A Special Report on Human Rights in Sulu:
The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back
First of 3
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.
-- 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 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.
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
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,
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.
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
“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
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.
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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