Serious security lapses led to bloodbath

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2005, 12:00am

Authorities admitted yesterday that the bloodbath at Camp Bagong Diwa prison was due to serious security lapses which allowed inmates to plot and almost execute their daring breakout plan.

Philippine National Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Leopoldo Bataoil admitted that the defiant inmates comprised 'a sizeable force', battling police with 'heavy return fire'.

He also said inmates had not only seized three firearms from prison guards, but guns had also been smuggled to them 'in pieces', probably over several months.

His admission was confirmed by an unlikely source: Gappal Bannah, who recently confessed to bombing a bus on Valentine's Day, and was trotted out before reporters by authorities as the siege continued.

He said Abu Sayyaf leaders Alhamser Manatad Limbong and Jainal Sali had contacted him by mobile phone at least three times last December.

'They asked me to prepare the guns and ammunition which I was to turn over to a girl who would get it inside the jail,' he said.

Sali remains in the southern Philippines, while Limbong - better known as 'Commander Kosovo' - was jailed in Bagong Diwa. He died in yesterday's shootout.

A lawyer for an Abu Sayyaf detainee confirmed that Bagong Diwa's security was lax. Female visitors in Muslim dress often were not searched because no female guard was present.

A prosecutor involved in the kidnapping case against Limbong also said an informant warned him that he planned to escape and had asked for eight safe houses to be prepared. He told jail authorities weeks ago.

The information and the breakout's near success has shown the sophistication of Abu Sayyaf's informal underground network and its reach from the southern Philippines to at least as far as Manila.

But Muslim leaders continue to say the real momentum behind Abu Sayyaf is the government's failure to make life better for the country's Muslim population.

Habib Hashim, leader of the breakaway Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction known as the Islamic Command Council, noted that many of those arrested as suspected Abu Sayyaf members were in their mid-20s. They were teenagers in 1996 when the separatist MNLF forged a peace pact with the government.

'Many of them are disillusioned because, to this day, the 1996 agreement has not been fully implemented,' he said, adding that Abu Sayyaf leaders recruited members by exploiting this discontent.