Civilian deaths in police hands reach 13; justice looks elusive

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – Death toll on Muslim civilians killed in separate incidents reportedly involving police elements has reached at least 13 in Central Mindanao, even as grieving relatives continued to cry for justice amid uncertainty.

Eight (8) of the fatalities were Maguindanaon farmers massacred by suspected cops in Kabacan, North Cotabato; an Iranun motorcycle driver mauled to death in police detention in Barira, Maguindanao; a 69-year old Iranun sultan cum peace advocate shot dead in Barira also; and three boys gunned down in Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat. 

Shootout or rubout

Those fatalities in Lambayong town were teenagers identified as Horton Ansa Jr. and Arshad “Mokong” Ansa, both Maguinadanaon studying criminology; and Samanoden Ali, a Maranao student and close friend of the Ansas.

According to town police chief Jenahmeel Toñacao, the boys aboard a motorbike ignored search on the road along Barangay Didtaras in Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat and sped away past 1am Friday, Dec. 2, forcing cops to chase them until the trio’s motorbike crashed.

Maj. Toñacao claimed the trio possessed a shabu sachet and a pistol they used to shoot pursuing cops, prompting the lawmen to fire back. The boys were brought to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival, he added.

Civilian accounts, however, refuted the “shootout” version in social reports that went viral. A civilian eyewitness said the trio were sitting flat on the roadside unarmed and begging for their life when cops fired at them pointblank.

“Si Horton Ansa Jr. (ay) nagmakaawa at sinisigaw na ‘anak ako ng pulis’…Si Samanoden Ali (ay) nagmakaawa din na buhayin sila. Si Arshad Ansa (ay) may tama na yon sa likod (at) sinakal siya,” the witness was quoted as saying, adding that the gun and a shabu sachet were “planted” and the cops tortured the teenagers to death.

Horton Ansa Sr., a police patrolman assigned in Shariff Sayedona, Maguindanao, debunked the police claim that his son and two friends were armed and carrying an illegal drug.

He said his son and nephew Arshad were both studying criminology to become cops, pointing out that all the three boys had never been involved in any crime while living in Lambayong town.

“My son was very religious. He was serving as muazin (prayer congregation caller) in our mosque in Lambayong,” Ansa Sr. said in Filipino. 

In between sob, he reminded counterparts in Lambayong that they were supposed “to serve as protectors of the civilians, not as their tormentors.”

The Human Rights Commission of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) condemned the death of the teenagers, and dispatched a team to Lambayong for an in-depth inquiry on the incident.

Ansa Sr. and other kin and supporters appealed to higher authorities, including the President, the PNP hierarchy and Sultan Kudarat Governor Pax Ali Mangudadatu to look into the incident and help in the dispensation of justice.

In a statement posted online, the young Muslim governor said his office has started its own independent probe and caused the momentary relief of the cops involved pending result of the investigation. He assured a just result.  

Sultan’s fatal arrest

In early morning of Dec. 2, operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region BAR) region raided the house at Barangay Tugaig in Barira, Maguindanao of Abdullah Langco Oranto, 69, an Iranun sultan cum peace advocate, who got killed in the process.

A CIDG-BAR report to the media said the raiding team enforced a search warrant under Oplan Paglalansag Omega on four suspected Dawlah Islamiya extremist violent extremist group members named as Abdullah Langco Oranto, Abdulaziz Pendatu Oranto, Wahab Pandapatan Oranto, and Usop Oranto, a former Army soldier.

It said the four Orantos were suspected of aiding the combined guerillas of DI and Abu Sayyaf groups led by siblings Omar and Abdullah Maute and Isnilon Hapilon, respectively, who staged the bloody Marawi siege in 2017.

The search team did not find the three other Orantos, neutralizing only Abdullah while allegedly putting an armed resistance during the operation, a news report based on the CIDG information said.

The CIDG team claimed to have recovered a .45 caliber pistol and two M-16 rifles with ammunition, the report said.

In another news report, the wife and daughter of Abdullah vehemently refuted the CIDG claim, saying the lawmen did not have an arrest warrant and that the deceased sultanwas unarmed and forcibly dragged out of the house before shot dead.

They said the elderly victim was a reigning sultan and active in peace advocacy in Barira where he ran for mayor but lost in 2019.

The fatality was even involved in the government campaign for surrender of misguided violent militants, they pointed out with information that retired Army Brig. General Ernesto Aradanas and PNP Chief Cascolan were aware of such initiatives.

The wife claimed that the searching operatives carted away valuables including cash in piggy bank and jewellery her daughter hardly acquired when employed as a house worker abroad for years.

Relatives demanded justice in Abdullah’s death through an in-depth investigation that may clear his reputation as a reigning sultan of good standing in the community.

Fatal torture in police custody

On Sept. 25 this year, Iranun motorbike driver Johaire Mangco Dagalangit surrendered to a barangay chairman after a road mishap in Barira, Maguindanao that left a fellow Iranun child slightly injured that same day, relatives said.

Dagalangit’s brother Najer said the unnamed village official opted to surrender Jojaire to the Barira police station for his safety from possible harm by misguided relatives of the child.

The next day, Jojaire was found lifeless inside the police detention section with his body studded with bruises. This sparked mass protests against the Bariral police office that led to the “administrative relief” of the town police chief and his subordinates on duty that fateful day.   

Najer said the momentary relief of the cops was not enough for the death of his brother, adding that at least seven of the lawmen ought to be dismissed from service, prosecuted and convicted for brutality and grievous misconduct.

The Maguindanao provincial police office said it would conduct a thorough investigation. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also conducted a probe. But the results of the probes have since remained unknown.

Gruesome massacre

Eight Maguindanaon Muslim farmers driving separate motorbikes were shot dead on a road near a state university in Kabacan, North Cotabato on August 29, 2020.

The massacre had likewise sparked mass protests amid popular notion that the bonnet-wearing gunmen were retired and active police elements from nearby Carmen town.

According to civilian accounts, the hooded men, some of them in police uniforms, flagged down the victims, herded them to a roadside and peppered them with bullets from rifles and handguns.

One of the victims, before expiring at a hospital, reportedly confided to relatives that their attackers were cops. A security guard manning the gate of the nearby University of Southern Mindanao had reportedly corroborated the involvement of cops.

The CHR-XII office and its counterpart in the Bangsamoro region conducted investigations, even as seven members of the House of Representatives filed a resolution calling for a congressional probe due to the involvement of cops.

Relatives of the victims have remained waiting for the results of the investigations, including one initiated by higher police authorities.

‘mistaken retaliation’ 

There were speculations that the massacre could be a “mistaken retaliation” by cops, notably loyal subordinates of Police Major Joan Resurrecion, lady police chief of adjacent Carmen town, who was killed by motorcycles-riding armed robbers on Aug. 25 or four days before the carnage.

Published reports said Maj. Resurreccion and some subordinates aboard a patrol car responded to a flash report that armed men robbed and killed a money lender on the border of Carmen and Kabacan town minutes earlier.

A shootout ensued between the law enforcers and the armed robbers, leaving Maj. Resurrecion killed.

Resurrecion’s subordinates suspected the robbers as Moro residents of Kabacan town, and that they were enraged over seeing their lady official fatally shot repeatedly by the attackers, according to unconfirmed information. (AGM)

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