Life Interrupted: Civilian communities terrorized by commando assault in Mamasapano
Initial Report of the People’s Fact-Finding Mission
February 9-11, 2015
The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are participating in ongoing peace talks. Prior to the signing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) last year, signed agreements between both parties were already in effect, one of which was the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities signed on July 1997. This agreement established the mechanisms to prevent hostilities between the armed forces of both parties, in order to prevent danger to civilian populations.
Despite these agreements, the encounter between the PNP-SAF and the MILF forces in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25 suggests the agreement on the cessation of hostilities was violated. The loss of civilian life during the incident raises serious questions regarding violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, which are investigated in this report.
The reports and testimonies gathered regarding the presence of US personnel in the area during the encounter attests to the continuing ‘War on Terror’ campaign of the US and Philippine governments, which have undermined the peace talks and the rights of innocent civilians.
There is more to the Mamasapano incident than meets the eye.
While the media coverage have so far mainly focused on the death of the 44 police commandos after the botched operation on January 25, little has been publicly said about the Moro communities in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. But on the ground, reports of human rights abuses, violations of the International Humanitarian Law during combat, and involvement of US military personnel were persistent. Spurred by these reports from the commnunities, Suara Bangsamoro, Kalinaw Mindanao and Kawagib initiated a People’s Fact-Finding Mission in affected barangays of Mamasapano, Maguindanao on February 9 to 11, 2015.
About 100 individuals participated in the mission, which included Moro leaders, human rights advocates, children’s rights advocates, church leaders, youth leaders, labor leaders, women leaders, and alternative journalists. Two progressive parliamentarians from Makabayan bloc – Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Luz Ilagan – also spearheaded the mission.
The People’s Fact-Finding Mission covered four affected barangays in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where initial reports of abuses came from: Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan, Pimbalkan and Tuka. These covered about 5,000 individuals in the said barangays. The mission was able to collect 11 sworn affidavits, as well as recorded testimonies, photographs and videos of the interviews with witnesses and affected individuals, as well as photographs of the affected areas.
Among the cases of human rights violations, as well as violations of the International Humanitarian Law, that the Mission was able to document are the following:
- Extra-judicial Killings
- Frustrated Extra-judicial Killings
- Forced Evacuation
- Destruction of Properties
- Divestment of Properties
- Child Rights Violations
The Mission was also able to gather sworn affidavits from residents of the affected barangays who testified to the use of drones before and during the botched police operation on Jan. 25. In addition to these, it was also able to gather testimonies of various witnesses in Brgy. Tukanalipao who said they saw the body of at least one (1) US personnel (purportedly military) among the other remains of SAF commandos in the aftermath of the bloody encounters. Undoubtedly, this direct US involvment in a military/police operation in the Philippines amounts to a clear violation of the country’s national sovereignty.
Extra-judicial Killings & Frustrated Extra-judicial Killings
At around four in the morning of January 25, farmer Badrudin Langalan, 18, just came from his farm and was on his way to charge his cellphone at the Tukanalipao proper when he was ostensibly chanced upon the position of the blocking force of SAF members before he was able to cross the wooden bridge. Later in the day, after the encounters and when residents started to bring the bodies of fallen SAF members to the barangay proper, Badrudin’s lifeless body was found among the fallen SAF members, his hands and feet were bound.
Meanwhile, around the same time that Badrudin chanced upon SAF members, Sarah Pananggulon, 8 years old, was sleeping with her parents and younger brother in their house in Sitio Inugog, Brgy. Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town when they were awaken by loud explosions and gunshots outside their house. They realized armed individuals whom they later identified as members of the Special Action Force (SAF) were shooting in their direction. Sarah was shot on her side, while her parents, Samrah Sampulna and Pananggulon Mamasalaga, were wounded as they tried to evacuate from their houses.
Forced Evacuation & Indiscriminate Firing
Farmers Iskak Salao, 48, and Saada Teb, 25, were residents of Sitio Inugog, Brgy. Tukanalipao. They were sleeping in their respective houses when they and their neighbors heard gunshots. Iskak, Saada and many others were compelled to evacuate from their houses, as members of SAF fired upon their location. Saada, a mute and a student of the Mahad (one of 330 Arabic students in nearby madrasah in Brgy. Inugog), was hit by a bullet. Since then, the students and the Arabic teachers have not resumed classes and residents remain evacuees because of fear that their community will be again assaulted.
Meanwhile, Amina Kamiron, 40, lives in Tukanalipao proper, which is a few kilometers away from the site of encounters. She was taking her bath when she heard loud gunshots. She was shocked and fell on the floor. Amina was brought to hospital and is still recuperating, as of this writing.
At around nine in the morning of Jan. 25, residents of Tukanalipao proper who live along the main road were forced to evacuate from their homes when SAF tanks stationed along the main road began indiscriminately firing on their houses. They showed to the Mission members the holes in their concrete houses which were supposedly caused by gunshots from the tanks.
An estimated 1,500 residents of different barangays also hastily evacuated to nearby communities where they had relatives, according to the ARMM HEART program of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Divestment of Properties
Several residents who live along the highway in Brgy. Tuka complained that SAF members, who were stationed along the highway during the entire time of the encounters, had divested them of their properties. At four in the morning, Saneah Solaiman, 25, complained that SAF members allegedly divested Saneah of her belongings—among others, three pots, cups, kettle and goods from her sari-sari store.
ARMM HEART data revealed that P300,000 worth of farm crops were destroyed during the encounters, while more than a million pesos worth of properties were partially or fully damaged. Six (6) houses were partially damaged.
Other faces of grief
The women shared the ordeals they and their children had to go through to escape the fighting. There was indiscriminate firing and they had to either crawl or dash to safer grounds, some with a baby or toddler in hand. The women who lost their husbands told the FFM of the grief and the economic uncertainty they now face.
The wives of the saheed (martyrs), four elements of the MILF who were fired upon and killed upon by an unidentified SAF element while they were sleeping in a pangguiamanan (mosque-hut) near the tulay na kahoy (wooden bridge) at two in the afternoon of January 25 in Brgy. Tukanalipao, also told their worries to the fact-finding team through a discussion group with the women’s team. Their husbands who were killed are Omar Dagadas, 24; Ali Ismael, 25; Mosif Hassim, 22; and a certain Rasul, 21, were members of the 105th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Child Rights Violations
Classes in elementary and high school students of different public schools in the various barangays were disrupted by the heavy fighting on January 25. School officials of Linantangan Elementary School in Tukanalipao proper told the Mission that the said school was forced to cancel classes for two weeks after the incident.
According to ARMM HEART, 13 schools with 5,963 students and 124 teachers were affected by the bloody encounters. Aside from this, classes for the 300 Mahad/Arabic students were also disrupted.
During the psychosocial intervention to the children affected, the team found out that children are traumatized due to the incident and their consequent evacuation. According to the children, the encounter occurred because the PNP SAF did not inform the community and the MILF regarding their operation. They also narrated some of their experiences. They also recalled the deafening sounds of gunfire and how they evacuated. Most of the children were among those families who were temporarily displaced due to the incident. According to them, they stayed in several houses and barangay centers that served as the temporary evacuation center for two days and were only able to attend class a week after the incident. Many of them are still afraid, especially during night time. According to them, they fear nightfall as the incident might happen again. Their daily routines disrupted specially on education and economic aspect and they have the feeling of insecurity. Up to this time, many pupils have not reported back to school.
Deep US involvement
The Mission was able to interview, on condition of anonymity, some witnesses who said they saw one Caucasian (“white-skinned, long, blue-eyed, and had narrow, long noses”) who died among the SAF members in Brgy. Tukanalipao. Meanwhile, several residents from Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan, Lusay and Tuka submitted sworn affidavits that state that they saw drones fly above their communities for at least seven (7) days before the bloody encounters on Jan. 25. One witness said that the drone would hover above their houses, sometimes waking them up at night. Meanwhile, residents of Brgy. Tuka and Brgy. Pidsandawan called the drones “airplanes” that twinkled at night time. However, the night before the clash the sound of the drones was exceptionally noisy and busy. The drones, they said, were gone after Jan. 25.
- The PNP-SAF police operation undermined the civilian community and GPH-MILF peace process;
- There was a violation of the ceasefire agreement or the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities that resulted in a breach in the peace negotiations and human rights violations;
- The lives of the residents have yet to return to normal, the farmers cannot easily go back to their farms for fear of possible clashes, and unexploded bombs continue to reside in local fields;
- There is no normalcy in the lives of child residents, as evidenced by the significant decline in the attendance of students in elementary schools;
- Further investigation should be undertaken into the role of the US government in the Mamasapano incident, based on the following reports: that US troops were seen during retrieval operations; that drones were heard and seen flying before and during the police operation; and that possible Caucasians were sighted with the PNP-SAF during operations, including the body of an alleged Caucasian among the slain PNP-SAF;
- The government must indemnify, give justice to the victims of human rights violations and be held accountable for the Mamasapano encounter;
- Violations in the ceasefire agreement should be seriously looked into;
- US participation in the Mamasapano incident must be investigated;
- Call for an independent body, such as a truth commission or a people’s movement for truth and accountability, to probe deeper into the Mamasapano incident.
Aside from initiators Suara Bangsamoro, Kalinaw Mindanao and Kawagib, other groups from various provinces in Mindanao as well as national organizations joined the mission, namely:
KARAPATAN-Southern Mindanao Region
Gabriela Women’s Partylist
Children’s Rehabilitation Center
Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao
Kilusang Mayo Uno
Nonoy Librado Development Foundation
Sisters Association in Mindanao
Oblates of Notre Dame
Social Ministry Episcopal Diocese for Southern Philipppines
Cotabato Annual Conference – United Church of Christ in the Philippines
United Methodist Church in the Philippines
Liga ng Kabataang Moro
League of Filipino Students
Community-Based Health Services Association
Bayan Muna Partylist
Alternative media outfits Pinoy Weekly, Radyo Ni Juan Network and Kilab Multimedia