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Still no court-martial for 4 Army officers

Despite the recommendations of an Army panel, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has yet to begin court-martial proceedings against four Army commanders in connection with the Oct. 18, 2011 deaths of 19 soldiers in an encounter with Muslim secessionist rebels in Al Barka, Basilan.

AFP Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Jessie Dellosa received the panel’s findings at the end of January but he has yet to act on it.

In a phone interview with reporters Wednesday, Lieutenant General Emmanuel Bautista, head of the Army, admitted that the pretrial panel had recommended the case for military trial.

The panel, led by deputy judge advocate general Lieutenant Colonel Liberato Ramos, found enough ground to try four senior officers for negligence and lapses that led to the death of 19 Special Forces troops and the serious injury of 14 others in an encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Al Barka last October 18.

The officers will be charged with “violation of Article of War 97 or conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline in conjunction with criminal negligence under Article 365 in the Revised Penal Code.”

Colonel Aminkadra Undog is the most senior of those implicated. He is the immediate former head of the Army Special Forces Regiment. Acknowledged for his successes in the field, Undog was decorated for his role in the 2003 capture of notorious Abu Sayyaf bandit leader Commander Robot (real name Galib Andang), who was killed two years later in a prison siege.

The others charged are Colonel Alexander Macario, former head of the Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) Basilan; Lieutenant Colonel Leo Pena, former head of the 4th Special Forces Battalion in charge of the troops deployed that fateful day; and Lieutenant Colonel Orlando Edralin, former commandant of the Special Forces Training School.

Most of the soldiers involved in the encounter had just finished a military scuba training course and were deployed in Basilan for the first time.

A ceasefire between the government and the MILF was in place at the time.

The MILF, which claimed to have lost five men in the eight-hour gun battle, had claimed their fighters raised their weapons because they were not informed about the military’s movements—said to be a police operation in the area.

Last month, the MILF announced it has suspended for three months its deputy commander in Basilan, Dan Laksaw Asnawi, and two other commanders it did identify for the Al Barka clash.

The MILF said it meted the suspension based on the findings of the Malaysia-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) that both the AFP and the MILF were at fault for not observing the ceasefire agreement.

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