The seven young men earlier reported to have been killed in a military encounter with a bandits’ group in Patikul, Sulu, could have actually died of nerve gas suffocation, a resident helping seek justice for the victims’ families said on Thursday.
Dr. Raden Ikbala of the Integrated Provincial Health Office in Sulu said the victims’ bodies bore no gunshot wounds, and that this raised speculations that they were tortured and forcibly suffocated with something soaked into a Sarin nerve gas.
Ikbala, founder of the BassaKao (Read) Foundation, said the victims, whose age ranged 17-22, had sought permission from the 55th Infantry Battalion to harvest from fruit trees owned by their families in Sitio Bato, Barangay Kabuntakas, Patikul, near Jolo, Sulu last Friday.
Col. Gerry Besana, public affairs officer of the Western Mindanao Command, also said on Friday that seven Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed and that six others were wounded, including their leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan.
“Walang klarong putok sa ulo [There’s no visible gunshot wound in the head]. Each of the victims bore no gunshot in the body,” Ikbala said of the bodies of the seven young men.
Earlier, reports said the bodies of the victims, which were recovered the following morning at the headquarters of the Joint Task Force Sulu in Jolo, Sulu, “were riddled with bullets.”
Ikbala, however, said that no technical tests had yet been conducted to conclude that the victims were forced to smell the deadly Sarin nerve gas, or were injected with any deadly substance that might have caused their death.
But he said that residents and the victims’ families are still puzzled as how they died or were actually killed.
“Were they fed and forcibly made to swallow thorns of durian peels or were overfed with seeds of another fruit that could have possibly stopped their breathing?” Ikbala asked.
“Sarin is a nerve gas which victims of torture are forcibly made to smell or are suffocated with to cause instant death. It can also be mixed into a vial of medicine for a liquid injection,” Ikbala said.
Ikbala noted that the dead bodies in another photo of Sarin-poisoning victims had strong similarities with those of the young Tausug victims, who are now collectively known there as the “Patikul 7.”
Besana said a legitimate encounter took place between the Task Group Panther under Lt. Col. Samuel Yunque and Capt. Michael Asistores of the Scout Rangers and more than 100 Abu Sayyaf under Radulan Sahiron on Friday around 1:30 pm.
Their relatives said that on Sept. 14 at 9 a.m., the seven victims were allowed by the 55th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Issan to harvest fruits in Sitio Tubig Bato in Barangay Kabuntakas in Patikul.
But along the way, scout rangers reportedly from the 32nd Infantry Battalion allegedly “arrested them at 11:00 a.m.,” a relative of two of the victims said.
As this developed, the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, a Muslim think tank based at the University of the Philippines, has called for an investigation into the deaths of the seven young men in Sulu and the recent bombings in several parts of Mindanao.
The PCID urged the Commission on Human Rights, the Secretary of National Defense, and the Armed Forces Chief of Staff to form a committee that would look into the incidents.
PCID also asked President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to review the current implementation of Martial law in Mindanao and investigate reported human rights violations not just in Sulu but in other parts of Mindanao.
PCID said the government and stakeholders should act proactively now and establish a national plan that addresses violent extremism, bearing in mind potential problems with the implementation of martial law.
Information indicate that the ISIS intends to form a big group composed of remnants of the Maute Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a break-away group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) while taking advantage of situations like the Sulu killings.
PCID also proposed a gathering of stakeholders with the AFP-SND, to create a plan that aims to further improve coordination and relationships of assigned troops in the region and those from the religious and the communities.
Findings show that most deaths in Mindanao are caused by several factors, including the absence of coordination by the military with community leaders, miscommunication or lack of information from AFP units operating in the area.
Last Saturday, the AFP reported the deaths of seven young men in Sulu. Based on reports, the AFP tagged these teenagers as “terrorists” which run counter with testimonies of members of the community.
Information gathered show that the youngsters were evacuees from a community in Patikul who fled the area due to intense military operation against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).