Military seeks more time to answer allegations re 7 slain in Patikul, Sulu

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 05 Oct) — Citing “ongoing military operations and other programmed command / unit activities,” three military officials in Sulu on Monday asked the Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for an extension until October 15 to answer claims of the families and witnesses that the seven persons slain in Patikul, town on September 14 were not Abu Sayyaf members but civilians harvesting fruits.

Atty. Fatten Hinay, head of the BaSulTa (Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-tawi) sub-regional office of the RHRC told MindaNews  they granted the motion filed by Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu requesting extension for him and the two other respondents — Col. Samuel Yungue, commander of Task Group Panther and Capt. Michael Asistores of the Scout Rangers.

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 RHRC served the subpoenas on the three officials on September 26, giving them until October 3 to “answer the allegations” cited in the affidavits of the families and witnesses.

Hinay said she issued the order on Wednesday granting the motion for extension until October 15 to air their side.

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 in the encounter and six others were injured, including Sawadjaan, while 17 soldiers were “slightly wounded due to shrapnel.”

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) had earlier sent a team 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 had earlier told MindaNews. The exhumation is expected to be done soon.

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,

A relative of the victims had earlier told MindaNews the seven victims were among villagers 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.

A common practice in conflict-affected areas is that 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 September 26 and 27 “because of (military) operation in Igasan, Patikul where the detachment is,” Hinay explained. But it was finally served afternoon, of September 28, 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.”

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez told MindaNews on September 18 thata team from the Inspector General Office was activated the previous day 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. 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)