Patikul update: RHRC asks 3 military officials in Sulu to answer claims 7 killed were not Abu Sayyaf members

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 Sept) — The Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has asked three military officials in Sulu to answer allegations in the affidavits of families and witnesses that the seven persons slain in Patikul town on September 14 were civilians harvesting fruits and not Abu Sayyaf members killed in an encounter as the military claimed.

Atty. Fatten Hinay, head of the BaSulTa (Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-tawi) sub-regional office of the RHRC told MindaNews on Friday that subpoenas were served Wednesday afternoon on Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu; Lt. Col. Samuel Yunque, commander of Task Group Panther; and Capt. MichaelAsistores of the Scout Rangers.

She said the officials were given five working days or until Wednesday, October 3, to “answer the allegations in the affidavits” of the families and witnesses.

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 Western Mindanao Command’s press release on September 15 said that while troops of Task Group Panther led by Yunque and the Scout Rangers led by Asistores were conducting a “focused military operation,” they 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 town.

It said seven Abu Sayyaf members were killed and six others were injured, including Sawadjaan, while 17 soldiers were “slightly wounded due to shrapnel.”

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) last week sent a team composed of representatives from the central office in Manila and Western Mindanao CHR, in coordination with the RHRC to meet with and get the affidavits of the families of the victims and witnesses. The families also gave their consent to an exhumation of the bodies to determine the cause and manner of death,  Atty. Jacqueline de Guia, CHR Executive Director told MindaNews last Sunday. The CHR and RHRC are still arranging the schedule for the exhumation.

Hinay said the RHRC also issued a subpoena duces tecum for the military to present before the RHRC the logbook at the detachment of the 45th Infantry Battalion which supposedly contains the names of persons who sought permission from the military “to go to their lands in the critical areas in Patikul,” among them the seven victims who allegedly harvested fruits, and harvest fruits, the youngest of whom was 15.

A relative of the victims told MindaNews the seven were among residents who fled their sitios in Kabuntakas and evacuated to safer grounds due to armed conflict, allegedly after President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial Mindanao-wide on May 23, 2017.

But as is the common practice in conflict-affected areas, residents who wish to return to their areas to harvest, for example, need to bring their identification cards and affix their signatures on the logbook at the military detachment and again report to the detachment when they have left the area.

The subpoena duces tecum was not served on Wednesday and Thursday “because of (military) operation in Igasan, Patikul where the detachment is,” Hinay explained. But it was finally served Friday afternoon, she said.

The RHRC, in a Sept. 19 statement signed by chair Abdulnasser Badrudin, said the Commission “maintains and reminds the state that right to life continues to be inviolable even in times of military operations and martial law.”

The RHRC noted that while the Armed Forces of the Philippines “claims that the seven were killed in an encounter, still, the incident shows semblance of an ing1excessive use of military authority and failure to exercise due diligence in identifying ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) members during military operations.”

The joint CHR and RHRC investigations are still ongoing.

Last week, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez told MindaNews that a team from the Inspector General Office was activated on September 17 to conduct a probe on what happened in Patikul, to “ensure that all raised issues will be answered.”

MindaNews has repeatedy followed up on the findings of the AFP probe and it followed up again on Friday but Galvez has yet to send his reply.

The House Committee on Human Rights has yet to act on the resolution introduced by the Makabayan bloc, another representative and the chair of the House Committee on Peace, Reconiliation and Unity, to conduct a probe of what happened in Patikul.(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)