August 28, 2001, Inquirer, Basilan governor linked to Abu Sayyaf-military payoff, by Rocky Nazareno, Julie Alipala-Inot, Hernan P. dela Cruz, and Allan A. Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao Bureau,
Posted: 0:01 AM (Manila Time)
AT LEAST two witnesses will testify in Manila that Basilan provincial governor Wahab Akbar was involved in a ransom payoff that may have allowed the Abu Sayyaf bandit group to escape a military cordon last June, according to Rep. Prospero Pichay, chair of the House of Representatives Committee on National Defense said Monday.
Pichay said he would present the witnesses this Tuesday when the committee resumes its hearings on allegations [of]collusion between military officers and the Abu Sayyaf, which has been holding 21 hostages, including two Americans and several Filipinos whom it abducted in May.
Pichay refused to give details of Akbar's supposed link with the bandits but said "the two witnesses will link (Akbar) to the alleged bribery" of military officers that let the Abu Sayyaf slip away from a hospital in Lamitan town on June 2.
Another congressman said inconsistencies in testimonies that some military officers gave the House committee made statements of parish priest Fr. Cirilo Nacorda and other witnesses from Lamitan more believable.
Nacorda and some local witnesses allege that Army general
"The statements of the witnesses of Fr. Nacorda have more weight. I'm inclined to believe the testimonies and statements of the civilians," Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (Surigao del Norte) told the INQUIRER.
Pichay said two questions that remain unanswered: Why were the soldiers deployed at the back of the Jose Torres Memorial Hospital on June 2, pulled out? And why were the Abu Sayyaf bandits, along with their captives, seen freely walking away shortly after troops were pulled out?
"We are. . .extending our invitation to Governor Akbar to come to the hearing," Pichay said.
The committee reportedly accepted during its closed-door executive session the affidavits of witnesses who claimed that Akbar and Lamitan mayor Inocente Ramos were inside the hospital when the bandits made good their escape in the afternoon of June 2.
Pichay has also summoned businessman Reghis Romero II and companion Maria Rhiza Santos Rodriguez, two of the hostages taken from a resort in Palawan province in May, to the congressional inquiry.
Romero and Rodriguez later said they escaped but Akbar has alleged the Abu Sayyaf released them after they paid millions of pesos in ransom.
Pichay said they are now trying to locate the black attaché case which contained the alleged ransom for Romero II and Rodriguez. He said this could be the missing link that could end the controversy.
A witness told the committee that the case was carried by the aide de camp of Brig. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, later identified as a Lt. Merioles. The witness, who spoke in Chavacano, said she saw the aide open the case.
"I saw his aide opened the black attaché case. I was at their back and I was shocked to see the bag full of 1,000-peso bills. "In fact, five pieces of (those) bills were given to Dr. (Julius Cesar) Aguila for our snacks," she said.
Aguila, the hospital administrator, admitted receiving 5,000 pesos as financial assistance from Dominguez but said he did not see a black attaché case when the money was handed to him.
The witness also recalled that after handing the white envelope containing 5,000 pesos, Dominguez and Col. Juvenal Narcise went into a makeshift conference room of the hospital for a meeting, and at around 2 p.m. she saw the two leave the hospital. When they returned, "they were already with the three released hostages—a man, a woman and a boy."
Romero and Rodriguez had escaped with nine-year-old RJ Recio were seen walking out in front of the St. Peter's Compound in the afternoon of June 2.
Governor Akbar has alleged that they paid a ransom of 27 million pesos. He said an informant reported the payment of the ransom to him.
Dominguez and Narcise said they could present a witness to testify that there was never a black attaché case: television reporter Doris Bigornia, who was then covering the Lamitan siege.
Dominguez stressed that his aide was carrying a camouflaged military commander’s bag containing several documents and an operational budget amounting to 66,000 pesos. He said the 5,000 pesos was taken from a brown six-inch-long wallet that was handed to the doctor.
Bigornia told the INQUIRER that she went to the Lamitan District Hospital at around 10 a.m. to interview the two military officers. "I saw them there, right after the firing at the other hospital. I saw Narcise embarking from a helicopter and carrying his camouflaged commander’s bag, not a black attaché case," Bigornia said.
The military expects Romero and Rodriguez to clear Dominguez of the charges of collusion. "Perhaps they could shed light and complement the statements of . . . (army general Romeo) Dominguez that no money has been paid to the military to allow them to escape," said military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan.
"I just hope all those who were summoned would come to ensure the objectivity of this proceeding. We want to find out the truth," Pichay said.
Among the inconsistencies observed by the committee was the reported pullout. Dominguez and Narcise, his ground commander, said there was no such order. But Capt. Ruben Guinolbay, 1st Scout Ranger Company commander, admitted that he called on his troops to regroup after they were ambushed.
Guinolbay's men were then deployed at the rear of the hospital compound.
Narcise also said that while at Campo Dos, he heard a burst of gunfire. "I heard (shots) about 12:30 midnight and we believe that this was the time the Abu Sayyaf entered the church and the hospital compound," he said.
Under questioning, however, Narcise said he received a radio message about the Abu Sayyaf raid at around 5:30 a.m. from Capt. Hubert Acierto.
While the hearings were going on over the weekend, at least seven persons including a soldier were killed in an ambush in Sumisip town, Basilan.
Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling said that aside from the ambush, a military encounter also ensued in the same town. "The firefight lasted for an hour and our troops composed …recovered 100 kilos of raw beef and 36 kilos of rice in the encounter site," Camiling told the INQUIRER.
Security was tightened in Pagadian City and the provinces of Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay, following reports that Abu Sabaya and his followers had sneaked in.
One intelligence report said that Sabaya and Adulsallam Akiddin, alias Commander Kiddie of the Special Operation Group of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), were sighted Thursday evening in one of the coastal suburbs of Pagadian City.
The same report said Sabaya and Kiddie boarded a maroon van and fled in an unknown direction.
Another report indicated that Sabaya and Kiddie were sighted in Barangays Mendir in Lapuyan town in Zamboanga del Sur, and in Bangkaw-Bangkaw, Naga in Zamboanga Sibugay.
Ajijul Adam Taradji, police chief of Zamboanga del Sur who also supervises Zamboanga Sibugay province, said he was still verifying the reports. With reports from Carlito Pablo, Andrea Echavez and Cynthia Balana
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