and impartial investigation.”
In a statement, the NUCP said the rule of law, human rights, and international humanitarian law must be upheld and respected even under martial law, if the military and police want the people’s trust and confidence in the military and police restored.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities under martial law on May 23, 2017, barely eight hours since the first shots were fired on Day 1 of the Marawi Siege. It was supposed to be lifted after 60 days but was extended twice – until December 31, 2017 and until December 31, 2018.
“Let this unfortunate event showcase that trust and confidence by giving justice to uncover the truth — if indeed they were civilians or ASG, and massacred or legitimate encounter,” the organization of Muslim religious leaders said.
The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) in a statement on September 19 urged the CHR, Secretary of National Defense and AFP Chief of Staff Galvez to form a committee “that would look into the deaths of seven young men in Sulu and recent bombings in several parts of Mindanao.”
PCID also called on President Duterte to “review the current implementation of Martial law in Mindanao and investigate reported human rights violations not just in Sulu but in other parts of Mindanao.”
Amina Rasul, PCID President, said government and stakeholders should act proactively and establish “a national plan that addresses violent extremism, bearing in mind potential problems with the implementation of martial law.”
The PCID also noted that information they received from the field has indicated that the Islamic State “intends to form a big group composed of remnants of the Maute Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fights “while taking advantage of situations like the Sulu killings.”
It said the national plan they are proposing aims to “further improve coordination and relationships of assigned troops in the region and those from the religious and the communities” as “findings show that most deaths in Mindanao are caused by several factors, among them, the absence of coordination by the military with community leaders, miscommunication or lack of information from AFP units operating in the area.”(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)