MANILA — When I received text messages from Jolo about the news that Ustadz Habier Malik of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had “held hostage” a government peace executive and Major General Benjamin Dolorfino of the Marines, I felt afraid for the people of Sulu.

For weeks now, I have been a constant visitor of Sulu. I have visited members and supporters of the Suara Bangsamoro party-list organization and told them what they have been waiting for years to hear — that despite our loss in the 2004 elections, Suara Bangsamoro will again run in this years elections.

In my visits, I observed that while President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon had been receiving congratulations from US President George Bush for the death of Abu Sayyaf leaders Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Solaiman, the people of Sulu were indifferent about the issue. I got the same reactions from the people of Basilan.

But when on Jan. 18, the Marines in Jolo reported that they had killed nine Abu Sayyaf men in an encounter in Timpuuk, Patikul town, many Joloanos were angered by the report. According to the families of those who were slain, they were not Abu Sayyaf but card-bearing members and a commander of the Moro National Liberation Front who were visiting their families in a village very near the Bonbon village, the main camp of the Marines Landing Team 9 in Sulu.

In our interviews with the family, we learned that a 12-year old-kid was shot. Rodimar Julali was merely accompanying his father in a Tamaraw jeepney going to the city to report an incident about the killing of their comrades in Timpuuk. A 90-year-old man, Sarail Jaynatul, was also among the casualties.

This sparked anger from the Tausugs, and even merited an investigation from a joint monitoring group of the GRP (government of the Republic of the Philippines) and MNLF for a week. While investigations were going on and protest from organizations reached the military and the media, the Philippine Marines refused to admit their mistakes and continued to refer to those killed as Abu Sayyaf members.

On Feb. 1, both the GRP and the MNLF presented their reports of what really happened in Patikul on Jan. 18. The next day, the report was also submitted to Ustadz Habier Malik, chairman of the MNLF in Panamao, Sulu, where Camp Bitanag is situated.

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