The specter of random arrests in connection with the July 10 beheading of 14 Marines in Al-Barka, Basilan following an encounter between the AFP and the MILF looms over the people of the said town. This is because the warrants of arrest issued for 130 suspected members of the MILF and the ASG alleged to have been involved in the encounter that was followed by the beheading includes several John Does.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Vol. VII, No. 26, August 5-11, 2007
The specter of random arrests in connection with the July 10 beheading of 14 Marines in Al-Barka, Basilan following an encounter between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) looms over the people of the said town. This is because the warrants of arrest issued for 130 suspected members of the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) alleged to have been involved in the encounter that was followed by the beheading includes several John Does.
Alton Angeles, a former provincial board member of Basilan, disclosed this in an interview with Bulatlat. While he said he was not aware of the exact number of John Does included in the charge sheet, he said there were many.
“The problem with that is that they could arrest just anyone and claim that those they arrested are MILF or Abu Sayyaf members involved in the encounter and beheadings,” he said.
Encounter and beheadings
The July 10 encounter broke out amid AFP search operations for kidnapped Italian priest Fr. Giancarlo Bossi in Basilan.
According to a report by a joint fact-finding team composed of investigators from the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MILF, a convoy of soldiers belonging to the 1st Marine Brigade entered Al-Barka on July 10. The convoy was comprised by two dump trucks, an M35 6×6 truck, a Land Rover, and a V150 tank, the joint fact-finding report – submitted Aug. 3 to GRP and MILF peace negotiators Rodolfo Garcia and Mohagher Iqbal, respectively – stated.
Not knowing their way around, the Marines were pointed by local policemen toward Barangay (village) Guinanta, but were warned not to go into the area because the MILF had around 150 men stationed there.
The Marines, who thought MILF camps were in another village and not in Brgy. Guinanta, entered the said village. One of the dump trucks was mired in the mud, leading the Marines to send back the M35 and the V150 to help.
The report cited an MILF commander who goes by the name Kumander Hood as saying that his men were hiding behind the bushes when the Marines entered. “We watched them closely but we held our fire,” the report quoted Hood as saying.
When the M35 and the V150 reached the dump truck stuck in the mud, the Marines alighted and did a perimeter sweep. The MILF fighters were alarmed, thinking the Marines were preparing to attack. One of the soldiers stumbled into an MILF fighter and sounded an alarm. The MILF fired the first shot in an encounter that lasted for about seven hours.
At late afternoon that same day, the MILF fighters were convinced by the organization’s Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) to withdraw. The Marines pulled back to an abandoned madrasah.
The MILF later agreed to allow the Marines to recover their dead and rescue their wounded. But the Marines refused, saying that snipers were still firing at them. Still later, the MILF declared that only Basilan local government personnel and police could retrieve the bodies of the dead Marines.