COTABATO CITY, Philippines – One of the two slain gunmen who ambushed Cotabato City Vice Mayor Muslimin Sema was an employee of the Office of the Southern Cultural Communities (OSCC) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, ARMM sources revealed yesterday.
The ARMM’s officer-in-charge governor, Mujiv Hataman, said he would personally ask the central office of the National Bureau of Investigation and the regional police to probe how the suspect, Zermin Abdullah, ended trying to kill Sema with a heavily customized assault M-16 rifle fitted with a noise suppressor.
Abdullah and his cohorts all wore Kevlar bulletproof vests.
In an e-mailed statement, the ARMM’s information bureau, which is directly under Hataman’s office, said the 48-year-old Abdullah was also known in his hometown, Talitay, an impoverished municipality in the second district of Maguindanao.
Police identified the other slain ambusher as Saidamin Sula, driver of one of the getaway motorcycles the gunmen were to use in their escape after having pulled off the ambush of Sema.
Abdullah was a development management officer, a permanent career position in the OSCC-ARMM.
“Apparently, by the looks of it, the OSCC-ARMM has nothing to do with his involvement in the near fatal ambush of Vice Mayor Sema,” Hataman said in a text message.
Hataman said he has tasked the Intelligence and Security Services Division of the governor’s office and his executive secretary, human rights lawyer Anwar Malang, to coordinate with the ARMM police director, Chief Superintendent Bienvenido Latag, in gathering more information to identify the real masterminds of the ambush.
Cotabato City is under the Region 12 police, but the city is inside Maguindanao, a component province of the ARMM.
The e-mailed statement from Hataman’s office quoted the director of the OSCC-ARMM, Fatima Kanakan, as saying that as a government official, Abdullah was involved in field work such as the amicable resolution of clan wars or “rido” and the implementation of the joint health insurance program of the regional government and PhilHealth for indigenous people in far-flung areas in Maguindanao.
Hataman said the OSCC-ARMM has to give investigators complete access to all records pertaining to the field assignments of Abdullah and the people he had dealt with while he performed his official duties.
Sema, who was hit by a bullet in the right cheek, is chairman of the most dominant of four factions of the Moro National Liberation Front.
Sema was on his way home almost at noon Tuesday from a session of the city council, which he presides over, when Abdullah and his accomplices opened fire at his vehicle with assault rifles.
The security men escorting Sema managed to jump out of the car and engaged the ambushers in a brief firefight, killing Abdullah and Sula.
Sema was airlifted Tuesday afternoon by an Air Force helicopter to Davao City through the efforts of Maj. Gen. Rey Ardo, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
Senior Superintendent Rene Espera, Davao City police chief, said Sema’s camp has requested for additional security personnel.
Ardo said all of their intelligence units are now helping gather information on Abdullah’s background from sources in Talitay town and neighboring areas in Maguindanao. – With Edith Regalado - By John Unson