‘MILF did not provoke aerial attack’


By Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:01:00 09/28/2008

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS CHAIR Leila de Lima said the initial CHR investigation into the deaths of six civilians in an aerial attack in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, on Sept. 8 showed the attack was not provoked by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

This contradicted the military’s claim that the MILF had fired at their plane, leading the pilot to fire back, killing the civilians, among them, two children and a pregnant teenager, in Barangay Tee, Datu Piang.

In a talk with reporters during the change of police command ceremonies in Camp Crame, De Lima said witnesses had told the CHR there was no exchange of gunfire between the military plane and the MILF.

“Witnesses have told us that they heard two loud explosions which were not preceded by any gunfire. So the fire (from the military plane) was not in retaliation of anything,” she said.

But De Lima stressed that this was just the result of an initial investigation which would need a “further probe.”

She also said their independent probe confirmed the deaths of the six civilians and that they had died due to bullet wounds. De Lima explained that they have yet to determine if the two loud explosions were caused by a rocket attack or high-caliber fire.

The military had said there was no way of knowing how the six had died because, according to Muslim tradition, the bodies were buried before sundown after death. It also claimed the MILF members were trying to escape on bancas with some civilians, probably their relatives, when the plane on reconnaissance patrol spotted them. The MILF members, the military said, fired at the plane.

No sanctions on pilot

Early this week, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano said no sanctions would be slapped on the military pilot who flew the plane since the plane was under hostile fire and had to fire back.

An Inquirer I-team report after the incident quoted 60-year-old Mandi Bangkong as saying explosions in and around Sitio Dagaring in Barangay Tee had sent many residents fleeing on bancas. He himself had herded his extended family and put them on three boats.

2 rockets fired

Mandi said he was about 100 meters behind the first boat when a Philippine Air Force plane appeared. “I saw this plane dive and head for my grandchildren and fire two rockets.”

Shrapnel killed five of his six grandchildren—two boys and three girls, including a pregnant 18-year-old. Four died instantly. Another succumbed to wounds in the hospital. Another grandson was seriously wounded. Their father, Daya Manunggal Mandi, disappeared in the water and was presumed to have died.

Photographs made available to the Inquirer showed the mortally wounded, including close-ups of flesh ripped apart.

The NDCC reported that the fighting that erupted in central Mindanao after a peace agreement between the government and the MILF collapsed has so far claimed 71 lives — all civilians except for a colonel and three soldiers.

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