August 30, 2001, Inquirer News Service, Suspect in Irish priest's murder surrenders, by Edwin O. Fernandez, Charlie C. Señase and Grace Cantal-Albasin, Posted: 11:49 PM (Manila Time)
Suspects in MILF camp
PARANG, Maguindanao -- Irish priest Rufus Halley's angry reaction to an attempt to kidnap him provoked his fatal shooting, police investigators quoted one of his attackers as saying.
Police investigators said Abdulsamad Ibrahim, one of Halley’s seven attackers who surrendered to authorities in Balabagan town, identified Akto Sumagayan Daing, 35, as the one who shot and killed Halley on Tuesday.
Ibrahim was quoted as saying that he was to drive the truck to be used as getaway vehicle in the kidnapping.
He said Daing, who was carrying an Armalite rifle, shot Halley after the Columban missionary allegedly kicked Datu Ali, one of their companions.
"He refused to go with us. Ali grabbed him, but he kicked Ali," investigators quoted Ibrahim as saying.
"Apparently, Halley was arguing with the kidnappers after he was told at gunpoint that he was going to be kidnapped," said Senior Supt. Akmad Omar, police chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. "They were arguing in the Maranaw tongue."
Witnesses told the INQUIRER that the 57-year-old priest—fondly called "Father Popong" by his parishioners in Malabang, Lanao del Sur—ran when he saw Daing pointing an M-16 rifle at him. He was running toward a house to seek help when he was felled.
Halley was first shot in the buttocks, witnesses said. Then Daing came up to him and finished him off with four more shots.
Omar said police had received surrender feelers from two more of Halley’s attackers, including Daing, supposedly a son of a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
But Omar said that police were not banking on these feelers and that efforts were being made to arrest those still at large.
Still, police will find it difficult to arrest Halley’s attackers because they are holed up inside the MILF’s Camp Jabal Nur in Marogong town, Omar said.
"We will probably need the help of the MILF hierarchy in arresting (them)," he said, adding that police could not just enter the rebel camp to serve the warrants of arrest because of the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the MILF.
Eid Kabalu, spokesperson for the MILF, said it was willing to extend help for the immediate arrest of Halley’s attackers if they were indeed hiding in Camp Jabal Nur.
"But because we want everything to be official, what the police should do is make a formal request to our negotiating panel," Kabalu said.
However, the MILF doubts the veracity of the police information on the whereabouts of Halley’s attackers, he said.
Kabalu reiterated that "the suspects do not belong to the MILF."
"And if indeed they ran into one of our camps, they will be easily arrested there. Murderers have no place in our areas," he said.
On Thursday, police filed charges of murder and attempted kidnapping against Ibrahim, Daing, Ali, a certain Dimasangkay and three others before the state prosecutor's office in Marawi City.
Omar said he would have to inform Jesus Dureza, the government’s chief peace negotiator, about the filing of the case so the information could be relayed to the MILF.
In Cagayan de Oro City, members of the Bishops-Ulama Conference of the Philippines strongly condemned the killing of Halley.
A statement issued by the group, which was read by Bishop Antonio Ledesma of the prelature of Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur, said that Muslims and Christians valued human life and that killing a man of God like Halley constituted the utmost disrespect.
Prof. Mahid Mutilan, a member of the group, said they hoped that justice would be served.
"(Members of the religious) should not be subjected to such atrocities. They are here to help the people regardless of ethnic affiliation, among others," Mutilan said.
On Wednesday, President Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the police and military in the South to "intensify operations" against Halley’s attackers.
Agence France Presse quoted Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling, chief of the Armed Forces’ Southern Command, as saying that extra troops had set up positions around Malabang to stop the group from escaping.
"They should face the bar of justice. They have taken away the life of a peace-loving person, and a foreigner at that, who showed concern for civilians," Camiling said. With reports from Butch D. Enerio, PDI Mindanao Bureau; AFP