MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - A Taguig City court handed down on Tuesday the first convictions in connection with the 2017 Marawi siege.
The Taguig Regional Trial Court Branch 70 convicted for terrorism Nur Supian for recruiting participants in the siege. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison without possibility of parole.
His co-accused Marvin Ahmad, Salip Ismael Abdulla, and Issa Ukkang were, meanwhile, acquitted.
Based on the indictment made by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Supian recruited men in Sulu in August 2017, or about three months since clashes erupted, to augment Maute group and Abu Sayyaf fighters in Marawi City.
One of the prosecution witnesses was a soldier, Sgt. Johnson Malavega, who posed as a recruit upon instruction from the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team.
Based on his testimony, there was massive recruitment by Supian’s group, who introduced themselves as members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) training in “Camp Jabal Nur” or “Tiger Base.”
Prospective members were promised a new firearm and a monthly salary “in exchange for attending military training before a ‘test mission’ in the battlefield."
In his defense, Supian stood by his claim that he is an MNLF member and that he was on his way to bring 31 persons “to the peace talks” at the camp when they were apprehended.
The court, however, said that a ”three-hour gunfight on Aug. 10, 2017 in Tiger Base camp authored by accused Supian, between the elements of the Internal Security Operations [group] of the Philippine Marines Ready Force-Sulu and the group of said accused which resulted [in] the death of two Marines clearly established the taking of arms against government troops.”
As for Supian’s co-accused Ahmad, Abdulla and Ukkang, the court ruled that they did not commit acts that constitute cooperation with the rebel group and, thus, acquitted them of rebellion.
The court also found Araji Sailabbi Samindih and Umad Idon Harun guilty of rebellion, and sentenced them to 8 years and a day to 14 years and eight months imprisonment.
They were separately indicted by the DOJ due to their participation, along with Maute group members, in a firefight against government forces.
Two soldiers, Cpl. Lon de Guzman Arnan and Sgt. Virgilio Ochoa Jr., who served as prosecution witnesses, testified that they “personally saw accused Samindih and Harun” as they were positioned just 15 meters away from Maute fighters during a firefight.
The court said the soldiers' testimonies were “clear and convincing.”
The court, however, acquitted Monalisa Romato and Tahera Taher of rebellion charges for lack of evidence.
The promulgation of decisions in the two cases was held at the courtroom inside the Metro Manila District Jail annex inside Camp Bagong Diwa, where the accused are detained.
The convictions of Supian, Samindih, and Harun are the first in connection with the bloody siege in Marawi, the lone Islamic City in the Philippines.
On May 23, 2017, Islamic State-inspired militants took over Marawi City, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee.
The firefights ended in October 2017 with nearly a thousand militants dead, including Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was regarded as the emir of Islamic State in Southeast Asia, and Maute terror group leaders Omar and Abdullah Maute.
The five-month conflict left much of Marawi City in rubble. Government last month initiated a multibillion-peso rebuilding effort in the city.