Patikul update:  Exhumation of slain 7 done; rights bodies await military response

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 07 October) — A forensics team from the Commission on Human Rights on Saturday exhumed the bodies of seven persons slain in Patikul, Sulu on September 14, in the presence of their families, to determine the cause and manner of death.

The military had earlier said the seven were Abu Sayyaf members killed in an encounter while their families maintained they were civilians harvesting fruits.

Atty. Fatten Hinay, head of the BaSulTa (Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-tawi) sub-regional office of the Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao told MindaNews the exhumation was done Saturday afternoon.

The RHRC and CHR are conducting a joint probe in Patikul, following allegations that the seven were massacred.

The seven Tausugs killed in Patikul, Sulu, just before burial on September 15. Families of the seven have given their consent for an exhumation of the bodies to determine the cause of death and how they were killed. The military has claimed they were Abu Sayyaf members killed in an encounter while the families maintain they were civilians harvesting mangosteen fruits. Photo courtesy of Suara Bangsamoro’s FB page

Saturday’s exhumation came 21 days after the seven victims were buried.

The RHRC and CHR had earlier taken the testimonies of the families and witnesses and are now awaiting the responses of the three military officials in Sulu that the RHRC subpoenaed on September 26 to answer the allegations in the affidavits of the victims’ families and witnesses, copies of which were sent to them.

Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu,  Col. Samuel Yungue, commander of Task Group Panther and Capt. Michael Asistores of the Scout Rangers, were supposed to have sent their answers on October 3 but Pabayo, citing “ongoing military operations and other programmed command / unit activities,” wrote RHRC on October 1 asking for an extension until October 15 for them to answer the allegations.

Hinay granted the motion for extension.

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 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 served on September 28.(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)