WHO IS REALLY HOLDING AL-GHOZI?

ILIGAN CITY, August 22, 2003 (STAR)  The military and the police, on the one hand, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), on the other, are now pointing at each other as to who is keeping fugitive Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu reiterated that the military was lying when it claimed earlier this week that Al-Ghozi was holed out in MILF strongholds in Kabuntalan, Maguindanao and Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Lanao del Norte.

Kabalu claimed the military is refusing to show Al-Ghozi to the public because it wants to link the MILF to the terrorist Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and will only produce the terrorist when it fits the military’s purpose.

To derail the military’s plan to link the MILF to the JI, Kabalu again threatened to show to the public a 45-minute video tape showing how the military and police planned Al-Ghozi’s escape from his Camp Crame detention cell last July 14.

In Zamboanga City, the military and the MILF also disagree if Al-Ghozi is still in the country, with the rebel group suggesting he may have already slipped out.

The Southern Command, though, said Al-Ghozi is still around.

"We have many reports where he is. He is still in Mindanao," Southcom chief Lt. Gen. Roy Kyamko said.

Al-Ghozi escaped from the detention center of the Philippine National Police Intelligence Group on July 14 as Australian Prime Minister John Howard was visiting the country to hold anti-terrorism talks with President Arroyo.

Howard described Al-Ghozi’s escape as a serious setback to the international effort to contain terrorism and the issue became more embarrassing at indications that the escape was likely caused by laxity due to alleged corruption among jail guards.

No less than a police general who once served as PNP intelligence chief was implicated in Al-Ghozi’s escape while Chief Superintendent Jesus Verzosa, then PNP intelligence chief, quit his post after al-Ghozi’s escape.

Police investigators blamed Superintendent Reuben Galban, head of the PNP Intelligence Group’s Foreign Intelligence Liaison Office (FILO), for the escape of Al-Ghozi and two Abu Sayyaf suspects.

PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief Director Eduardo Matillano said Galban was known to be close to Chief Superintendent Julius Yarcia, chief of the PNP Directorate for Intelligence during the Estrada administration.

The CIDG chief said lie detector tests on Galban suggested that the intelligence official was lying when he answered questions on whether he had anything to with the escape or if he had accepted money for it.

Yarcia remains active in the PNP but has been assigned to the PNP Administration Holding Center, the PNP’s designated "career freezer."

Matillano said a background check revealed that Galban was a former Marine officer assigned to the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).

He was assigned to the FILO when the PNP-IG was under the late Chief Superintendent Romulo Sales and Superintendent Michael Ray Aquino, a protégé of Lacson and who is now a fugitive from justice, Matillano added.

No less than President Arroyo has assigned PNP chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane himself to lead the manhunt for the escaped terrorist.

The President also formed a presidential commission headed by former justice secretary Sedfrey Ordoñez, incumbent Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong and business leader Miguel Varela to a fact-finding commission to find out how Al-Ghozi escaped.

The President gave the Ordoñez commission 30 days to finish the probe.

Decision Out Monday

Ordoñez said yesterday his commission has wrapped up its investigation after interviewing 29 witnesses, including Ebdane.

He said they will have an executive meeting Monday to reconcile their views about the commission’s findings.

"The final decision of the committee will be known on Monday, then we will submit a report to President Arroyo on Wednesday," he said.

The last witness, Capt. Paolo Perez, was interviewed last Wednesday. Perez was one of those involved in the hunt and re-arrest of another escapee, Abdulmukim Edris, who was killed by his captors for allegedly trying to wrestle away a soldier’s gun.

Ordoñez however refused to divulge any details of the results of their investigation saying it would be premature. He said he was not in the position to discuss the testimonies of the witnesses they interviewed.

This includes who among the police officers who testified before the commission will qualify as state witnesses, he said.

One of them, Police Officer 1 Ronald Palmares, was provisionally placed under the Department of Justice’s Witness Protection Program as one of the resource persons in the ongoing inquiry at the House of Representatives on the escape of the Indonesian terrorist.

Palmares claimed he was asked to leave by his superior before Al-Ghozi escaped from his Intelligence Group detention cell before dawn of July 14. Al-Ghozi Legends

Because of the police’s continued failure to capture Al-Ghozi, all kinds of speculations and legends are growing around him.

One Muslim merchant who did not want to be identified said Al-Ghozi was able to escape the detention center because he possessed an anting-anting (talisman) that opened the door to his cell and allowed him to escape.

However, Office of Muslim Affairs director Datu Zamzamin Ampatuan lent more credence to speculations that the authorities are having difficulty finding Al-Ghozi probably because he has already taken a disguise, perhaps that of a woman.

Ampatuan said it would be easy for Al-Ghozi to disguise himself as a woman because Muslim women traditionally wear an opaque veil, called "hijab."

"Because of the wide circulation of his photo and possible disguises, many are convinced that Al-Ghozi is now disguised as a woman," Ampatuan said. — Lino de la Cruz, Perseus Echeminada, Aurea Calica, Roel Pareño


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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