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

Vol. V,    No. 9      April 10 - 16, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Copyright 2004 Bulatlat


A Special Report on Human Rights in Sulu: 

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back
First of 3 parts

“The military men swore to kill me next if I don’t keep my mouth shut.” Thus said seven-year old Almujayal Padiwan, survivor of a massacre in Sulu last February that killed both his parents, an uncle and 14-year old brother. The incident enraged the Tausugs and led to a massive and violent military operation that resulted in more killings and other human rights violations. That the boy continues to be threatened and had to escape from the hospital where he was being treated reflects the terror that continues to grip Sulu.


MAIMBUNG, Sulu -- A website of the Department of Tourism describes Sulu as the southernmost part of the Philippines, lying between Sulu Sea on the north and Celebes Sea on the south. It says fishing is its most important industry, making it a First Class Province in terms of income. Sulu is famous worldwide for the 33,200-hectare Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, but more recently, it has become more known for the violence and terror that continue to grip the area.

Three years ago, a fact-finding mission to Sulu by human rights groups and non-government organizations reported of a hidden war in the province "waged by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) against defenseless and deprived people, hidden from public consciousness like a nightmare."

Until now, the nightmare has not ended for the people in Sulu.

Another fact-finding and mercy mission led this time by Kalinaw Mindanao finds that the military forces have turned the province into a virtual garrison, driving more residents out of their homes and farms in fear for their lives. This happened following military operations against a group of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members that attacked soldiers after the latter massacred Almujayal’s family on Feb. 1.

The massacre

“The military men swore to kill me next if I don’t keep my mouth shut,” seven-year old Almujayal Padiwan told human rights members in the local Tausug dialect. He demonstrated how the military men motioned with their point finger running across the neck, a gesture warning that he would be killed. Fearing for his life, he escaped from the hospital where he was being treated.

Surviving the massacre along with his sister Madzrana, 10, and baby brother Aljeezmer, 3, Almujayal recounted how his parents Tal and Nurshida “Sidang” Padiwan, Uncle Salip Faisal, and 14-year old brother Aldasir were killed by the military.

At around 6 a.m. of Feb. 1, soldiers of the 53rd Infantry Battalion reportedly under Col. Dennis Villanueva surrounded the Padiwan house in Sitio Baunuh Ice, Brgy. (village) Kapuk Punggol in Maimbung, Sulu and fired at the house. Faisal, Aldasir and Almujayal were sleeping while Tal and Sidang, Madzrana recalled, were felled by the bullets.

Fact-finding mission

Kalinaw Mindanao, a network of non-government organizations and people’s organizations, conducted the fact-finding mission on March 17-21 in Sulu.

Visiting Almujayal’s home, the mission members saw how all corners of the house – from kitchen to terrace, the floor up to the roof, even the surrounding coconut trees outside – were full of bullet holes, leading the team to believe that indiscriminate firing took place.

When asked why their house was attacked, Madzrana innocently replied, “Inday ko sah byudburan na hadja kami sin timbak” (I don’t know but only we were barraged with gunshots), as she was fixing herself at that time ready to head to Madrasah (Islamic School). She ran out with brother Aljeezmer when the shooting started.

Almujayal’s right hand was mutilated by gunshots and had to be amputated. His upper body on the other hand sustained severe burns as a result of close range shots.

On board the military truck, the AFP brought him and Aldasir to the AFP’s Southern Command headquarters but Aldasir did not make it. According to witnesses, when Aldasir died, he was stuffed inside a sack and thrown out along Kilometer 2 in Indanan, Sulu.

Almujayal was later released to the Department of Social Welfare Development (DSWD) and brought to the hospital for treatment but escaped shortly after the military threatened to come after him.

Arsheed, 12, the second child of Tal and Sidang, was on the way to the town proper to sell bangbang sug (Tausug waffles) that his mother cooks when soldiers came. One of the soldiers even bought some from him and the next thing he knew, Arsheed said, the men had killed his parents.

Hangka-pito ako nagtangis pasal magtumtum ako kanila” (I cried for a week because I missed them terribly), he told the Fact-Finding Team nearly, breaking into tears.

About to take a bath, Babu Ayn (not her real name), whose house is about 30 meters away from the Padiwans’, suddenly heard series of gunshots and Almujayal’s voice crying for help, “Tabanga niyo kami! Iyubos na kami piyatay!” (Help us! We are all being killed!) Seeing a group of heavily armed men, she said she had no choice but to run even without her clothes on, for her own and her son’s safety just after the minute her house was similarly fired at.

“Tal was being accused as a member of the Abu Sayyaf but no, he’s not; in fact, he’s a councilor of our barangay. He is a good parent; he loves his sons and daughter, an elder person in the community whom we all trust and I don’t know why such a good person was killed,” Babu Ayn mourned.


The Padiwan massacre prompted the Jabalul-Uhud Command of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Ustadz Habier Malik to retaliate. The MNLF launched on Feb. 6 simultaneous attacks of government forces in Siit, Panamao and Patikul. In Patikul, the MNLF confirmed the reported incident that eight military trucks were blown up in an ambush operation leaving hundreds of soldiers dead.

“Kung hindi kami lalaban, mauubos kaming mga Bangsamoro” (If we do not fight, we will get decimated), replied the soft-spoken Ustadz Malik when Suara Bangsamoro leaders asked him, in an interview why war erupted again in Sulu.

“The massacre was a breaking point of a long restive social volcano that could have had erupted anytime,” the MCPA remarked.

The following day, Feb. 7, Southern Command Chief Alberto Braganza ordered the bombings in Panamao, which later spread to the nearby municipalities of Patikul, Panglima Estino, Parang, Indanan, Talipao, Luuk and Maimbung.

Braganza was quoted in the papers as saying “I have ordered air strikes to punish these renegades… They have asked for it and they will get it.”

Panamao residents who were trapped by the operations, sought refuge in a small cave for more than a week. They told fact finding mission members that for nine consecutive days, around 80 to 100 bombs, released through aerial, artillery, mortar and canyon fires, were released at communities in Panamao, posting an average of three bombs a day.

Even AFP officers issued contrasting statements regarding the operation. Brig. Gen. Gabriel Habacon, chief of the 1st Infantry Division, was quoted as saying that: “The honest truth here is that the (death of three civilians) have infuriated the (Misuari breakaway group). The attack (of army posts in Panamao Sulu) was triggered by the death of three civilians, including 14-year old Aldasir Padiwan on February 1.”


However, in the congressional hearing conducted by the Peace Committee of the House of Representatives, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Efren Abu denied that a massacre occurred in Maimbung.

Amirah Ali Lidasan of the MCPA and Suara Bangsamoro Party-list group lambasted the AFP chief: “Abu’s denial of the Kapuk Punggol massacre perpetrated by his pack of bloodthirsty wolves in Sulu is a blatant lie.”

“If the military hierarchy, represented in this case by General Abu, would simply dismiss the people’s testimonies and complaints as being black propaganda against the military then they are denying the people, especially victims of such brutal crimes, the right to be heard and to be served justice. If the military leadership as well as President Arroyo will accept their field commanders’ black and white report, it is the same as coddling and condoning despotic military men,” she said. Bulatlat 



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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