Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

50 soldiers suspended over Sulu killings

By Dennis Santos, Charlie Señase, Julie Alipala

The military has announced Saturday the suspension of more than 50 soldiers, including three officers of the US-trained Army Light Reaction Company (LRC), in connection with the February 4 killing in Maimbung town of eight civilians, including two children and a pregnant woman.

Major General Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), made the announcement during the arrival of Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro in Jolo where he was greeted by a protest organized by various Tausug groups.

The protesters accused the military of trying to cover up the killings, which occurred while the soldiers were supposedly conducting an operation against Abu Sayyaf banditas.

While he did not meet with the protesters, Teodoro talked with survivors and victims of the carnage and pledged a thorough probe of the killings. The military had earlier claimed the killings were part of a legitimate operation.

Allaga said the suspension of the enlisted men and the officers, whom he did not identify, was meant to assure the Tausug -- as most natives of Sulu are known -- that the investigation will be impartial.

Teodoro told reporters he was given specific orders by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to ensure there is no whitewash in the investigation. "First and foremost we have to get to the bottom of what really happened (during) the incident. We really have to establish that because there are deaths on both sides," he said, pointing out that two soldiers were killed in the firing.
Civilian officials had earlier claimed that the two soldiers died due to "friendly fire" when the two raiding teams mistook each other for hostile groups.

Asked when the results of the investigation would be announced, Teodoro said no deadline has been set. "It's hard to give a deadline but if I think it is getting too long then I'll come in. Perhaps I'll give them (the military) two weeks," he said.

Governor Abdusakur Tan advised the military to come up with a "believable result." Teodoro said he understood the fear of the victims about a whitewash. "They can only rely on our promise now, that it can only be credible if it is totally impartial and the results can be backed up by evidence," Teodoro said.

Tan said the residents would not claim that soldiers, supposedly backed by United States forces, slaughtered the eight villagers of Ipil, if they were not certain. He said the residents of Ipil were peaceful seaweed farmers and did not have any reason to wrongly accuse the military. Tan also balked at the idea of providing food assistance to the victims because "what they want is justice."
Teodoro declined to comment when asked what action would be taken against US soldiers who allegedly joined in the killings. "The victims have issued affidavits already. Let's just wait for the result of the investigation," he said.

Sandrawina Wahid, whose vacationing soldier-husband was killed by the raiding troops, issued a sworn statement on the presence of four US soldiers in the village on the day of the raid. Sulu lawyer Ulka Ulama said US forces involved in the raid should also be punished like their Filipino counterparts.

"They are criminally liable for the executions even if they didn't lift a finger. They were there. We look up to them as champions of democracy but being there and not doing anything made us think otherwise," Ulama said. He likened the Maimbung carnage to a rape. "Even if you will only watch a rape being committed by a companion, you will also be liable for the act," Ulama said.

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