20 lifeterms for Abu bandits

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — FOURTEEN members of the Abu Sayyaf were jailed for life for kidnapping a group of tourists at the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan and killing five of their hostages six years ago.

After a three-year trial, Pasig City Judge Lorifel Pahimna imposed 20 life terms on each defendant. The defendants were also ordered to pay the victims P3.5 million each in exemplary damages.

The sentencing was held yesterday at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig, for security reasons.

On May 27, 2001, the Abu Sayyaf bandits raided the resort and seized 20 hostages who were ferried to Basilan, triggering a 13-month manhunt aided by US military advisers.

The gunmen beheaded Peru-born Guillermo Sobero, while US missionary Martin Burnham and three other hostages were shot dead when government troops mounted a rescue attempt in June 2002.

Burnham’s wife, Gracia, was shot and wounded. She survived and later returned to the Philippines briefly to testify against some of the defendants.

The kidnappers ransomed off many other Filipino hostages.

Convicted were Abdulazzan Diamla alias Abu Umbram; Daud Baru alias Daud Daim; Ahmad Baky Abdullah; Sonny Azali; Alzen Jandul; Bas Ismael; Habir Asari; Mamar Llias Isamel Jaafar; Marvin Vincent Rueca; Margani Iblong; Toting Hannoh; Adzmar Aluk; Guillermo “Wahid” Salcedo; and Abu Khayr Moctar. Four others were acquitted.

The court ordered the convicts to serve their sentences at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.

When the verdict was announced, Hannoh, one of those found guilty, told reporters it would not be the end of the Abu Sayyaf. Instead, “it will become stronger.”

Among those acquitted was the only woman in the group, Satra Tilao, the disabled sister of rebel leader Abu Sabaya, who was killed by troops after the abductions.

“I’m so happy. Thanks to Allah! I’m taking my daughter home,” her mother, Isnaria Kuranding, said.

The court based its ruling on the testimony and positive identification by witnesses and the surviving kidnap victims, including Gracia Burnham.

The Burnhams were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary when they were snatched by the bandits and taken by speedboat to Basilan Island along with Sobero and 17 Filipinos.

Sobero was among the several hostages beheaded by the rebels. Martin Burnham and a Filipino nurse were killed during the military rescue raid on June 7, 2002.

In her testimony in 2004, Burnham said she learned that a ransom was paid for her release, but the terrorists still refused to free her and Martin.

Of the 85 suspects charged by the justice department, 23 were arrested and tried while 18 appeared in court.

Four others, Ghalib Andang alias Kumander Robot, Alhamzer Manatad Limbong alias Kumander Kosovo, and Nadzmie Saabtullah alias Kumander Global, were killed in a botched prison break on March 15, 2005.

Limbong was allegedly involved in the Dos Palmas kidnapping led by Robot group and a ferry bombing a year ago that killed more than 100 people in the Philippines’ worst terrorist attack.

The three others who were acquitted were Radzmar Sangkula, Bashier Ordoñez and Bashier Abdul.