August 11, 2001, Inquirer, New Basilan probe ordered, by Donna S. Cueto and Cynthia A. Borgueta, Inquirer News Service, PDI Visayas Bureau,
Posted: 11:36 PM (Manila Time)
PRESIDENT Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered "another review" of the allegations made by Basilan Catholic priest Fr. Cirilo Nacorda that at least five military officers had connived with the Abu Sayyaf bandit group.
Presidential spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao said Ms Macapagal ordered the review "in the interest of transparency," this time focusing on evidence the priest claims to have on the supposed connivance.
The military has denied Nacorda's allegations, after an investigation conducted by the Office of the Inspector General.
"Now, in the interest of transparency, the President wants another review, another investigation specifically directed at whatever alleged evidence Father Nacorda has," Tiglao said yesterday in a press briefing.
Nacorda has said he has "strong and hard evidence" to back up his allegations that Gen. Romeo Dominguez and four other military officers had allowed the cornered Abu Sayyaf to escape for a fee.
Dominguez was commander of the Army's 1st Tabak Division that was at the forefront of the offensive against the kidnap group.
Nacorda said he was collecting sworn statements from people who would testify that certain military officials had allowed the Abu Sayyaf to escape from a surrounded hospital compound in Lamitan, Basilan, on June 2.
Tiglao said no less than Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes has described the inspector general's investigation as "very meticulous."
In Tacloban City, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Diomedio Villanueva told the INQUIRER the AFP found no basis for Nacorda's charges.
"The inquiry was done. There was (no evidence to prove) they allowed the hostage takers to escape," Villanueva said.
Villanueva was in Tacloban yesterday on his way to Oras, Eastern Samar to visit military recruits in training.
Villanueva said the AFP investigating team learned that Nacorda would not talk to anyone for three days after he escaped from his Abu Sayyaf captors during the military siege of St. Peter's Church in Lamitan on June 2.
During those three days, Nacorda was "very silent" and "refused to talk to anyone who tried to engage him in conversation," Villanueva said.
He said it was only on June 6 that the priest started talking, "but not in his usual manner as he was talking endlessly."
He said he sent an investigating team to Basilan on June 9 after getting reports that Dominguez and four other officers had conspired with the bandits, allowing them to escape through the back gate of the hospital compound.
The other officers accused along with Dominguez were Col. Jovenal Narcise, then acting commander of the 103rd Army Brigade; Captains Hubert Acierto and Nicolas Quemado, both aides of Narcise, and Maj. Eliseo Campued, executive officer of the 18th Infantry Battalion.
Villanueva said the investigating team, which was composed of seven officers from Camp Aguinaldo, found no evidence to hold Dominguez and the other officers responsible for the escape of the Abu Sayyaf.
"So there was nothing to probe," Villanueva said.
At Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, AFP deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Roy Cimatu said the only link between the Armed Forces and the Abu Sayyaf is that of mortal enemies.
"Yes we have links with the Abu Sayyaf--we are mortal enemies. We have placed all our military might, all our forces (behind the effort) to destroy this Abu Sayyaf," Cimatu told the INQUIRER Saturday.
He said the AFP will cooperate fully with any investigating body that would look into the alleged collusion of military officers and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan.
"We have yet to receive the order to investigate (the AFP-Abu Sayyaf link). We will comply. We assure you we are going to conduct a very impartial investigation. We will continue to prove to you that the Abu Sayyaf is our mortal enemy," he said. With Tonette Orejas, Inquirer News Service, PDI Central Luzon Desk