September 11, 2008 · Posted in: Governance, Image Galleries, In the News

‘Collateral damage’

AT mid-morning of September 8, the heavens dropped a bomb allegedly fired by a military aircraft on Datu Piang town, Maguindanao province. In an instant, five members of the Manunggal family of Sitio Dagading, Barangay Butilen, fell dead, even as one eventually perished while being treated in a hospital. Only two family members survived, if also similarly scarred. Two days hence, government’s promise to investigate the incident has yielded no results.

On September 9, Malacañang ordered the incident investigated after survivors and witnesses blamed the death of the Manunggals, all civilians, on government forces. A military aircraft had supposedly fired a bomb on the hapless residents of Datu Piang who had rushed to board bancas minutes earlier, to flee from military offensives in their village.

The Commission on Human Rights is also investigating the incident. Chair Leila de Lima has given the CHR fact-finding team seven days to come up with a report.

Yesterday, lawyer Zainudin Malang, executive director of the Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy, and a team from an international NGO, Non Violent Peace Force, visited the site. They spoke with Guimaludin Mandi Manunggal, the 13-year-old boy who survived the attack. Guimaludin himself sustained multiple shrapnel wounds on both his legs.

Attorney Malang checked out the site of the incident and interviewed the boy’s mother, Vilma, who survived as she happened to be on another boat. All in all, she lost husband Daya, 45 years old, and five of her six children, including the youngest Faidza, three years old, and a pregnant daughter, Aida, reportedly between 17 and 18.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has formally denied dropping even a single bomb, even as it admitted launching an air strike in Datu Piang town using machine-gun fire. This, the military said, happened while its reconnaissance plane was allegedly being fired upon by a group of armed men aboard 10 bancas.

AFP deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna has theorized that the civilians could have been caught in a crossfire following what he claimed to be a legitimate encounter between soldiers and rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In the military’s book, the Manunggals could just be considered pure and simple “collateral damage.”

Still and all, Attorney Malang’s interviews with other survivors and witnesses revealed more details of what happened that fateful day.

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Photographs taken by a member of a civil society group speak more than words. This, according to Attorney Malang and civilian sources, was what happened on September 8:

Members of the Manunggal family were on board two boats. They had just returned to their home in Barangay Tee, Municipality of Datu Piang, Maguindanao when they noticed that there was a lull in the military offensive and bombing.

However, once they saw planes and helicopters hovering again and bombs started to fall around their village, they hurriedly boarded the boats and made their way to the highway. Other residents in the village also boarded their own boats and thus a convoy of boats made their way to the safety of the highway. The Manunggal boats were at the rear of the convoy.

When they were around 200 meters away from the bank of the marsh right next to the highway, they were forced to stop to prevent the boat from sinking. Besides the seven passengers (the father and six of his children), the front of the boat was also loaded with rice. At that point, helicopters were seen hovering overhead. Soon thereafter, another aircraft (a plane) shot a rocket at the boat which exploded around a meter from the boat. It was that rocket which led to the immediate deaths of the father and four of his children. The fifth one died at the town hospital. Only one child survived.

The incident happened around 10 a.m. There were people on the highway who were witnessing the event as it was transpiring. Barangay officials and a member of the civilian militia tried to appeal to the military officials stationed along the bank to tell the air force men not to fire at the boats because on board were civilians trying to escape the military offensive.

However, moments later, an order was overheard on the radio “birahin na yan” (fire at them). The witnesses along the highway said that it was impossible for the pilots or the military men on the highway not to notice that the passengers of the boats were civilians. Most of the victims were young and small children. Besides, the boats were only 200 meters away from the highway when they were fired upon.

Both the survivors and civilian witnesses say that there were no boats in the vicinity of the victims that were firing at the military aircrafts. This is to belie the military’s claim that the Air Force plane was merely retaliating upon receiving fire from one of the boats in the convoy.

After we visited the mother to interview her, we proceeded to conduct an ocular inspection of the portion of the highway from which the place of incident could be clearly seen. However, we noticed the arrival of the military personnel at the house of the mother. When we inquired later on what the military men told her, she said they gave her P5,000 plus three bags of rice. A day earlier, they gave her P10,000.

Incidentally, the military initially claimed that it did not fire any ordnance or ammunition at the boats. But one of the attending physicians at the hospital where the survivor is confined said on TV tonight that his wounds are shrapnel wounds, meaning, these came from military ordnance.

4 Responses to ‘Collateral damage’


Ralph Guzman

September 14th, 2008 at 9:33 pm

I highly anticipate the results of the CHR’s investigation. As to whether a bomb had really been dropped, then the autopsy of the bodies should reveal what kind of weapon/s hit them.

Avatar » Tight Rope

September 15th, 2008 at 6:15 am

[…] reference, check out the PCIJ Blog, and […]


nosi balasi

September 16th, 2008 at 2:20 pm

as the post says: AFP deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna has theorized that the civilians could have been caught in a crossfire following what he claimed to be a legitimate encounter between soldiers and rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

this really shows how weak our military, a doubting careless statement from a high ranking military official…acceptable pa siguro kung Private Soldier lang ang nagsabi ng ganito…

Malacanang??? had asked this incident be investigated???!!!…’niwala kaya ang mga tao…yung senate investigation ayaw nilang umattend…at kung ano-anong EO ang pannangga nila…mga sundalo nila…paiimbestigahan…laki kaya utang na loob nila sa mga sundalo…nakuu, panibagong sarsuela na naman ito.

Imagine, si General Esperon, padala ng Malacanang sa Malaysia…para humungi ng tulong para pasukuin yung dalawang MILF commanders…aba eh parang sinabi nilang ang nagpo-pondo sa MILF ay ang Malaysia.


nosi balasi

September 16th, 2008 at 2:23 pm

oo nga ano??/ who’s funding MILF? is it the Philippine Govt?

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