Officers in Al-Barka fiasco face court martial

David Yu Santos
AFP's General Courts-Martial formed to hold arraignment and trial of 4 Army officers over bungled Basilan operation that killed 19 soldiers

AFP Chief, Lt Gen Jessie Dellosa

MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has taken a step closer to having 4 Army officers court-martialed over the operational blunders that led to the killing of 19 officers and men in Al-Barka, a known territory of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf.

In a statement on Sunday, April 29, the AFP said General Jessie Dellosa has approved the composition of the General Courts-Martial (GCM) that will try and hear the Al-Barka case, which stemmed from the October 2011 carnage.

The decision paves the way to set a date for the accused officers, to face a host of charges, including supposedly ordering the conduct of offensive operations against lawless elements without seeking proper approval from the military hierarchy.

Brig. Gen. Teodoro Cirilo Torralba III, currently the Military Adviser of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Processs (OPAPP), has been designated to preside the court martial proceedings.

The four Army officers who will hear arraignment are the following:

  • Col Alexander Macario, former Commander of Special Operations Task Force-Basilan

  • Col Amikandra Undug, former Regiment Commander of the Special Forces Regiment (Airborne)

  • Lt Col Leonardo Peña, former Commanding Officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion

  • Lt Col Orlando Edralin, former Commandant of the Special Forces School, SOCOM

Based on initial AFP pronouncements, half of the 41 Army Special Forces soldiers who battled rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan last October 18, 2011, were first timers in the area, having been plucked out of their scuba-diving training program.

The encounter resulted to the death of 19 soldiers and 6 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The soldiers were tasked to hunt down MILF leader Dan Asnawi who was implicated in another ambush in Al-Barka in 2007. That other ambush killed 14 soldiers, most of whom were mutilated and beheaded.

Days after the bloody clash, then Western Mindanao Command chief, Lt Gen Raymundo Ferrer told reporters that he was not informed of the operation and sought an investigation of the troops’ immediate superiors.

Among the Articles of War cited against the accused officers are:

  • Article 84 (Willful or Negligent Loss, Damage or Wrongful Disposition)

  • Article 96 (Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentleman)

  • Article 97 (Disorders and Neglects to the Prejudice of Good Order and Military Discipline

“Brig Gen (Gilberto Jose) Roa (Judge Advocate General) reviewed that all charges and specifications against the respondent AFP officers should be referred for trial by GCM where all of their respective defenses could properly be ventilated in a full-blown trial,” the AFP statement said.

The investigations have also found reasonable grounds to charge the officers “due to the existence of a prima facie evidence against the respondents.”

Almost similar to civilian court proceedings, the accused officers will go through arraignment, motion hearings and trial, according to the statement. –

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