GMA after Bicutan siege: Let us move on

- Paolo Romero () - March 18, 2005 - 12:00am
President Arroyo called on the nation yesterday to "move on" in the aftermath of a bloody jailbreak attempt and focus instead on generating jobs and improving the economy.

"Let us put that (Bicutan incident) behind us. Let us move on and concentrate on jobs, the economy. That is why I am here," Mrs. Arroyo told reporters in Zamboanga Sibugay.

"I’m not here for a military objective, I’m here to promote property rights and to promote jobs through agribusiness," she said in launching a four-day swing through Western Mindanao to distribute land titles to indigenous people and inspect various government projects.

The Philippine military criticized Muslims yesterday for giving a heroes’ burial to 22 inmates killed in a bloody jailbreak who were seen by the government as militants and bandits.

"They were not true Muslims, they were not true believers. That’s why Allah sent them to hell," military spokesman Lt. Col. Buenaventura Pascual told reporters, referring to those killed Tuesday in the breakout attempt at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.

The bullet-riddled bodies of the men, described by the government as members of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group, were buried in a mass grave at a Muslim cemetery in Taguig Wednesday.

Several hundred relatives and local Muslims joined the procession, angrily accusing guards of having tortured inmates at the Camp Bagong Diwa jail.

Muslim mourners said prominent Abu Sayyaf leaders Ghalib Andang, Alhamser Limbong and Nadjmi Sabdulla and 19 others were given a "martyrs’ burial" Wednesday.

Their bodies were wrapped in white cloth without cleaning the wounds they sustained in a shootout with police.

Limbong, also known as Commander Kosovo, was on trial for the firebombing of a passenger ferry in Manila Bay last year that left more than 100 people dead, and for the beheading of American hostage Guillermo Sobero in 2001.

Andang, or Commander Robot, and Sabdulla, known as Commander Global, were on trial for the kidnapping of a group of western tourists on the Malaysian island resort of Sipadan in 2000.

"How can you consider a martyr (somebody) who masterminded the killing of more than 100 innocent civilians in the SuperFerry bombing? How could you consider as a martyr Commander Robot who killed and raped hostages?" Pascual asked.

On Monday, several detainees grabbed weapons from their guards and killed three in an escape attempt.

The botched jailbreak led to a hostage-taking siege that was crushed Tuesday after hundreds of police stormed the institution, leaving 22 prisoners and one policeman dead.

The government has sent thousands of soldiers to Mindanao to counter any further threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf, which the US has linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network.
‘Unpardonable’ claims
Meanwhile, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita described as "unpardonable" the claim by officials of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) that a lack of resources and manpower led to the attempted jailbreak.

In a radio interview, Ermita, a retired general and former defense chief, said the BJMP guards at Bicutan who were disarmed by Abu Sayyaf detainees "didn’t know what they were doing."

"Having been from the military myself, my first reaction... is that this is unpardonable," Ermita said. "You cannot give any excuse. You have a duty to do."

He said if the BJMP personnel were properly trained, instructed and oriented, they would have known not to enter the prison cells with their firearms.

Ermita noted the Abu Sayyaf detainees studied the movements of guards and planned the jailbreak for several months. "They (the Abu Sayyaf) took advantage of the laxity of the guards," he said.
In her message on Wednesday night to the 15th National Convention of the Vice Mayors League of the Philippines (VMLP) read by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, Mrs. Arroyo urged local officials to join the fight against terrorism and criminality saying they impede economic growth.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza also called for vigilance as "our number one weapon against criminal elements and terrorists."

Mendoza also ordered Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) sectoral offices and attached agencies to increase security at all airports, seaports and railway and bus terminals nationwide to prevent terrorist attacks by the Abu Sayyaf following the deaths of its leaders in the Camp Bagong Diwa assault.

With "the volume of passengers expected to triple during the Holy Week, extra precautions should be undertaken," he said.

Office for Transportation Security (OTS) chief Undersecretary Cecilio Penilia issued an advisory on March 14 to all DOTC sectoral offices to implement tighter security measures at all transport facilities and vital installations.

The DOTC will implement "Oplan Kalakbay" from March 22 to 28 to ensure the safety, security and convenience of motorists and other travelers during the observance of Holy Week.

Mendoza has also ordered the DOTC Action Center to deploy field personnel and mobile patrols to strategic areas to ensure the smooth flow of traffic and ensure the security of passengers at all major seaports, airports, train stations and bus terminals.

He also ordered the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to prevent the overloading of passengers on inter-island vessels and to deploy sea marshals to these ships as added security against terrorist attacks. With reports from Sandy Araneta, AFP

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