By Carolyn O. Arguillas
(1st of two parts)
An encounter or a massacre? Illegal drugs or land conflict?
The chairs of the ceasefire committee of the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the head of mission and members of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) conducted a joint verification in Sitio Biao, Kilada, Matalam, North Cotabato on June 1 to determine if the killing of seven persons near midnight of May 25 and two others in the early hours of May 26 was due to an “encounter” as claimed by the police or a “massacre” as claimed by the MILF.
Three other villagers were injured and two were arrested in what the police said was a joint police-military operations against illegal drugs, under Project Double Barrel Reloaded.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Region 12 has an ongoing investigation on what happened in Barangay Kilada, CHR Regional Director Erlan Deluvio said on June 6. The CHR started its probe on May 30.
Kilada barangay chair Rowena de Leon said some 70 to 80 families fled the village early morning of May 26 and set up makeshift tents on both sides of the Biao road some two kilometers away.
Displaced residents whom MindaNews talked to at the evacuation site on May 30 said they were awakened by gunfire at around 11:30 pm on May 25.
Jacqueline Lumopog, who gave birth at 6 pm to her second child, a son named Pahodi, found her way to the floor, crawling as she tried to protect her five-hour old baby.
Initial police reports said seven, later nine, suspected drug personalities were killed in the raid conducted on the basis of two search warrants issued on May 22 by Judge Alandrez Betoya for violation of Section 6 of RA 9165, or alleged maintenance of an illegal drugs den, in the houses of Dadting Kasan and Intan Aban.
A combined team from the provincial office and the Matalam police station, along with elements from the 7th Infantry Battalion as back-up, conducted the raid. Senior Supt. Maximo Layugan, provincial police chief, said the troops had no choice but to return fire as Kasan’s and Aban’s group fired at them first.
Arrested were Intan Aban, wife of the slain Usop Sabil Mantis and Kulaga Aban Kasan, wife of the slain Dadting Kasan. Aban’s son and Kasan’s two sons were also killed during the raid.
Layugan said the wives were arrested as they were escaping from their houses along with the children.
Recovered from the scene of the “encounter” or “massacre” were assorted high-powered firearms and ammunition. The May 26 spot report sent to Layugan by Matalam Police Station chief Sunny Rubas Leoncito listed what was seized from Kasan’s house: a homemade caliber 7.62 sniper rifle with 26 live ammunition; a homemade RPG (rocket-propelled grenade), one 7.62 rifle M14, and one homemade 7.62 pistol.
Seized from the house of Aban were a caliber 30 M1 garand rifle and one clip containing six pieces live ammunition of caliber 30; one homemade caliber 30 sniper rifle; three RPG anti-tank ammunitions with three charge powder and one 50 caliber ammunition.
The initial police reports released to media listed the firearms seized but made no mention of illegal drugs.
But Leoncito’s report said “during the (search) and seizure, personnel recovered one piece of heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing suspected dangerous drugs aka shabu” from Aban’s house and five pieces of heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing suspected shabu and two pieces of sachet “containing residue of suspected .. shabu” from Kasan’s house. Butch Malang, chair of the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) told MindaNews on May 27 that the nine victims were members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), not drug personalities and claimed it was not an encounter.
“Ito ay isang massacre,” Malang said, adding that BIAF members had allegedly identified themselves and turned over their weapons.
Kasan, he said, was a deputy battalion commander in the BIAF’s 105th Base Command.
Malang clarified on June 2 that of the nine persons who were killed, five were members of the BIAF, two were sons of the victims while two others were members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Layugan told MindaNews on June 5 that based on their records, seven persons were killed on May 25. — four in Kasan’s house and three in Aban’s house. He said they did not see the cadavers of the two others who were also reported slain.
According to the police blotter, two slain victims, Teds Salping and Murad Salping, may have been part of a reinforcement team that clashed with government forces after the raid. They were identified by village officials but by then, their cadavers had been “taken by their companions / relatives.”
Layugan said Teds Salping was facing two cases in a Kabacan court for illegal drugs. (mindanews)