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Marine chief: 2 boards to probe bloody Basilan clashes

September 4, 2007 3:54pm

Two Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) boards will investigate the circumstances surrounding the firefights in Al-Barkah and Unkaya Pukan towns in the island-province of Basilan that resulted in the death of a total of 29 Marines, including five young officers.

Major-General Ben Dolorfino, PMC commandant, said the first Marine board of inquiry headed by PMC chief of staff Colonel Eugenio Ecarma will start its probe on the July 10 ambush in Al-Barkah.

Dolorfino pointed out that the first board of inquiry was organized during time of his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga, who was promoted to head the military’s Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City.

“This will be followed by another board, this time to look into the August 18 incident…The two boards of inquiry will look into the recent encounters. The primary consideration here is we will learn from our experiences," he said.

When asked if the investigations were prompted by the high casualties suffered by the Marines, Dolorfino said: “That is one of the things we are looking into…(The objective is) to look into the encounter."

Last July 10, elements of the 1st Marine Brigade were on their way back to their base from a fruitless search in Al-Barkah town for then abducted Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi when they were attacked by hundreds of gunmen.

The seven-hour clash resulted in the death of 14 Marines, 10 of whom were beheaded and mutilated.

The military initially blamed Abu Sayyaf bandits for the attack but the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is negotiating a peace accord with the government, later owned up to the attack, saying the Marines encroached into their territory.

The government still blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the beheadings, with which the MILF vehemently denied involvement.

The second Marine board of inquiry that will look into the August 18 assault against an Abu Sayyaf camp in Unkaya Pukan town that left 15 Marines, including five lieutenants, dead.

All the casualties in that clash were trainees of the PMC’s Force Reconnaissance class 13 who were on a “test mission", or a live engagement that they are required to take part in before they are considered to have graduated from the elite unit's training. The slain Marines were part of the operation to go after Abu Sayyaf bandits following the July 10 clash.

The military said that it killed more than 40 Abu Sayyaf bandits in the encounter but it has recovered only seven bodies, including those of the brothers Furuji and Umair Indama, leaders of the band linked to the beheadings in the earlier clash. -GMANews.TV