Local authorities here have acknowledged that the rampant violation of human rights in Basilan, including the warrantless arrests of criminal suspects that eventually lead to their disappearance, could even overshadow the kidnappings done by the terrorist Abu Sayyaf.
ISABELA CITY, Philippines – Local authorities here have acknowledged that the rampant violation of human rights in Basilan, including the warrantless arrests of criminal suspects that eventually lead to their disappearance, could even overshadow the kidnappings done by the terrorist Abu Sayyaf.
Local officials say the uncoordinated and even warrantless arrests of criminal suspects by police and military agents from outside of Basilan has become one of the most frequent human rights violations by government men, that it prompted the creation of a Human Rights Monitoring Center here by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao government.
Commissioner Alikhan Abuat of the Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) said Basilan was chosen because “(it) is very special to us and there are lot of human rights cases here to attend to.”
“A lot of warrantless arrests took place here, mainly mistaken identities,” he said.
Edylynn Santiago, head of the sub-office of the RHRC for Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, said they have been documenting arrests by outsiders – meaning, government agents belonging to units outside of those deployed in Basilan.
Tahira Ismael, Basilan administrator, said based on the documented cases, the most frequent violation by state forces has been “illegal or warrantless arrest.”
“It’s like kidnapping already and the ones behind them are our own government forces, the police or military with the help of their assets,” she said.
Ismael revealed that many of those taken in were “innocent and poor civilians who are simple farmers, fishermen and drivers.”
In some cases, those picked up illegally disappeared, she said.
Ismael cited the case of 30-year-old Ben Yasser of Upper Mahayahay village in Isabela City as an example.
She said after being reportedly arrested by joint operatives of the military and police on May 23, Yasser’s location simply became unknown; to date, his family has not been able to determine where he has been brought to.
The family of fisherman Kudairit Abdulla, whom Ismael said, “was snatched from his own home in Lampinigan island in Isabela City by armed men using military speedboat last March 4” was more lucky though.
She said after more than a month of search, the family learned that Abdulla was brought to the government’s facility in Taguig – where Abu Sayyaf suspects were also being held.
“If we are to compare kidnapping and the manner by which state forces commit violation, it (the latter) is much more serious. In kidnapping, at least we know where the victims were possibly brought to and we know the captors are really bad people,” Ismael said.
She said even the local government was at a loss how to address these arrests because in all of the cases, the operating units failed to coordinate with their local counterparts.
“In the cases of some of the missing persons, no trace at all,” Ismael said.
Senior Supt Mario Dapilloza, Basilan police director, said the police would only learn much later that some people had been taken in.
“Those who are committing these are not from the local police forces or military units based here. Commonly, these are done by security forces outside Basilan and they operate without proper coordination,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said he was not aware of “warrantless arrests” or “kidnapping perpetrated by soldiers.”
He maintained that the military would carry out lawful procedures and make arrests covered by court-issued warrants.