At leastone American soldier died during the fierce fighting between Philippine government police commandos and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, witnesses said.
Jerome Succor Aba, spokesperson of Moro human rights group Suara Bangsamoro, said that they were able to interview a 40-year-old farmer in Brgy. Tukanalipao, Mamasapano. The witness said he saw at least one body of a”blue-eyed”, Caucasian soldier minutes after the deadly encounter that led to the deaths of at least 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Aba declined to reveal the name of the witness for security reasons.
“They (civilian residents of Brgy. Tukanalipao) were the first ones to arrive in one of the two areas where the encounters happened,” said Aba. The civilians arrived in the area after troops of the MILF withdrew to the Islamic Center in Sitio Inubog, Brgy. Pembalkan, Mamasapano, he added.
The farmer was even able to touch the nose of the dead soldier, Aba said. The farmer described to Aba the said soldier as “blue-eyed”.
The farmer, as well as other civilians who arrived in the area, also said he saw one particular helicopter, among others that shortly arrived in the area, hover over the bodies to carry “specific bodies,” he added.
Suara Bangsamoro said they were also able to gather testimonies of other witnesses who saw the bodies of what to them appeared to be American soldiers. The witnesses were not able to identify to which specific military units the bodies of supposed US troops belonged.
The Moro group’s revelation about US military’s direct involvement in the top secret operation that ostensibly targeted suspected terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir aka Marwan of Jemaah Islamiyah and Abdulbasit Usman of Abu Sayyaf came after reports of four Americans seen in Mamasapano in the aftermath of the clashes surfaced.
The US Embassy in Manila said that the American soldiers in Mamasapano were there to “assist in evacuating the dead and wounded” and were not directly involved in the operation, MindaNews.com has reported.
The 1987 Philippine Constitution and the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement forbid foreign military troops from engaging in direct military operations in the Philippines.
Suara Bangsamoro also revealed that at least five Moro individuals were killed during the operation in Mamasapano, hours before the actual encounter.
Aba said that the local government of Mamasapano said to him that at least five individuals died in a masjid (Islamic Center) in Sitio Inubog, Brgy. Tukanalipao. Aba related that some witnesses said the victims were praying and some were sleeping when the SAF fired upon them. They were shot on suspicion that Jemaah Islamiyah members were among them.
Three unidentified civilians were wounded, said Aba.
SAF commandos also reportedly fired upon the house of one Tots Panangulon, “on suspicion that terrorists were hiding there,” he said. Panangulon’s child, which Aba said was named Sarah, was killed, while he and his wife Samrah reportedly sustained gunshot injuries.
Suara also revealed a reported death of one Badrudin Langalan, a farmer, who was reportedly found hogtied and dead at the wooden bridge of Brgy. Tukanalipao.
“His body was riddled with bullets, his eyes gouged out. According to his wife, Sarah Lawani Langalan, his husband the victim passed through the bridge to go to Brgy. Tukanalipao to have his cellphone charged. The wife suspects that Langalan was chanced upon by SAF commandos during the encounter,” said Aba.
Aba also said that more than 1,500 civilian residents have already evacuated from Sitio Inubog, Brgy. Pembalkan and Brgy. Tukanalipao.
Suara called for a thorough investigation “to ferret out the reported human rights violations to shed light on the impact of the police operation on the civilians in the area. Civilians bore the brunt of the botched operations. They were made to suffer on suspicion that they were harboring terrorists.”
Both the Philippine government and MILF, which declared ceasefire and are in the process of concluding the peace process pending the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, vowed to investigate the incident.