U.S. Troops Sighted During Sulu Massacre
by Alexander Martin
Vol. VIII, No. 2, February 10-16, 2008
U.S. troops were present during the Feb. 4 assault by combined Army and
Navy elite forces on Barangay (village) Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu that killed
eight non-combatants, including an Army soldier on vacation. Worse, they
tolerated what had taken place.
Soldiers from the Army’s Light Reaction Company (LRC) – a unit composed of
Philippine soldiers who had received training from U.S. troops during the
RP-U.S. joint military exercises –and the Navy’s Special Weapons Group
(Swag) attacked Brgy. Ipil early morning, while most villagers were still
sleeping, on Feb. 4, said Concerned Citizens of Sulu convener and former
Jolo councilor Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie in an interview with Bulatlat.
Killed in the attack were Marisa Payian, 4; Wedme Lahim, 9; Alnalyn Lahim,
15; Sulayman Hakob, 17; Kirah Lahim, 45; Eldisim Lahim, 43; Narcia Abon,
24 – all civilians. Also killed was Pfc. Ibnul Wahid of the Army’s 6th
Infantry Division, who was then on vacation.
“Wahid’s hands were even tied behind his back,” Tulawie said, citing an
account by Sandrawina Wahid, the slain soldier’s wife. “He was forced to
lie face down on the ground and they stepped on his back. His wife ran
into their hut and back out, showing the soldiers his Army ID and bag,
begging them to not hurt him. But still, they shot him.”
One of the victims, Kirah Lahim, was even mutilated. “They took out his
eyes and cut off his fingers and ears,” Tulawie said.
Military officials have given varying explanations of the incident. One
explanation was that the non-combatants were killed in a firefight between
soldiers and “terrorists,” while another points to a “family feud” as
having triggered the killings.
One Army general said what happened on Feb. 4 was a “legitimate
encounter,” claiming that troops searching for kidnapped trader Rosalie
Lao clashed with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits and members of the
terrorist Jema’ah Islamiyah.
The military did not say whether Lao, who was kidnapped on Jan. 28 while
on the way home from her store, was being held in Sulu.
Maj. Gen. Ruben Rafael, commander of an anti-“terrorist” task force in
Sulu, said two soldiers and three bandits – including ASG leader Abu
Muktadil – were killed in the “encounter.”
“It was a legitimate encounter,” Rafael told media. “As far as we are
concerned, troops clashed with the Abu Sayyaf and Jema’ah Islamiyah. We
have recovered the bodies of Muktadil, but soldiers also found eight more
bodies in the area and we are trying to find out whether they were caught
in the crossfire or slain by terrorists.”
Tulawie, however, said this was not true.
“That’s a lie,” Tulawie said. “Most of these people (who were killed) are
just seaweed farmers. There is no ASG there. In the case of Wahid, they
killed their own fellow soldier.”
“They were quiet people who had no enemies,” Tulawie said of the victims.
Meanwhile, Maj. Eugene Batara, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines’ (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said authorities
are presently investigating reports that the killings were sparked by a
As the killings were taking place, there were U.S. troops nearby. Tulawie
said Sandrawina was taken into a Navy boat, where she saw four U.S.
“They were just nearby and they tolerated what was happening,” Tulawie
said. “There was only one who was heard shouting, ‘Hold your fire!’ but
that was all. They tolerated these human rights violations committed by
the soldiers they had trained.”
Westmincom chief Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga said there were no U.S. troops
involved in the operation.
“There was no direct involvement of the Americans,” Allaga said. “It is
Not the first time
Sulu Gov. Abdulsakur Tan said this was not the first time that U.S. troops
were reported to have taken part in Philippine military operations in Sulu.
With this, he corroborated what Tulawie had said in an earlier interview
When an encounter between the AFP and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)
broke out in Brgy. Buansa, Indanan, Sulu in early 2007, U.S. troops who
were a few kilometers away were seen running toward the direction of the
gunfire. They were carrying their guns.
Military spokespersons said the attack was brought about by reports that
members of the ASG were in the MNLF camp. The MNLF – with which the
Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) signed a Final Peace
Agreement in 1996 – has repeatedly denied that it coddles ASG members.
During that same period, U.S. troops were busy with a road construction
project in Brgy. Bato-Bato, Indanan. At that time, the area was the center
of Philippine military operations in Sulu.
These were gathered by Bulatlat in its interview with Tulawie in March
This, Tulawie said, is just part of a larger picture that has been
developing in Sulu since 2004.
“Military operations always take place not far from where U.S. troops
are,” said Tulawie. “The presence of U.S. troops has been visible in areas
where military operations have taken place.”
While Tulawie says there is yet no evidence that U.S. troops have actually
participated in combat operations, their visibility in areas where AFP
operations have been conducted raises questions on the real reasons behind
their presence in the country’s southernmost province.
U.S. military presence in Sulu
The presence of U.S. troops in Sulu started in 2004 and has been
continuous since then.
U.S. troops would have entered Sulu as early as February 2003. The AFP and
the U.S. Armed Forces had both announced that the Balikatan military
exercises for that year would be held in Sulu.
This provoked a wave of protest from the people of Sulu, who had not yet
forgotten what has come to be known as the Bud Dajo Massacre.
The Bud Dajo massacre, which took place in 1906, is described in some
history texts as the “First Battle of Bud Dajo.” It was an operation
against Moro fighters resisting the American occupation.
The description of the incident as a “battle,” however, is disputed
considering the sheer mismatch in firepower between U.S. forces and the
Moro resistance fighters. The 790 U.S. troops who assaulted Bud Dajo used
naval cannons against the 800-1,000 Moro resistance fighters who were
mostly armed only with melee weapons.
In the end, only six of the hundreds of Moro resistance fighters holding
Bud Dajo as a stronghold survived, while there were 15-20 casualties among
the U.S. troops.
The announcement in February 2003 that the year’s Balikatan military
exercises would be held in Sulu summoned bitter memories of the Bud Dajo
Massacre and led to protest actions where thousands of Sulu residents
The next year, however, U.S. troops came up with ingenious ways to find
their way into Sulu – coming in small groups and bringing relief goods.
This “neutralized” the residents’ resistance to their presence.
The U.S. troops in Sulu are
part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).
Based on several news items from the Philippine Information Agency (PIA),
the JSOTF-P are in Sulu to train the AFP’s Southern Command (Southcom) and
to conduct civic actions.
However, an article written by Command Sgt. Maj. William Eckert of the
JSOTF-P, “Defeating the Idea: Unconventional Warfare in Southern
Philippines,” hints that there is more to the task force’s work than
training AFP troops and embarking on “humanitarian actions.” Wrote Eckert:
“Working in close coordination with the U.S. Embassy, JSOTF-P uses Special
Forces, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations forces to conduct
deliberate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in very focused
areas, and based on collection plans, to perform tasks to prepare the
environment and obtain critical information requirements. The information
is used to determine the capabilities, intentions and activities of threat
groups that exist within the local population and to focus U.S. forces –
and the AFP – on providing security to the local populace. It is truly a
joint operation, in which Navy SEALs and SOF aviators work with their AFP
counterparts to enhance the AFP’s capacities.”
These U.S. troops have always been seen near the sites of Philippine
military operations in Sulu. The latest sighting was during the Feb. 4
attack on Brgy. Ipil, Maimbung where seven civilians and one Army soldier
on vacation were killed. Bulatlat
From the Privilege Speech
of Sulu Rep. Yusop H. Jikiri on February 6, 2008:
I call for a thorough investigation of what Sulu Provincial Governor
Abdusakur Tan called a “massacre” which General Rafael referred to a
Focusing on the latest mayhem in Barangay Ipil, Mr. Speaker, reports of
our men in the field indicated that eight innocent people were killed.
Some of them were, in fact, women, children, government officials and
military men. They are:
1. Marisa Failan – 4 years old;
2. Sulayman Akub – 17 years old;
3. Alnalyn Lahim – 15 years old;
4. Wedzme Lahim – 9 years old;
5. Jamin “Kirah” Lahim – 40 years old, father of Alnalyn and
6. Eldisin Lahim – 43 years
old, a barangay councilman of Ipil.
while still alive Eldisin’s fingers were cut and his eyeballs
with the aid of a bayonet.
7. Narcia Abud – 24 years old, 4 months pregnant; and
8. Ibnul Wahid – a MNLF integree assigned at the 6th Infantry Division
who was on R & R in his hometown in Ipil.
According to his wife, Wahid was reportedly hogtied first before he was
shot in front of her. The wife, in fact, showed the military uniform of
her husband, but the soldiers merely ignored the plea of Mrs. Wahid.
Later, Mrs. Wahid was taken by the soldiers to the rubber boat allegedly
driven by an American soldier.
According to sources, two soldiers died and five others wounded when they
swooped down on the village from a rubber boat at about 2:00 o’clock in
the morning. In addition, 6 houses were burned and a number of pump-boats
of lowly fishermen were intentionally destroyed.