DAVAO CITY, Philippines – He’s hogtied, his face kissing the ground. In a few seconds, about 18 armed men around him – all wearing military uniforms – take turns kicking him and stepping on his head as he lay helpless at the back of a 2-story house.
For 4 minutes and 8 seconds, the video rolls. It ends with alleged soldiers rapidly firing their M16s at the hapless man after they drag him into the field. At some point, we hear a man shout: “Hoy! Tama na! Tama na yan!” (That’s enough! That’s enough!). But another continues to fire his weapon, followed by the rest who empty their magazines in succession, killing the man.
At least 109 gunshots are heard throughout the 4 minutes and 8 seconds.
Posted on Facebook on June 20, 2014 by a certain Abu Maidan, the video has triggered an investigation by the Armed Forces of the Philippines into the alleged involvement of its men in the gruesome killing.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) told Rappler it is done with its own probe, claiming that the video captured an incident on June 10, 2014 when Army troops raided a suspected safe house of alleged top terrorist Abdul Basit Usman in Barangay Libutan, Mamasapano town, Maguindanao. The man who was summarily executed, based on the video, was Muslimin Talib, the uncle of Usman’s wife, according to MILF spokesman Von Al Haq.
Military officers, however, told Rappler that the video could have been taken years ago – in 2008 or 2009 – and that it was not the first time it was posted.
Former Armed Forces chief of staff retired General Emmanuel Bautista saw the video on July 7 and immediately ordered an investigation. The unfinished probe has yet to determine if the men who took part in the shooting are soldiers. (READ: AFP probes ‘killing’ video)
Operation vs terrorist
The June 10, 2014 incident that the MILF was referring to was a joint operation of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Battalion and the 45th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Libutan, Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that led to an encounter with Usman’s followers and alleged members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Brigadier General Edmundo Pangilinan, commanding general of the Army’s 6th infantry division which has overall supervision over these two battalions, told media on June 11 that the rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades at the soldiers. The troops however managed to fight back, killing two rebels in the gun battle that began at 5:40 am and ended at 7:30 am.
Pangilinan said Usman was wounded in the fight.
Later, soldiers managed to locate the alleged hideout and “bomb facility” of Usman and arrested 4 women, including his wife, the military added. The military submitted to headquarters photos of seized bomb paraphernalia, weapons and other rebel materials. The military, however, refused to say where they detained the 4.
This was a huge operation for the military, because Usman, known as a bomb maker and identified with the regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah, has been the subject of intense manhunt both by the Philippine and US governments. Usman was charged in court for the bombing of a mall in General Santos City in 2002, which killed 15 and injured at least 63. The US government put up a $1-million reward for any information leading to his capture.
Military, MILF investigations
The MILF, which interviewed barangay residents and its own troops based in the area after it saw the video, said Talib was executed in cold blood by soldiers during their raid of Usman’s alleged safe house – as caught on the video.
The man who posted the video on Facebook claimed he is from the BIFF, which broke away from the MILF and is accused by the military of coddling Usman and other terrorists.
Rappler asked him via Facebook email where he got the video. “Sa sundalo lang din galing ‘yan. Basta sundalo [ang] may kagagawan nyan. Isinikreto lang nila pero may nagbigay sa amin. Oo, sundalo ang nagbigay. Kakampi din namin.” (The video came from a soldier. Soldiers were behind it [summary execution]. They secretly took a video, but they also gave it to us. A soldier gave it to us. He’s our ally.) He did not say when the video was taken.
Military intelligence has been ordered to trace the source of the video, according to the same officer. When we asked some military commanders based in central Mindanao, however, they downplayed the video, describing it as BIFF propaganda.
The MILF, which has signed a peace agreement with the Aquino government, said it has submitted its initial findings to the joint Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities, a body composed of government officials and the MILF tasked to monitor ceasefire and human rights violations in the area.
“It was clearly an overkill. Regardless if he is a combatant or a civilian, he is still a human being,” Al-Haq said.
The MILF’s involvement in the probe is crucial, since the victim shown in the video was reportedly associated with the rival BIFF, which has been critical of the MILF’s decision to talk peace with the Aquino government. MILF troops, in fact, have in the past helped the military in running after its rogue members from the BIFF.
The video shows the armed men and their victim at the back of a house in a field. The sound of a truck engine is heard. Then we hear a voice, apparently from the man taking the video: “Pinatay na lang sana nila ‘yan kaysa pahirapan pa.” (They could just have killed him than made him suffer).
After the kicking and the shoving, a man in a blue shirt wearing a baseball cap and shorts approaches the hogtied victim. The man in blue later kicks the hogtied man in the face.
An M16 wielding man with a black bandana walks over, laughing. At this point, we hear the voice of the apparent video taker: “Nakikita n’yo po ay isang kasapi ng (unintelligible)-LF na nahuli ng pwersang military.” (What you’re seeing now is a member of….who was arrested by the military.)
After a few seconds, an armed man unties the victim while another drags him by the leg. A third grabs the man – still conscious at this point – by his collar and drags him to a nearby field.
That’s when the successive shooting begins.
Obstacles to peace
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama said they would help seek justice for the victim most especially if the family asks for their assistance.
For several decades, the Philippine military has had to battle accusations of human right violations. After the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, the soldiers were made to undergo human rights training. Human rights has since become part of the military curriculum.
But problems persist in the battlefield, according to various human rights groups.
The peace agreement signed by the Aquino government and the MILF is meant to pave the way for lasting peace especially in MILF-controlled areas in central Mindanao, but this has not been easy given the presence of the BIFF, the recruitment by international terrorists of members, and the continued presence of factors that fuel rebellion – poverty and government abuses. – Rappler.com