A tale of two brothers

Gigi Grande, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 22 2016 03:57 AM

One of the last photos of the Saliddin brothers taken before Moner's arrest. Moner is standing on the left, their mom is the woman in the middle, and Manar is on the right.

Dentist Manar Saliddin tends to patients in the strife-torn island of Basilan day in and day out, but all the while, his brother is on his mind.

The older of two siblings who were born and raised in Basilan, Manar has always looked out for Moner.

But Manar was helpless the day soldiers took Moner from their home one morning in July 2001.

Moner was accused of being a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group and charged along with several others for the kidnap of teachers in Tumahubong the year before.

'More than enough' jail time

Two kidnap victims told a court they saw Moner where captives were held.

But court transcripts also show two other kidnap victims insisted Moner was not among their captors.

"Walang kasalanan yung kapatid ko at marami pang iba. Sixteen years is more than enough para mag-suffer sila," Manar said of his brother who is detained at the Special Intensive Care Area of Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig.

Alleged Abu Sayyaf political detainees?

Curiously, Moner's name appears in the list of 336 political detainees compiled by Human Rights group KARAPATAN.

Submitted by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to the government peace panel in 2011, that list has since ballooned to 509.

The NDFP, which represents the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army in peace talks, will push for the release of all political prisoners when formal negotiations resume in July.

They include nineteen "peace consultants" covered by the JASIG or Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees; three senior citizens; five persons who are ill; and a mother who has been separated from her baby since giving birth a year and a half ago.

But apart from Moner, the government said 86 other persons charged in court for crimes committed by the Abu Sayyaf Group also appear in the list of political detainees.

The Abu Sayyaf Group is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U-S State Department.

'Pretext' for war on terrorism

Data provided by the Moro-Christian People's Alliance show nearly half of these persons were arrested in the last six months of 2001.

The MCPA said these men are ordinary civilians who were rounded up to set the stage for a massive deployment of US troops as part of joint training exercises in Basilan in 2002.

KARAPATAN Secretary General Tinay Palabay also said the series of arrests, which were made in Basilan, Sulu and Zamboanga, were meant to justify the Arroyo administration’s war on terrorism.

"May state of lawlessness, a pretext for the declaration of a war on terrorism. And after that, PresidentArroyo indeed declared a war on terrorism,” Palabay said. "On paper it looked like a military operation against terrorists, but it also became a pretext for the violation of rights of people in poor communities in Basilan."

All for the bounty

The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos also said some Moro detainees might have been arrested not for crimes, but for cash rewards.

"We've heard of the bounty system in place primarily from the US Department of State that has led to some illegal arrests to get the reward or bounty," said Commissioner Al Amin Julkipli. "That's also something that might make the arrest political."

Separate talks

But while sympathetic to their plight, NDFP spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili said he would prefer to exclude Moro detainees from the negotiating table.

"If we demand the release of political prisoners, we have to justify why they are political. We can't just say they were innocent, (because) then it becomes an issue of quality of justice. What crimes were they supposed to have perpetrated? Were they political or not?" Agcaoili asked.

The inclusion of alleged Abu Sayyaf members will need further deliberation, Agcaoili said.

Julkipli agrees. "(The problem of Moro detainees) might further complicate and lengthen what is already a very delicate conversation (with the left)," he said. "I'd like the Moro prisoners to have their own time, and we would like to appeal to the (incoming) President (Duterte) to consider a process that would enable them to be given the justice they deserve."

Grasping at straws?

Manar carries on with life in Basilan, never losing hope his brother would return home one day. But cynics wonder if Manar is grasping at straws.

After all, the man who commanded the Basilan Army at the time of Moner's arrest in 2001 was then Colonel Hermogenes Esperon, whose insights on the release of detainees will carry weight when he takes over as National Security Adviser of the Duterte administration.