Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 25 July 28 - August 3, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
Basilan Woman Swears
Despite denials by Philippine and U.S. military authorities, a terrified woman in Basilan in southern Philippines testifies she saw an American soldier shoot her husband early morning of July 25. Authorities have been asked to arrest the alleged shooter – who has been identified – before he’s flown away by U.S. authorities. A congressional investigation is also being prepared.
CARLOS H. CONDE
DAVAO CITY - In an incident that has fired up opposition to the continued presence of U.S. troops in the country, a Basilan housewife came out las July 26 accusing an American soldier of shooting her husband during a raid of their house early Thursday morning (July 25).
In her sworn statement, Juraida Isnijal, 27, of Barangay Canas, Tuburan, Basilan, said the whole family was asleep when their door was knocked down by two Filipino soldiers and one African-American soldier -- “at least six feet tall and stocky” – all armed with rifles. She said there were eight of them in her mother-in-law’s house, including four children, one of them only two months old.
Her husband Buyong-buyong “started to get up but was sternly told by the Filipino soldiers, who were all pointing their guns at him, to be still, telling him, ‘Don’t move!’ I also tried to stand up but was told by the American soldier to sit down, saying ‘Sit down! Sit down!’ in an American accent.”
Juraida said she was certain that it was an American. “I have grown quite familiar with how American soldiers look like because for months now, I have been seeing different American soldiers in Basilan and I know exactly how and what they look like,” Juraida said in her affidavit.
Juraida said the soldiers pushed her and forced her husband to lie on his back. “I was terrified when the American soldier, using his Armalite rifle, suddenly fired at my husband once, hitting him on the left thigh,” Juraida said.
Upon seeing her husband wounded, Juraida said she “scuffled for one of the (soldiers’) rifles but I was hit on my right palm and on my face by the barrel. I sustained bruises on my forehead, the bridge of my nose and my right palm.”
Juraida said she was not sure which of the soldiers she had a scuffle with but said it could have been the American because she said she felt the heat of the barrel. Two more shots were then fired, sending Juraida, her mother-in-law and the children out of the house, through the kitchen. They saw 30 more soldiers standing guard outside the house, one of them Juraida recognized as Lt. Rommel Cabanayan of the 18th Infantry Battalion who, in June, had come looking for Buyong-buyong.
The family ran to the house of a neighbor known only as Rabbang, about 30 meters away. Moments later, she saw the soldiers carrying her husband into an Armored Personnel Carried marked “Sikatuna.”
Juraida’s recollection of events was corroborated by her 60-year-old mother-in-law Jalilan Isnijal in her own sworn statement. “I heard the English-speaking soldier telling Juraida to sit down. I am quite certain that he was an American soldier,” she said.
At the crack of dawn, Juraida and her mother-in-law checked out the house and found it in complete disarray. It had been ransacked, with personal belongings strewn about. The floor on which Juraida and her family had been sleeping on was covered with blood.
At 2:30 p.m. that same day, Juraida went to the Lamitan District Hospital to visit Buyong-buyong. She was told by the soldiers guarding her husband that he would be brought to the Southcom for treatment and investigation.
“From then on, I never saw my husband again and I do not know exactly where he is now and whether he is still alive or already dead,” Juraida said. Buyong-buyong’s mother Jalilan said in her statement that “my heart is broken because of what happened to my son, who is a good man. I could hardly sleep since then. I would tremble at the mere sight of military persons.”
Bayan Muna solons
Distraught, Juraida contacted the Moro Christian People’s Association (MCPA), which is a participant to the International Solidarity Mission (ISM) currently in Basilan and Zamboanga to look into the conduct of the Balikatan. Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza were speaking before a crowd of Basilan residents in Isabela City when Juraida arrived.
The two Bayan Muna representatives, who were in Basilan at the time for the ISM, later established the identity of the GI who shot Buyong-buyong as one Reggie Lane. On Friday, Ocampo, along with dozens of members of the ISM, went to the Lamitan District Hospital, where they were told by Dr. Julius Aguila that Buyong-buyong was brought in at 3:30 a.m. by three American GIs and 15 Filipino soldiers. Aguila said he talked with an American soldier, whom he identified as Reggie Lane, who gave him the antibiotics and other medical supplies for Buyong-buyong.
According to Ocampo, Aguila’s description of Lane matched Juraida’s description of the shooter.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Sunday that it interviewed a neighbor of the Isnijals who saw three U.S. soldiers – two Caucasian, one African American -- during the raid. "I immediately left my house out of fear. There were many soldiers, some of them Americans," the unidentified neighbor told the paper.
Chona Castillo, Juraida’s niece who was also in the house, said she saw the whole thing. "Their helmets had microphones, and they were shouting at Juraida and Buyong-buyong," Castillo said.
Yesterday, Juraida appealed to the military to let her see her husband. "I am worried that they will kill him, as they did other suspected Abu Sayyaf members," she said.
Filipino soldiers have reportedly figured in serious human rights violations cases in Basilan during the so-called campaign against terror in Basilan. The military and the police have arrested dozens of residents, most of them, as in the case of Buyong-buyong, without any warrant of arrest, reports also said.
Soldiers have also been accused of torturing and killing Abu Sayyaf suspects. Atty. Edre Olalia, the Isnijals’ lawyer from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), said they would certainly take legal actions against the perpetrators.
Militant and human-rights groups have denounced the alleged shooting while Ocampo and Maza are calling on their colleagues in Congress to investigate the matter. (See Sidebar)
Philippine and U.S. military authorities, however, have denied the charges. Major Richard Sater, spokesman of the U.S. forces in Basilan and Zamboanga, said the incident “has no basis in fact.” He told a wire agency that “we have not received that report. We are denying it. We would know if something happened.”
Col. Fredesvindo Covarrubias, spokesman for the Filipino military in the Balikatan exercises, told reporters in Zamboanga that "this is all propaganda," adding that the Americans "are very strict and cautious because they know the repercussions, and the AFP will not allow them to join operations ... because this (would be) a no-win situation."
Col. Alexander Aleo, commander of the 103rd Brigade in Basilan, accused Buyong-buyong of being an Abu Sayyaf member, hence the raid led by Lt. Rommel Cabanayan. Aleo said Buyong-buyong grabbed the rifle of one of the soldiers, which went off and hit him in the leg. But he insisted that no U.S. soldier was involved in the raid.
Lt. Gen. Ernesto Carolina, commander of Southern Command, went a step further by saying that the allegations were made by the wife of an Abu Sayyaf member, and that "makes her also an Abu Sayyaf." "I surmise that (the ISM) or the wife fabricated it," Carolina said. "The truth is that no U.S. troops were involved in the operation. Most of them have left Basilan already. There are a handful left, but they are busy for the closing ceremonies and are preparing to leave."
But Juraida denied that her husband was a criminal. “My husband never owned or possessed any gun and I do not know of any reason why my husband was shot without the slightest provocation and was forcibly abducted,” she said. “To my knowledge. my husband neither has any criminal record nor has he been the subject of complaints from our neighbors.”
Participants to the ISM from Lakbay Kalinaw, a nationwide caravan of militants opposed to the U.S. military presence and who will join the ISM in Zamboanga, said in Cebu City that the AFP is covering up the incident. Danilo Ramos of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the AFP “is doing all it can to cover up the involvement of the American soldier because it proves that the Balikatan’s terms of reference (TOR) has been violated at least once and most possibly even more.”
The TOR prohibits U.S. soldiers from joining combat patrols, “much less allow them to shoot civilians inside their homes and in front of their families,” Ramos said. He added: “How can this be a legitimate military encounter when it happened in the dead of night inside the house of Isnijal’s mother-in-law, where he, his wife, children and mother-in-law were sleeping?” “Is this the kind of Vietnam-style training that the Americans are giving our soldiers? No wonder they can’t beat the Abu Sayyaf,” the peasant leader said. Bulatlat.com