The soldiers were indicted by CHR for the crimes of murder, torture, illegal and arbitrary detention, violation of domicile, robbery, violation of the rights of pregnant women, libel, and incriminating innocent persons. The attack possessed the element of treachery, and by killing a fellow Army integree soldier in cold blood, the raiders may also have committed treason, a crime punishable by death under most military laws.
The CHR-IX’s investigation report of the massacre started, somewhat affectively, by saying:
“On February 4, 2008, at around 2:30 in the morning, while the rest of the Filipinos were asleep, a group of Philippine Navy’s SWAG & Philippine Army’s Light Reaction Company swooped down on the coastal barangay of Ipil, in the town of Maimbung, Sulu, and without warning started firing with guns and rifle grenades. The hapless civilians, numbering around 20 families, whose main source of living is small time fishing and ‘agar-agar’ farming, were awakened from their sleep and started to go down from their stilt houses and scampered to safety. After the indiscriminate attacked (sic), eight (8) civilians lay dead.”
The report went on to narrate how the Army integree, Corporal Ibnon Wahid, was hogtied and beaten after the soldiers barged into his house. Wahid had shouted in the darkness to the approaching soldiers that he is an Army man, but his house, where his wife and relatives were huddled, was nevertheless fired upon continuously. According to the sworn statement of his wife, Rowina, after beating him up with their guns the soldiers shot him dead. The soldiers hauled the wife and the cadaver of her husband along with the domestic animals of the community aboard a naval craft, where she saw four American soldiers aboard as well. They were brought to the Army Brigade camp in Jolo. In the afternoon, after several hours of forced detention, she was released along with the cadaver of her husband. She and relatives buried the integree in barangay Baulo.
One of the dead civilians was barangay councilman Ardisin Lahim, whose body was found by the residents in his house located near that of the Wahid’s. The rest of the casualties were shot at while they are attempting to flee on bancas. This shooting was described by the CHR thus:
“They immediately scampered below their adjacent houses and went down towards 2 wooden boats (bancas) to escape towards a nearby mangrove area. There were 17 persons among them, mostly women, children & elderly. While fleeing, one banca was fired upon and was hit thus making it immobile. Not far from the attack, they figured for a while that they were safe only to be fired at again by the same attacking soldiers from different direction (sic). With lighted flares, they saw soldiers directly firing at them. Instantly, 4 of their companions died, namely, 19 year-old Arnalyn Lahim, 4 years old Marissa Faylan; 9 years-old Resmi Lahim & 24 years-old Sulayman Akub. . . another banca was fired upon. . .they were shouting “Tama na! Mga civilians lang kami!” (“Stop firing! We are civilians!”) but the firing did not stop at all. . . 2 other companion of theirs were either hit or went overboard, and hours later, their 2 bodies were recovered, with gunshot wounds on them, they are 35 year-old Jamiri Kira Lahim, the father of Arnalyn, & a 3-month pregnant Narsiya Akub, wife of casualty Sulayman.”
Armed Forces officials have subsequently claimed that the raid was a legitimate encounter, that two soldiers were, in fact, killed in the incident. They said the soldiers were after Abu Sayyaf members suspected to be present in Ipil at the time of the raid.
But the CHR-IX investigation team found no evidence of terrorist presence in the community at the time. The resolution also pointed out that the soldiers employed overwhelming and unnecessary force, in violation of the military’s rules on engagement. By failing to formally investigate the incident due to the death of civilians, the CHR-IX also ruled that officers of the raiding units are liable as well for the crimes under the principle of command responsibility. The two soldiers may have been killed by friendly fire, the CHR further noted, due to the darkness and the formation of the attack.
CHR-IX Regional Director Atty. Jose Manuel Mamauag recently told PeaceWorks that the resolution has been submitted to the military ombudsman. To his knowledge, however, despite the incriminating evidence and circumstances of the killings, no action has been taken so far by the ombudsman.
Atty. Mamauag said his office can only investigate but not prosecute cases of human rights violations.