MILF LEADERS INDICTED FOR DAVAO WHARF BOMBING

Davao City, April 12, 2003   Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman 
Hashim Salamat and other key leaders of the separatist movement faced new 
criminal charges yesterday after they were included among the five suspects 
indicted for the bombing of Sasa wharf here which left 16 people dead and 
57 others wounded last April 2.

In filing the charges of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder 
with the city prosecutor's office yesterday, the Philippine National 
Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) said it 
included the MILF leaders for having overall command of two of the 
suspects, Esmael Mamalangkas and Totoh Esmael Akmad.

Both were reported to be guerrillas of the MILF who were arrested by joint 
police and military agents in Ma-guindanao last weekend.

Their arrest led to the capture of the other suspects  Tohami Bagundang, 
Jimmy Bulalao and Teng Idar.

The charges were apparently based on the admission made by Bagundang, who 
his lawyers claimed was only 15 years old.

Bagundang reportedly claimed he was "used" by Mamalangkas and Akmad to run 
an errand, which later turned out to be a bombing mission.

It was not clear, however, how Bagundang was utilized by the other suspects 
in carrying out the bomb attack.

One of the witnesses, Corazon Espera-Quirol, provided authorities the lead 
on the description of the suspects who ordered food from her shortly before 
the bomb exploded in her chicken barbecue stall.

Quirol, who was among those wounded in the blast, lost five members of her 
family, including her mother Pablita Espera, two nieces and two nephews.

City Prosecutor Raul Bendigo said they will review the evidence submitted 
by the CIDG.

Another prosecutor, Augusto Gonzales, received the complaint and would 
conduct an inquest to determine whether there is enough evidence to elevate 
the complaint to a court of law.

Warrants of arrest have been issued for Salamat and other MILF leaders over 
the March 4 bombing of Davao International Airport which killed 22 people, 
one of them an American missionary, and wounded 159 others.

Among the prominent MILF officials included in both charge sheets were 
Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman for political affairs; Al Haj Murad, vice 
chairman for military affairs, and spokesman Eid Kabalu.

Kabalu reiterated his denial that the MILF was involved in the wharf 
bombing and described the allegations as "pure harassment." He also denied 
the detained suspects were MILF members.

Prosecutors said a totally new angle was presented after Bulalao also 
admitted the MILF leadership's participation in the airport bombing.

This prompted the CIDG to amend the criminal charges and move for the 
inclusion of Bulalao and the four other suspects in the March 4 airport blast.

Bulalao admitted placing the bomb inside the backpack which he slid under a 
row of benches at the crowded waiting shed.

He realized that it was a bomb only after he was told by his companions to 
leave the bag.

Bulalao narrated how he met with the other suspects in Kabuntalan town in 
Maguindanao, two days before the bombing.

Bulalao said his companions convinced him to go with them to Davao City on 
March 4 by promising to buy him a new shirt as well as see the sights of 
the city which he was visiting for the first time.

As soon as they arrived in Davao City, they ate lunch in a restaurant 
before proceeding to the airport in the afternoon, Bulalao said.

He claimed it was in the airport where he was told to put the backpack and 
leave it under the row of seats of the waiting shed.

Prosecutors said they might consider placing Bulalao under the Witness 
Protection Program.

"I have already conferred with the regional state prosecutor who takes 
charges of the witness protection program and we will evaluate if Bulalao 
qualifies for the program," prosecutor Bendigo said. (By Edith Regalado, Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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