Son of MNLF leader jailed in Malaysia for Davao bombing

Charmaine Deogracias, VERA Files

Posted at Jan 13 2017 09:11 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte inspects the site of the Davao City bombing. Malacanang photo

The son of a leader of the Moro National Liberation Front and a Mindanao lawmaker has been in Malaysian custody for almost two months now in connection with the Sept. 2 Davao City bombing, multiple police, military and diplomatic sources said. 

Datu Mohammad Abduljabbar Sema, 26, was arrested on Nov. 24, 2016 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport upon his arrival from Bangkok aboard Air Asia flight AK 891. 

Sema is the son of Muslimin Sema, chairman of the largest group in the MNLF, and Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, congresswoman of the first district of Maguindanao.

Muslimin Sema was former Cotabato mayor and is being considered to be a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Council (BTC). His mother belongs to the influential Sinsuat clan of Maguindanao.

The young Sema who, a well placed source said, is an Islamic scholar, had been tracked traveling to and from Bangkok, exiting to Cambodia. When his 30-day visa free entry was about to expire, he decided to go to Malaysia, intending to return to Thailand after three days. But he was arrested upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur.

He is now under Malaysian custody in an undisclosed location that is reportedly not a police facility. The Philippine government sent law enforcement representatives to Malaysia to take his deposition last month.

A source said the mother is working for the release of her son through a pardon from President Duterte. Another source confirmed to VERA Files that the father sought the assistance of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza on this case. The mother has also been following up the case with Dureza. 

The Semas also traveled to Malaysia last month to see their son. VERA Files tried reaching the father for comment but didn’t get any response.

In a chance interview last Dec. 16 at the sidelines of Pilipinas Conference at The Peninsula, Defense Secretary Lorenzana said the Philippines will request custody of Sema.

"Of course, of course, we will request so that we can bring him back to the country," Lorenzana said.

When asked about the implications to the peace process, as he is the son of an MNLF leader who will soon be appointed as BTC member, the Defense chief said, "So what? (Still we will insist custody) because he is a criminal."

Authorities said over 12 people were involved in the terror attack on the Davao City night market which claimed the lives of 15 people and wounded 69 others. Aside from Sema, seven suspects have already been captured in the Philippines. 

Three suspects were arrested on Oct. 4 and four others in a follow up operation last Oct. 29 at the group's hideout at the Southern Philippine Development Authority Compound in Cotabato City. They are said to be members of the Maute Group.

Military and police files identify the Maute group as a radical Islamist group composed of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas led by Abdullah Maute, the alleged founder of a Dawlah Islamiya, or Islamic state based in Lanao del Sur.

Police sources declined to give specifics as to the young Sema’s role in the Davao City bombing, pleading lack of authority to speak to the media. PNP Chief Ronaldo Dela Rosa did not return calls and texts sent by VERA Files. 

Known as “Haring Bakal” (king of steel), the elder Sema was elected in 2013 barangay chairman of Rosary Heights 7 in Cotabato City, the same village where the other suspects were earlier arrested in what is believed to be Maute group’s hideout.

The BTC will resume formal work revising the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will create the new Bangsamoro region to replace the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). ARMM was part of the peace agreement between the government and the MNLF in 1996 while the BBL is part of Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed in 2014 between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a breakaway of the MNLF.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)