Sixty-six Abu Sayyaf terrorists have been found guilty of the mass kidnapping of schoolchildren and teacher on Basilan Island 18 years ago.
The verdict on the March 2000 kidnapping of schoolchildren, teachers and a priest today (Friday, December 14) is the largest single conviction of the group’s members to date. The court in Pasig also acquitted 20 other suspects for lack of evidence.
Of the 52 people abducted from the schools in the villages of Tumahubong and Sinangkapan, two teachers were beheaded and a priest died while in the clutches of the group.
The other hostages were rescued or freed after local officials negotiated for their release.
Abu Sayyaf has been listed as a terrorist group by the US. It was founded in the early 1990s in Basilan province. At first it vowed to wage jihad, but after losing key leaders in combat, many of the sub-groups turned to banditry and other criminality.
One of its leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, led the siege of Marawi City last year during which more than 1,000 people were killed — including Hapilon. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced by the five months of street-to-street fighting and much of the city continues to lie in ruins.
Senior State Prosecutor Peter Ong said some innocent suspects who had been arrested were released before the trial ended.
“The persistence and determination of the court to give justice to the victims and those who were wrongfully arrested led to this decision, although it took more than one and a half decades to happen,” he said.
About 100 people were initially charged for the kidnappings.
Mistakes are a concern in the slow-moving Philippine justice system. This is particularly so in the poor Muslim-majority south of the Philippines, where many people lack birth certificates or other identification papers.
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