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Gatchalian saddened over canceled funeral honors for 18 soldiers slain in Basilan

Photo by Associated Press

Nationalist Peoples Coalition (NPC) senatorial bet Win Gatchalian today questioned the Western Mindanao Command’s decision to scrap the funeral donors for the 18 Army soldiers who were killed in an ambush in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan Saturday by members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group.

“I share the dismay of the families and comrade-in-arms of the 18 slain Army soldiers who were denied the funeral honors before their remains were sent to their respective homes,” said Gatchalian.

The Armed Forces’s Wesmincom decided on Sunday to cancel the public viewing of the Pacquiao-Bradley fight at the camp gym so it could be used for the funeral honor and Mass vigil for the 18 fallen soldiers, but that was also canceled.

A Philippine Star report said there was an order from the Department of National Defense and from higher headquarters to scrap the funeral honors and to instead to send the remains of the fallen troopers to their respective places of origin.

The same Philippine Star report said soldiers from the Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion were reportedly on the way to a mission against a high-value target in Tipo-Tipo town when they were ambushed by more than 100 Abu Sayyaf fighters. Eighteen soldiers died in the encounter and more than 50 were wounded.

Rappler identified the high-value target as Isnilon Hapilon who carries a reward of up to $5 million from the US Rewards for Justice Program. He was indicted in the District of Columbia for “terrorist acts against United States nationals and other foreign nationals.”

On January 4, 2016, Hapilon took his commitment to ISIS a step further, uniting Filipinos and Malaysians in 4 “battalions” in the Philippines. They formed a shura or leadership council and named Hapilon their leader.

Gatchalian said he cannot help but notice some similarities in the massacre of 18 Army soldiers and wounding of 50 others in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan to the carnage of 44 Special Action Forces (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao more than a year ago.

“In the Mamasapano massacre, Malacanang initially refused to recognize the gallantry of the SAF 44 and the Department of Justice even filed administrative and criminal charges against several SAF officers and men before the Office of the Ombudsman,” said Gatchalian who also recalled that President Aquino did not even show up in the arrival donors for the SAF 44 at the Villamor Air Base.

“In the case of the Tipo-Tipo massacre, the Westmincom, apparently on orders from the Department of National Defense, scrapped the funeral honors for the 18 slain Army soldiers to the dismay of their families and fellow soldiers,” said Gatchalian.

Except for the remains of Lt. Remegio Liceña, a platoon leader whose remains were transported to Luzon on a military cargo plane, the bodies of the soldiers were brought home in military trucks to which some soldiers quipped that “this is not how you treat fallen heroes.”

Gatchalian also pointed out that in both the Mamasapano and Tipo-Tipo massacre, the mission of the SAF and 44th IB is to neutralize high-value targets with rewards from the US government.

“In Mamasapano, there was Marwan who was killed and Basit Usman who was able to escape. In Tipo-Tipo, the target was Isnilon Hapilon who escaped while his son, Amah Hapilon, and a Moroccan national Mohammad Khattab were killed,” Gatchalian pointed out.

Armed Forces chief of staff General Hernando Irriberri said Khattab, the Moroccan, ”wanted to unify, organize all kidnap-for-ransom groups to be affiliated with an international terrorist organization,” which the AFP chief failed to specify.

Khattab, a bomb expert and jihadist, was one of the two foreign militants being hunted down in Basilan. His other companion Malaysian bomb expert Mohammad Najib Hussein alias Abu Anas was killed during a week-long offensive last December 15 in Al-Barka town.