His name may not be familiar, but the tragedy that befell Gregan Velez Cardeño more than two years ago, as far as his relatives and supporters are concerned, is closely linked to the presence of American military troops that started arriving in Mindanao 10 years ago, ostensibly to open a “second front” in the “war on terror” and to help defeat the Abu Sayyaf.
On Jan. 30, 2010, 33-year-old Gregan, a native of Zamboanga Sibugay, signed a three-month contract as a security guard with Skylink Security and General Services, an agency based in Zamboanga City and a subcontractor of DynCorp International, a contractor of the US military. His supposed assignment was at Camp Siongco in Maguindanao. However, three days later, on Feb. 2, 2010, he was found dead inside a room in Camp Ranao, Marawi City. His US military handlers reported that he committed suicide.
But his wife and relatives suspected otherwise. To them, the circumstances that attended Gregan’s death and the events that followed were highly suspicious.
Gregan was hired as a security guard for the American military personnel assigned to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) in Maguindanao. However, on Feb. 1, 2010, Gregan was surprisingly brought to the JSOTF-P military barracks inside the Philippine Army’s 103rd Battalion Headquarters in Camp Ranao. He was not assigned as a security guard but was instead asked to be an “interpreter” for the US troops.
On Feb. 2, 2010, Gregan made several broken calls to his wife Myrna and elder sister Carivel. In these calls, Gregan was apparently upset and crying.
He told his sister, among others: “Mi, dili man ni mao akong trabaho diri… pait man ni kayo.” (This is not the job I applied for; this is a very difficult assignment.)
On Feb. 2, 2010, to his wife, Gregan said: “Naa ko sa Marawi karon, diri nila ko gidala… lisod kaayo akong nasudlan… kung makauli ko, modawat pa ba kaha ka naku?” (I am in Marawi now; they brought me here. What I have gotten into is very difficult… If I will come home, would you still accept me?)
In the course of these exchanges, a decision was made for Gregan to quit his job, go home and refund his employer the advance payment given to him. But he did not come home alive.
In the early morning of Feb. 3, 2010, US Army Capt. Michel Kay, team leader of the US troops in Camp Ranao, reported to the Marawi Police that Gregan committed suicide. The local police, headed by one SPO3 Ali Rangiris, went to the scene of the incident but left immediately after making a cursory documentation. Rangiris also took Gregan’s mobile phone and used it to inform Carivel about the death of her brother.
Rangiris claimed that he saw Gregan hanging from a ceiling inside his room, a statement that he retracted two days later.
On Feb. 5, 2010, Rangiris told Carivel that when he arrived at the scene of the incident, he found Gregan’s body lying on the floor and the area was already “contaminated.” Rangiris also claimed that all the messages contained in Gregan’s mobile phone were later erased by an unnamed army captain.
On Feb. 5, 2010, without any permit or death certificate, Gregan’s body was then brought by Skylink and JSOTF-P personnel to Zamboanga City, where he was autopsied and, later, claimed by his relatives. His relatives noticed that Gregan’s body bore several puncture wounds, contusions and abrasions.
On Feb. 5, 2010, Gregan’s family suspected that there was a “cover-up and concealment” of the true cause of his death. They held a dialogue with the US troops, but to no avail. A certain US Army Capt. Boyer told them to direct their complaints to Skylink. Meanwhile, Army officers in Camp Ranao also gave a fact-finding mission that went to see the scene of the incident the runaround.
Coincidentally, Capt. Javier Ignacio, the Philippine Army officer who recruited Gregan to apply for work with Skylink and who was also helping Gregan’s family in their investigation, was shot dead March 25 in Zamboanga City by motorcycle-riding gunmen. At that time of his death, he just arrived from the place where a re-autopsy was conducted on Gregan’s body and he was on his way to meet Gregan’s relatives.
Although more investigations were conducted by the authorities, until now, the only finding repeatedly given to Gregan’s family is that he died of “asphyxiation by ligature.” Nothing more, thus begging the following questions: What was Gregan’s real job with the US troops? Why was he misled to believe that he was being hired as a security guard? What really happened during those two days that he was with the US troops in Camp Ranao?
What are US military personnel doing in Camp Ranao? Is Camp Ranao one of the US rendering camps for suspected terrorists, especially since JSOTF-P is allegedly part of a highly secretive elite military unit tasked to crack down on America’s perceived enemies? Why is it that US troops are already permanently based here?
On Feb. 5, 2010, Gregan’s tragic case was not the first; it will not be the last. It happened before; it will happen again. The recently concluded Balikatan 2012 exercises and the Aquino government’s consent to the expanded presence of US troops, particularly in Mindanao, do not render justice to the memory of Gregan and others who have fallen victims to militarism and a phony war on terror.