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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Tragedy marred the joint training of Philippine and American troops after a fisherman in Basilan died when his motorized pump boat collided with a sea vessel belonging to US troops Wednesday night, April 18.
Reports from Zamboanga City identified the victim as Ahbam Juhurin. He had come from Isabela City and was on his way home with his 20-year-old son to the island municipality of Hadji Muhtamad when the accident happened.
Tahira Ismael, former town mayor of Lantawan town and a relative of the victim, said the collision occurred on the coast of Baluk-Baluk near Hadji Muhtamad town around 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“One of the victim’s children, who was also in the pump boat, was injured and has been brought to a military hospital,” Ismael told reporters.
The US Embassy in Manila confirmed the incident. In a statement released to media, it said: “During routine maritime activity on April 18 involving Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and Philippine security forces, their boat collided with a local fishing vessel. Despite rescue efforts, one local fisherman was killed, and another injured in the accident.”
The statement added: “We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the victim. We understand that appropriate authorities have begun an immediate investigation into the incident, and JSOTF-P is cooperating fully.”
The victims were bringing along fish when their pump boat was hit by a speedboat supposedly belonging to the American soldiers, according to Ismael. She added the US troops assisted the victims and brought them to Basilan’s capital, Isabela City, to seek medical treatment.
However, after sustaining head injuries due to the impact of the crash, Juhurin reportedly died even before he could be transported to a local hospital.
Ismael said the family of the victims has agreed to accept compensation for the accident.
But Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) spokesman Lt Col Randy Cabangbang said the Basilan Provincial Police will still investigate it.
Juhurin’s body was brought to the WestMinCom mosque on Thursday morning, April 19, for the traditional Islamic ceremonies.
Cabangbang also pointed out that both the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and the AFP have extended all forms of assistance to the victims’ family.
More than 600 US troops are stationed in different parts of Mindanao as part of their counter-terrorism campaign since 2001.
The JSOTF-P is a team of American troops based in Zamboanga City who receive orders from the US Pacific Command. Composed of US Marines, Air Force, Navy, Army, and Special Forces, the task force changes personnel about every 6 months.
The JSTOF-P was set up in 2003 from a smaller task force in Western Mindanao, tasked with a mission to carry out a long-term security assistance program with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. It started with a budget of US$78.65-M for that year alone.
The task force’s creation reflected at the time the new US strategy in fighting terrorism in various parts of the world. In the US Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review Report released in February 2006, a key decision made was to “strengthen forces to defeat terrorist networks.” This translated into increasing Special Operations Forces and deploying them in “joint and combined operations,” a shift from the “separate military service concepts of operation.”
The accident occurred at a time when close to 7,000 Filipino and American troops were holding joint Balikatan exercises in various parts in Luzon and Western Mindanao.
The US Embassy and WestMinCom however pointed out that the US troops involved in the accident “were not part of Balikatan 2012”.
The sea mishap in Basilan happened as cause-oriented groups opposing the Balikatan conducted protest actions from Davao City to different parts of Mindanao, culminating in Zamboanga City where most of the US troops are based. – Rappler.com