Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume IV,  Number 23              July  11 - 17, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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The �Basilan Fall Guys,� Three Years Later

Since July 2001, the Arroyo government has been rounding up people suspected of being terrorists. The arrests, according to human-rights groups, were illegal while those arrested had complained of torture. To date, 124 of these men � most of them Muslims � are languishing at Camp Bagong Diwa, awaiting trial.


In the early morning hours of July 13, 2001, soldiers stormed the house of the Saliddin family in a village called Tupay, in Isabela City, Basilan, in the southern Philippines. The soldiers barked their orders: �All men should come down!�

Outside the house, a man wearing a ski mask stepped forward and pointed at Abdulmoner Saliddin, then a 26-year-old student. Abdulmoner, the man said, is a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Abdulmoner, who was then a graduating student taking up an engineering course at the AE College in Zamboanga City, was flabbergasted. The soldiers approached him; when Abdulmoner resisted, one of them snarled at him: �Go explain yourself to Gloria!� referring to the president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Abdulmoner and his father, Munap, were then taken to an Army camp in Tabuk, in the same city. Shortly before noon, they were transferred to the headquarters of the Army�s 103rd Infantry Brigade in a place called Tabiawan in Isabela City.

The Sallidins are just two of the dozens of Filipinos rounded up by the military and the police since 2001, accused of being terrorists and members of the Abu Sayyaf. As of this week, 124 of them still languish at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, Metro Manila; all of them had been charged with kidnapping. Four of the detainees are minors while the oldest, a 77-year-old Tausug from Basilan, is in a pitiable condition inside the jailhouse, suffering from the ravages of Alzheimer�s disease.

The arrest and detention of these men, most of them Muslims, were part of the Arroyo regime�s �crackdown� on the Abu Sayyaf since the bandit group abducted 21 local and foreign guests at the Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan, an island south of Manila, three years ago.  This �crackdown� had been intensified through massive military operations after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The Arroyo government had earlier declared Basilan in a �state of lawlessness.� Through a memorandum from the Department of Justice, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was ordered to arrest even without warrant all persons suspected of being Abu Sayyaf members and sympathizers. This �crackdown� had turned Basilan into what human-rights groups had called �a virtual garrison.� 

Human-rights groups had said that the arrests and detention were illegal. In fact, some of those abducted have been reported missing and are feared to have been summarily executed.

Although the �crackdown� against the Abu Sayyaf has resulted in the death and the capture of key Abu Sayyaf leaders (among them Abu Sabaya, who was killed during a military operation to rescue Gracia and Martin Burnham, the Americans whom the Abu Sayyaf abducted from Dos Palmas, and Ghalib Andang alias Kumander Robot and Nadzmie Saabdullah also known as �Kumander Global,� who have been arrested and presently detained in Camp Bagong Diwa), the group still terrorizes Basilan and some areas of Mindanao.

As one detainee put it, �The military couldn�t destroy the Abu Sayyaf in the mountains so it turned its ire on us who are in the cities.�

There have been questions raised against the methods used by the authorities in the �crackdown.� In the case of the Saliddins, for example, the father and son went through a routine medical check-up but they were forced to sign a waiver that said that they had not been harmed and that they were in good condition when brought into custody. After signing the waiver, the nightmare began, Abdulmoner said.

Abdulmoner was forced to admit that he was a member of the Abu Sayyaf. Each time he denied that he was a member, the interrogators mauled him, he said. At one point, he was struck with a nail on his left face. The soldiers also used long-nosed pliers on his tongue to force him to talk, he told Bulatlat.com in an interview this week.

On July 16, 2001, Abdulmoner and his father were brought to the Southern Command headquarters in Zamboanga City and were charged with kidnapping, with Abdulmoner being accused of 52 counts. On Dec. 8 that same year, they were transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa. Almost two years later, in November 2003, Munap was released. To this day, Abdulmoner is still languishing inside Cell No. 46.

Abdulmoner insists he is innocent of the charges against him. His only wish, he said, is to be reunited soon with his family in Basilan -- and perhaps finish his studies. Bulatlat.com

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