AFP accountable for deaths of baby, Bayan Muna leader in Basilan

“Sorry doesn’t cut it. The soldiers of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) involved in the killing of a 1-year old baby girl, Moro leader Hadji Billamin Hassan and Nuruddin Musaddul Muhlis should be prosecuted and punished. Firing on and killing of civilians in the course of the so-called “crossfire” is a heinous crime under international humanitarian law and they should be accountable,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, in reaction to the statement of Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., WestMinCom commander, on the killing of the two children, in the course of the military operations against so-called Abu Sayyaf in Tabuan Lasa, Basilan on March 8, 2017. 

Palabay said that, “for years, the military and State security forces have been peddling the big lie of crossfires, encounters and more recently ‘nanlaban’ suspects, to justify the targeted and indiscriminate killing of civilians, including children and minors. For years, the people have seen through their lies.”

Karapatan said the baby is the first child killed under the Duterte regime, in the implementation of the counter-insurgency program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). During the Aquino administration, there were 31 minors and children killed and under Arroyo, there were 77 children and minors who were victims of killings by the AFP. In almost all of the cases, the minors were victims of indiscriminate firing in the course of AFP operations in communities, while some were targeted killings.

On March 8, 2017, at around 4:30 am, after the pre-dawn prayer for Muslims, a composite team of the CIDG, PNP, and AFP’s WestMinCom raided and fired at residents, without any warning, in Brgy. Tum-os, Tabuan Lasa, Basilan, while reportedly in pursuit of Abu Sayyaf (ASG) members. The team fired at three houses, targeting the house of Hadji Billamin Hassan, 59, former coordinator of Bayan Muna in Basilan and a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who advocated for peace and worked for the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA). During the incident, two children were hit by bullets from the military, as there were no shots fired from the houses of residents. 

“Misha,” a 1-year old baby, was hit by a bullet in her head through her right ear, which caused her instantaneous death. One more child, 11-year-old “Dani,” sustained a gunshot wound in his stomach and was subsequently brought to a hospital in Isabela City. Another resident, Nuruddin Musaddul Muhlis, 33, was also killed while he was sleeping. 

According to Suara Bangsamoro, Hadji Billamin Hassan was dragged toward the dock, hands tied behind his back. In the afternoon, relatives found his dead body in the military detachment in Brgy. Tabuk, Isabela City; Hassan sustained three gunshot wounds. The police and the military later claimed that four bandits were killed. “We witness again the weaving of fictitious tales by the military. The recent spate of killings and rights abuses show, as clear as daylight, that it is not the people whom State forces serve. Their deceitful justifications are but sorry excuses to escape accountability,” Palabay said.

Hassan was a Bayan Muna coordinator in Basilan, a member since 2001. He is not an Abu Sayyaf leader as wrongly tagged by the AFP. His name is being linked to the ASG because of his role in exposing the collusion of the ASG and AFP in their kidnap-for-ransom operations. His organization, Kapatot, which translates to ‘human rights’ in Yakan language, has partnered with human rights organizations such as Karapatan and Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) in documenting rights abuses during the military crackdown in Basilan in 2001, when numerous Moro civilians were killed and illegally arrested. Hassan’s family, along with the relatives of other victims, lodged a complaint in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on March 14, 2017.

“For years too, the tagging of progressives or civilians as terrorists or communists has been consistently used by State security forces throughout regimes to justify the killing of civilians. Such is the circumstance behind the killing of Hadji Billamin Hassan. We are in rage given the recent spate of fascist attacks against the people, and even more so because of the absurd lies peddled by the police and the military to justify these violations,” Palabay added.

“When the military and the police single-handedly claim their operations as legitimate and deaths as mere collateral, then there can be no denying the fascism and repression that the government itself inflicts. Karapatan expresses its utmost condemnation of the incident. We call for an end to the continuing fascist attacks of the Duterte regime against the Filipino people through its counter-insurgency program,” Palabay concluded.

 

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