Monday, January 14, 2013
14 Marines Killed; 10 Were Beheaded
July 12, 2007, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 14 Marines Killed; 10 Were Beheaded, by Julie Alipala, Christine Avendaño,
LAMITAN CITY [Philippines]-- They were returning to base in heavy rains after a fruitless search for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi when their trucks stalled in the mud. Then the firing began.
In a 10-hour gun battle that turned into a carnage, 14 Marines were killed -- 10 of them beheaded -- and nine others wounded in one of the most shocking military debacles in years in the country’s southern islands.
“They were surprised when bullets rained on them,” Brig. Gen. Ramiro Alivio told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, recounting Tuesday’s daylong clash between 50 badly outnumbered Marines and some 400 Abu Sayyaf bandits and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas in Albarka municipality (formerly Tipo-tipo) on Basilan island.
The commander of the 1st Marine Brigade based in Basilan province said several enemy combatants were also killed in the one-sided encounter.
A GMA Network television crew which covered the battle described their experience as hellish.
The network’s video footage of the fighting showed the Marines seeking cover behind their trucks and coconut trees, looking like they were not sure where the shooting was coming from.
The footage also showed soldiers trying to counterattack with a mortar but it would not fire.
Abu Sayyaf 'signature'
A senior military officer, who did not want to be quoted for lack of authority to speak to the media, said that it was the "signature" of the Abu Sayyaf to behead people.
"Only the Abu Sayyaf is into beheading people," the officer said in a phone interview.
Branded as a terrorist organization by foreign governments, the Abu Sayyaf has gained international notoriety for decapitating hostages, including American tourist Guillermo Sobero who was beheaded in 2001.
The officer said Tuesday’s ambush was likely a retaliation by the bandits for the death of two of their commanders in an encounter on July 5 with soldiers from the same 1st Marine Brigade.
MILF admits involvement
One of the Abu Sayyaf leaders reportedly killed in that incident was the son of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was shot in the mouth.
Late on Tuesday, the Marines initially reported suffering four dead with 10 others missing -- until the headless corpses turned up.
The MILF, with which the Arroyo administration has been engaged in off-and-on peace talks for years, admitted its troops were involved in the fighting in Barangay Ginanta but said they acted in self-defense.
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, said the military sent troops to Ginanta, a known MILF territory, without proper coordination.
Iqbal said the MILF forces were taken by surprise upon seeing the soldiers and opened fire.
Search for Bossi
Four MILF guerrillas were killed while seven others were wounded in the battle, he said.
Iqbal also admitted that MILF rebels scouring the area after the firefight recovered 11 headless bodies -- compared to Alivio's figure of 10 -- and turned these over to the authorities.
Iqbal could not explain why the soldiers were beheaded.
"I received the report that our troops beheaded seven Marines," Iqbal said. "We are investigating and determining the identities of those involved. We have an existing policy not to harm any captured enemy."
Alivio said the soldiers were part of a search-and-rescue effort for Fr. Bossi, 57, who was abducted in Payao town, Zamboanga Sibugay province, on June 10.
There has been no word on the whereabouts of the priest since he was taken by armed men after saying Sunday Mass.
Stuck in the mud
The Basilan fighting would seem to support, at least on surface, earlier reports that Bossi's captors might have already moved him out of Zamboanga Sibugay.
"They must be hiding something there," Alivio said, referring to the intensity of Tuesday's attack on the Marines.
On July 3, his abductors sent out photos of the kidnapped priest, which led the military to suspect he was now being hidden in Basilan.
Alivio said the Marine soldiers, who rode on three military trucks, were on their way back to their headquarters in Campo Uno here after an operation in connection with the Bossi kidnapping when they were ambushed.
"One of the three trucks got stuck in mud. It was then raining hard and that made the movement of the soldiers quite difficult," he said.
'We were outnumbered'
Alivio said the soldiers were moving ahead slowly when they were fired upon by about 400 gunmen, who he said belonged to the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf.
Alivio said the soldiers retaliated and the heavy firefight lasted for about 10 hours.
Alivio said the headless bodies "were (those of) the missing soldiers during the firefight."
“We were outnumbered, that’s the reason we suffered heavy casualties,” Alivio said.
Tuesday’s casualties were the most the military had suffered in a single encounter in recent years. In 2005, 12 soldiers were killed in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul town in Sulu province.
Marine officials in Manila said they still had no information on whether the MILF was responsible for the "treacherous" ambush.
Marines spokesperson Lt. Col. Ariel Caculitan blamed "lawless elements" and the Abu Sayyaf for the ambush.
"Definitely, there will be some actions and investigations as to what really happened Tuesday," Caculitan told reporters.
"If there was participation of some MILF members, then we would have to seek the intervention of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) considering that the government and the MILF are currently holding peace talks and we have a ceasefire," he said.
Acts of 'barbarism'
Told that MILF officials were blaming the military for not coordinating with them when they entered the MILF area, Caculitan said while the area might have been MILF, a lapse in coordination was "not a go-signal to consider attacking Marine troops."
He said it was possible that the firefight, which started at 10 a.m., lasted long because "other lawless groups" joined in, "considering blood relations and other connections in the community."
"It was very treacherous ... our vehicles were even torched," Caculitan said.
The Abu Sayyaf also provoked outrage and disgust from Islamic scholars and ordinary Filipinos when they beheaded seven workers in Jolo in April this year. Malacañang branded that incident "an act of barbarism."
In 2000, the same group of bandits beheaded two school teachers as a "birthday gift" to then President Joseph Estrada after the government rejected rebel demands in exchange for the release of hostages they were holding.
In June 2001, the Abu Sayyaf beheaded Sobero as an "Independence Day gift" to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
There have been a number of low points in the history of military efforts to stamp out the Abu Sayyaf as well as the communist rebels.
In May 2000, Abu Sayyaf bandits killed 13 soldiers in Basilan's Lantawan town, mutilating some of the corpses.
In August 2000, the military suffered one of the biggest losses in the war against insurgents when communist New People's Army rebels killed 17 soldiers in fighting in Himamaylan town in Negros Occidental province.
In November 2001, NPA guerrillas ambushed an Army unit in Compostela Valley province, killing 18 soldiers.
In February 2005, Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas killed 13 Marines in an ambush in Patikul, Sulu. With reports from PDI Research, Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao, and Reuters