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MANILA, Philippines – Authorities in Western Mindanao are having a hard time locating the bodies of 11 fishermen believed to have been killed by lawless elements in the high seas of Basilan last Monday, January 23, primarily due to bad weather.
Basilan police director Sr Supt Alex Lineses said the search and retrieval operations will resume Wednesday afternoon with a navy vessel being dispatched to scour the area. The Philippine Coast Guard deployed a team to Sibago Island in Mohammad Adjul town a day after the attack, but the operation also yielded negative results.
“We have to establish the facts of the incident to determine what really happened,” Lineses told Rappler. “Since it happened in the high seas, we also need to know whether it happened in the area of Basilan or Zamboanga City.”
According to a military report, at least 15 people on board 3 palakayas or outrigger fishing boats were killed when they were fired upon by unidentified men, while fishing in the high seas of Sibago Island.
The police identified the 11 missing fishermen as: Prudencio Matugas, Allan Matugas, Arman Rota, Vincent Dumaog, Jason Laniohan, Noel Paculba, Ricky Miguela, Arsenio Cabarles, Marcelo Cabarles, Loreto Calderon and Vanny Francisco.
Four cadavers have been so far recovered and turned over to their families in their hometown in Zamboanga del Sur.
The dead fishermen were identified as: Ronald Buhian, Leonardo Tamparong, Wilmar Lonson and Kenneth Roger Castillo.
Three fishermen managed to survive the attack. One of the survivors, Jerome Lunsol, is confined to a hospital in Zamboanga City due to gunshot wounds in the head and body. While Arvin Opunda and Boyet Loques have returned to San Pablo.
“Based on initial testimonies of the survivors, most of the victims were shot and eventually fell into the sea water,” said Lineses.
Only 2 of the 3 palakayas were also recovered. “It’s possible that some cadavers sank along with the third palakaya which we failed to find,” said Lineses.
Mohammad Adjul town mayor Talib Pawaki said “heavy rains and strong sea current” are hampering efforts to locate the bodies since the incident occurred at least 10 to 15 nautical miles off Sibago Island. Local officials from adjacent towns have been alerted to report to authorities in case there will be cadavers that will emerge in their areas.
Suspects from Sibago?
“I am sure that the suspects are residents of Sibago Island,” Pawaki told Rappler in Filipino. “It is very likely that the incident had to do with the infighting on fishing grounds.”
Pawaki will recommend to the local police to look into the possible links of a village officlal and his political rival in the sea attack. While the mayor refused to name these personalities, he pointed out that the two parties have been entangled in a political conflict, as well as, competition in maintaining fish sanctuaries in Sibago.
When asked whether his “suspects” have arms to carry out the attack, Pawaki said: “Let the police do their investigation.”
While the police will look into the “allegations” of Mayor Pawaki, Lineses pointed out that there is no conclusive evidence yet on the identities of the fishermen’s attackers.
Local government officials of Basilan and San Pablo, Zamboanga del Sur will meet with the police and military on Thursday, January 26, for a “command conference” to determine the perpetrators of the attack, their motive and efforts to pursue him.
Two survivors of the attack are expected to attend the meeting to help the authorities find clues on the identities of the perpetrators. – Rappler.com