DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 August) – Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari flew out of Jolo, Sulu on Sunday morning on board a private aircraft bound for this city, in the company of a notorious Abu Sayyaf leader wanted by the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia for a series of cross-border kidnappings.
Abu Sayyaf commander Abduljihad “Edang” Susukan, who allegedly surrendered to Misuari in Sulu in April, left Jolo with the MNLF leader on a Bombardier Challenger 350 aircraft with tail number RP-C7588 on Sunday, anticipating he would meet President Rodrigo Duterte here and undergo a procedure for a prosthetic left arm.
Four days later, on Thursday evening, he was “handed over” by Misuari in his house in an otherwise quiet subdivision in Ma-a, whose neighbors, most of them preparing dinner, were disrupted by the sudden arrival of police, including SWAT teams and an armored personnel carrier.
Photographs at the Jolo airport on Sunday morning showed Sulu Governor Sakur Tan and Joint Sulu Task Force chief, Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan sending off Misuari. It is not clear if Tan and Vinluan knew Susukan was with Misuari. MindaNews asked Tan in a text message on Friday but he sent no reply. Vinluan could not be reached.
An MNLF source in Jolo told MindaNews Susukan may not have been recognized because he was clean shaven and now wore his hair short.
According to flightaware.com, the private jet left Jolo at 9:47 a.m. on Sunday, August 9, and arrived at 10:43 a.m. in Davao City, hometown of the President who has been staying in the city since August 3.
The aircraft bearing that tail number has been used several times by President Duterte in his domestic travels and in travels to neighboring ASEAN countries.
Susukan’s arrival here was not made public until Thursday although photographs of Misuari landing at the airport on Sunday were initially posted on social media by his followers but the photographs, accompanied by a note from the chief of the MNLF in Davao thanking an official close to the President for facilitating the use of the aircraft, could no longer be viewed on Thursday. The contents of hashtag #MaasArrival are gone as well.
MindaNews sent a query to the official who was thanked for the use of the aircraft but the official has yet to reply as of 4 p.m. Friday.
From presentation to arrest
MindaNews checked with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez on the status of Susukan given that he is wanted by the Philippine and Malaysian governments and he is with Misuari. They sent no reply.
But Lorenzana told the Defense Press Corps in Manila that he had spoken with the Eastern Mindanao Commander and “he was also unaware why Misuari and Susukan are together in Davao.” Lorenzana added: “Susukan is wanted by the military.”
Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 which was approved last month, is on its first month of implementation.
MindaNews sources in Davao City and Sulu said arrangements were being made for a meeting between President Duterte and Misuari, who was expected to present Susukan to him. Strict health protocols imposed on visitors of the President require COVID-19 RT-PCR testing so no presentation could be done immediately.
But something happened on Thursday that completely altered the plan: Susukan’s presence in Davao City was made public by Malaysia’s The Star newspaper, in an “exclusive report” from Kota Kinabalu titled “Militant spotted moving freely.”
The report said the terrorist, wanted for murder, kidnapping, etc.. was “spotted with” Misuari in Davao City.
In December last year, Duterte appointed Misuari as Special Economic Envoy on Islamic Affairs to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to “foster further lasting relationships with the leaders of the Islamic countries.”
The President has been based for nearly two weeks in this city where he served as mayor for 22 years. His daughter Sara, is the incumbent mayor.
MindaNews checked with the mayor Thursday night on the reported presence of Susukan in the city, through City Information Office Jefry Tupas. The mayor said Susukan was in the custody of the Davao City Police Office and police chief, Col. John Kirby Kraft would issue a statement shortly.
MindaNews sent a text message to Kraft if his office arrested Susukan or Misuari surrendered Susukan to them. He sent no reply.
Shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, Kraft sent MindaNews a copy of a press release titled “PNP Chief Gamboa: Misuari hands over Abu Sayyaf leader in Davao; 39 warrants of arrest served” with accompanying photos of Susukan in custody.
According to the press release, officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) “initiated the negotiation after finding out that Susukan was brought to Davao City to seek medical attention.”
“The PNP immediately advised Mayor Inday Sara Duterte who assured us her full cooperation and assistance, to ensure the peaceful handover and orderly transfer of custody to appropriate authorities,” it said.
It added that Susukan was served 39 warrants of arrest — 23 cases of Murder, 10 for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and six for frustrated murder – in Misuari’s Davao City residence in Ma-a and after his “handover” to Kraft Thursday night, was to undergo a medical check up in Camp Quintin Merecido Hospital in the PNP’s regional camp in Catitipan.
Susukan, the press release said, would then be brought to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ main headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.
“We thank Chairman Nur Misuari for facilitating the negotiation between the PNP, headed by PCol Kirby John Kraft, Davao City Police Director, and Edang Susukan,” Gamboa said.
An MNLF source in Jolo told MindaNews that Misuari, whose closeness with the President is public knowledge, was going to present Susukan to his friend, the President, but “did not foresee Mayor Sara and did not think how firm and strong she is” in having Susukan arrested as soon as she found out he was in the city.
Kraft told MindaNews on Friday morning that the negotiations for Susukan’s arrest started at 6 p.m. Thursday and by 8 p.m. they had taken him in.
Was there resistance from Misuari, MindaNews asked. Kraft replied, “wala naman kasi pinaliwanag namin na maraming warrants of arrest” (because we explained there were many warrants of arrest) for Susukan.
He clarified that there were 34 warrants of arrest, not 39, as indicated in Gamboa’s press release, as five bore the same case numbers. Out of 34, he said, 23 were for murder, five for kidnapping and serious illegal detention and the rest were for frustrated murder.
Kraft said they learned about Susukan’s presence Thursday afternoon when reporters asked about The Star’s report.
He said they immediately launched operations to locate Susukan and serve him the warrants of arrest. Kraft said he coordinated with the national headquarters in Camp Crame and in Sulu for copies of the warrants of arrest.
He said they were not aware of Susukan’s arrival on Sunday. “Kung Sunday pa, baka Sunday pa yan na-arrest” (if we had known Sunday, he would have been arrested Sunday), Kraft said.
Kraft led the police team that went to Misuari’s residence in Ma-a.
He said the armored personnel carrier was brought by the military under Task Force Davao.
He explained that although it was “purely law enforcement,” it is usual in Davao City that the Task Force Davao accompanies them.
“It was a negotiated arrest,” MindaNews said. Kraft replied: “kahit naman di sila pumayag, ise-serve pa rin natin” (even if they did not agree, we would still serve the warrants).
“Nakaready kami. Marami tayong police pati SWAT pina-ready ko” (We were ready.There were many police and I also asked the SWAT to be ready).
He said he could not say if there were firearms in Misuari’s house but he was glad the arrest was “peaceful.”
Kraft said Susukan would be flown to Manila “anytime today” and will be brought to Camp Aguinaldo.
The Star said Susukan was involved in a spate of cross-border abductions in Sabah’s east coast since 2013, among them Chinese national Gao Huayun and Filipina Marcy Darawan in Singamata Reef Resort on Semporna waters on April 2, 2014; Chinese national Yang Zai Lin in Wonderful Terrace Fish in Lahad Datu on May 6, 2014; Malaysian Chan Sai Chun from his fish farm in Kampung Sapang in Kunak on June 16, 2014; Sarawakian tourist Bernard Then and Sabahan restaurant owner Thien Nyuk Fan from Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan on May 14, 2015.
It said Susukan was “involved in many direct and indirect negotiations for the release of hostages kidnapped from Sabah waters over the years” and was involved in the beheading of Then in Sulu on November 17, 2015.
According to The Star, Misuari and Susukan arrived in Davao City on Tuesday. Misuari and Susukan actually arrived here on Sunday, not Tuesday.
Citing “regional intelligence sources,” The Star reported that Misuari brought Susukan with him here “to have him fitted with a prosthetic replacement for his left arm, which he lost during a gun battle with the Philippine armed forces in Jolo Island early last year.”
Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, who was Western Mindanao Command chief until he assumed the post of Army Chief on August 4, told MindaNews on Friday that Susukan “had realized that being a member of the ASG does not do good at all.”
But on his criminal liabilities, Sobejana stressed “the rule of law should be given due course to give justice to the victims of his atrocities.”
“I welcome (Susukan) to the society of peace-loving Filipinos,” Sobejana added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas and Frencie Carreon / MindaNews)