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ZAMBOANGA CITY – Muslims have flocked the house of former policeman Rizal Alih in Zamboanga City to pay their last respect following his sudden death at a police detention facility in the Philippines capital.

Alih was accused of killing Brig. Gen. Eduardo Batalla and his aide Col. Romeo Abendan after a three-day, hostage-drama inside a police camp Zamboanga City in January 1989.  He held the two officers at gunpoint after overpowering his guards while being investigated on graft allegations

Alih escaped to Sabah after the siege, but was arrested there in 1994 for illegal possession of weapons and munitions. A Malaysian court sentenced him 12 years in jail for possession of four rifles, and five years for possession of 1,271 bullets and 43 magazines.

He was handed over to the Philippine authorities in 2006. “I’m very thankful they have allowed me to return to my family. I still want to live and be close to my 24 children,” Alih was quoted as telling reporters in Manila after disembarking from the plane at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The 70-year old Alih reportedly died Friday night after complaining difficulty in breathing at Camp Crame, the main national police headquarters.

“Narito kami upang magbigay ng huling respeto kay Rizal Alih at mabait siyang tao,” (We are here to pay our last respect on Rizal Alih. He was a good man.) said Esmael Abubakar.

No one from Alih’s family gave any statement to the press. One relative, Nur, said Alih would be buried immediately in accordance to the Islamic custom that upon death, his body should be washed and shrouded it in white cloth.

“Sayang si Rizal at namatay siya ng walang hustisya. Ipinagtanggol niya ang mga Muslim noon nasa sa serbsisyo siya mula sa abusadong mga sundalo at ngayon ay siya pa ang minasama,” (It’s a pity that Rizal died without getting justice. He defended the Muslims during his time from abusive military men and now they maligned his reputation and name.) one of Alih’s supporters, Abdullah, said.

It was thought that Alih died along with more than a dozen other during a bungled military rescue operation that resulted in the burning of the police camp, but his capture in Sabah shocked Philippine authorities.

The military also implicated Alih in the alleged assassination of Zamboanga City Mayor Cesar Climaco, a staunch critic of President Ferdinand Marcos, in September 14, 1984. But both Alih and Climaco’s families believed the mayor’s killing was perpetrated by the military.

Climaco, then 68, was gunned down in broad daylight in downtown Zamboanga.

Many locals considered Alih as one of the most notorious gang leader during his time and was blamed by the police and military for the spate of killings and unresolved crimes in Zamboanga City. Alih’s family denied all accusations against him and blamed the military for the summary killings of other family members and relatives.

Movie director Carlo J. Caparas and his wife, Donna Villa, even made a movie about Alih after the siege in Zamboanga. But Alih filed libel charges against them for their depiction of him in the 1991 film entitled “Arrest Patrolman Alih: Zamboanga Massacre.

In that movie, Alih had been portrayed to have allegedly beheaded Batalla. Alih said he did not kill Batalla, then regional commander of the constabulary forces, and cited the officer’s death certificate that he died from heart attack. (Mindanao Examiner)

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