US troops in Mindanao and the mysterious deaths of Gregan Cardeño and Capt. Javier Ignacio

Posted: June 15, 2010 in War on Terror
Tags: , , ,

by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)

(in cooperation with InPeace Mindanao and  Karapatan)

June 9, 2010

Gregan Cardeño was recruited by a private military contractor to work as an interpreter for U.S. soldiers last February 1. On February 2, he was found dead, a day after he started work in a military facility in Marawi City. He was working with an elite unit of US Special Forces called Liaison Coordination Elements (LCE).

Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend who helped recruit Cardeño and was helping the family shed light on his death – was gunned down while he was on his way to a meeting with a human rights group conducting an independent investigation on the case.

These two deaths have been a cause of great concern among human rights groups for more than four months now, mostly due to apparent cover up and the continued silence and seeming disinterest of the Philippine government to investigate the case and seek justice for the untimely demise of Cardeño and Capt. Ignacio. Adding to the frustration of the family are the Philippine government’s and the U.S. military’s failure to disclose the real circumstances that may have been the reason for Cardeño’s death.
A simple case of suicide was how the Philippine police treated Cardeño’s death, but the distress calls his wife has received before his body was found raised doubts as to the true nature and manner of his death. Even the Commission on Human Rights’ independent investigation report was inconclusive.

The untimely death of Capt. Ignacio (and the death threats he has been receiving and attempts to bribe him prior to his death) fuels speculation that a cover-up was being done.

These incidents have also led to the discovery of questionable U.S. military facility in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. Its presence, which heretofore was unknown, leads to questions on the United States’ plans to reestablish bases in the southern Philippines. What is the purpose of the military facility in Marawi City and why was it hidden from public knowledge? Why did the U.S. troops need the services of a
translator who could speak Bahasa?  What was Cardeño doing that caused him so much distress?

Beyond the need to take a more active role in the full and impartial investigation of the deaths of Cardeño and Capt. Ignacio, the next administration will ultimately have to deal with the question of expanded and continuing presence of U.S. troops in Mindanao and their costs.

I. Narrative of events

Thirty-three-year-old Gregan Cardeño signed on Jan. 30, 2010 a contract with Skylink Security and General Services, stating he would work as a security guard with the agency from Feb. 1 to April 30, 2010. The real nature of his employment, however, was as interpreter for US troops, subcontracted by the US manpower-providing firm Dyn Corporation.

Dyn Corporation

The Philippines is just one of the numerous countries in which DynCorp International has a presence. In an article for the March 2004 issue of Esquire, in which he described DynCorp as “an American firm that specializes in high-risk contract work for the Pentagon and the State Department,” conservative American journalist Tucker Carlson enumerated the other countries where DynCorp is present. Wrote Carlson:

“Pick an unsafe country and DynCorp is likely to be there. In Afghanistan, DynCorp bodyguards protect Hamid Karzai, the most imperiled president on earth. In Colombia, DynCorp pilots fly coca-killing crop dusters slow and low over drug plantations, an integral part of Washington’s Plan Colombia. DynCorp is in Kosovo, Israel (three of its employees were blown up and killed in Gaza last year), East Timor, Sarajevo, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Liberia, and many other sketchy places. Last spring, DynCorp – along with Kroll Inc. and as many as twenty other large private security companies, and perhaps dozens of smaller ones, employing tens of thousands of individual contractors – came to Iraq.”

In 2007, DynCorp was the subject of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) Session on Colombia. The indictment, prepared by the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, cites DynCorp for its role in the commission of human-rights violations and crimes in Colombia, as well as other offenses in Nicaragua, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Part of the indictment reads:

“Its presence in countries receiving US military assistance (either in low-intensity situations or in settings involving open US intervention) have produced important scandals, directly implicating the enterprise in the commission of crimes and human rights violations.

“For instance, in the 1980s the enterprise was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal. In the 1990s, the enterprise became a fundamental component for the US intervention of Haiti. Lastly, DynCorp members in Bosnia were involved in the sexual trafficking of minors, but due to their immunity no one was ever tried before any court in the world.”

In Iraq, DynCorp has won several contracts amounting to $750 million for training police forces.

“Available information stresses that the Iraqi police, trained by private security enterprises like DynCorp, have become a key component in the current dirty war, rather than a foundation for democracy proclaimed by US authorities,” the indictment continues. “In fact, US federal investigators are examining reports of criminal fraud by DynCorp employees, including the sale of ammunition earmarked for the Iraqi police.”

In Afghanistan, aside from providing personal security for Karzai, it has trained police forces and has deployed 337 police advisers. In October 2004, one of Karzai’s security personnel from DynCorp aroused controversy after slapping the Afghan transport minister.

— from “What’s a Notorious US Military Contractor Doing Inside the AFP’s Camp in Zamboanga?” by Alexander Martin Remollino,, 12 September 2009

Cardeno was said to be fluent in several languages: aside from the national language, he also knew Tausug, Visayan, and Bahasa Indonesia.

He had learned about the job opening from his friend, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army.

Two days later, at about 6:45 am, his wife Myrna accompanied Cardeno to Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City, from where he was to be flown to Cotabato City en route to Camp Sionco in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

At around 7:48 am on Feb. 2, Cardeno’s sister Carivel received a message from his mobile phone saying he had instead been brought to Marawi City. When asked whether he was fine, he replied in the affirmative.

At 2:00 pm that same day, his tone had changed. “This is not the job I expected, this is so hard,” Cardeno told Carivel during a call. He sounded as though he was crying, and when asked what his actual job was, he could not reply. He asked Carivel to contact Skylink, ask for his salary, and request that he be pulled out of the US military facility where he had been assigned. He also said the only Filipinos working in the US military facility were himself and the cook, who goes home every afternoon. The call was then cut off.

Two hours later, he called Myrna and said, “I’m in Marawi, they brought me here… I’m in a very difficult situation.” She advised him to return home anytime the following day to Zamboanga Sibugay, where they live. After that the call was cut.

Later that day Cardeno called Myrna again, asking, “If ever I go home, would you still accept me?”

“Why?” Myrna replied. “Did you do anything wrong?”

The line went dead.

At around 2:00 pm the next day, Carivel received a call from Cardeno’s mobile phone and was surprised to hear a different voice from the other end. It was an SPO3 Ali Guibon Rangiris of the Marawi City Police Station, informing her that Gregan had hung himself with a bed sheet at the barracks of the Philippine Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade at Camp Ranao, Brgy. Datu Saber, Marawi City. SPO3 Rangiris also told Carivel the US troops were preparing to transport Gregan’s body to Zamboanga.

The helicopter carrying the corpse arrived at Edwin Andrews Air Base at around 4:00 pm that same day. His relatives, however, were barred from claiming the body there, and were instead advised to later view it at the La Merced Memorial Homes in Zamboanga City.

The cadaver was brought to La Merced without the required certificate of clearance from the appropriate government agency and death certificate from the Office of the Civil Registrar. Instead, a physician from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Office in Zamboanga City, Dr. Rodolfo Valmoria, conducted a post-mortem examination.

As the family observed, the body was not yet in rigor mortis though they had been informed Cardeno had been dead for 16 hours. They also noticed that the area around his upper body was filled with ice.

That same day, the Marawi City Police Station reported on the incident, by radio, to the Lanao del Sur Provincial Police Office. The report identified Gregan’s assignment as a unit of the US military known as Liaison Coordination Elements (LCEs) based in Camp Ranao.


In an article for the November-December 2006 issue of Military Review, “Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and the Indirect Approach,” then-Col. Gregory Wilson of the US Army explained the work of LCEs as follows:

“Deployed at the tactical level, SF advisory teams called liaison coordination elements (LCE) are small, tailored, autonomous teams of special operations personnel from all services. They advise and assist select AFP units in planning and fusing all sources of intelligence in support of operations directed at insurgent-terrorist organizations. LCEs conduct decentralized planning and execution using a robust reachback capability to the JSOTF-P to leverage additional assets in support of AFP operations. These assets range from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets such as tactical unmanned aerial vehicles to humanitarian assistance to tailored information products.”

In one of his footnotes to the article, Wilson said LCEs “generally consist of 4 to 12 SF advisers who are embedded with select AFP ground, naval, and air forces down to the battalion level.”

At around 8:00 pm on Feb. 5, Carivel called SPO3 Rangiris, who this time contradicted his earlier statement saying Cardeno was actually found lying on the floor and when his body was found, the area was already contaminated.

Four days later, Cardeno’s sister Grace called Capt. Mike Kay, team leader of the US troops in Camp Ranao, and inquired about his death. Captain Kay replied that his colleagues had contributed money and asked how they can send it, saying further that they intended to send it the next day.

On Feb. 11, at around 3:00 pm, Cardeno’s relatives went to the headquarters of the Western Command at Upper Calarian, Zamboanga City and had a dialogue with US officers identified only as Captain Boyer and Master Sergeant Gines regarding his employment status with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. Captain Boyer said Skylink should open dialogue with them after Gregan’s burial.

On Feb. 13, Dr. Atanasius Rufon of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) did an autopsy on Gregan’s body as the family requested.

That same day, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) investigators Raul Quiboyen and Reymundo Ituralde arrived in Ipil and asked Gregorio Cardeño, a relative of Gregan, to sign a complaint form.

Gregan was buried on Feb. 15 at the Ipil Public Cemetery.

On March 4, Gregan’s relatives received the autopsy results.

Two days later, they approached CHR Chairwoman Leila de Lima for help and asked for a re-autopsy, which request was approved.

That same day, Judge Advocate General Office (JAGO) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) personnel went to the NBI-Zamboanga office. The JAGO personnel ordered the latter to investigate the case.

According to Faruk Batara of CHR-Iligan City, FBI personnel went to Marawi City and conducted investigation on the case.

The CHR, through Dr. Joseph Jimenez, conducted the re-autopsy on March 25.

On that same day he was expected to join the Cardeno family and a delegation from Karapatan, Cardeño family friend Captain Javier Ignacio was shot dead by four men riding on separate motorcycles. Before that, Captain Ignacio had been talking to the Cardeños and helping in the investigation. He had also met with representatives of Karapatan. He had been receiving death threats and was also subjected to an attempt to bribe him into silence. Captain Ignacio appeared to have information on the movement and activities of the US troops and how this was related to the death of Gregan.

II. Analysis and demands

The autopsies conducted on Gregan’s body affirm asphyxia as the cause of death, but are inconclusive as to the manner of death.

There are several circumstances that point to possible attempts at a cover-up: the inconsistencies in SPO3 Rangiris’s statements, the refusal of Edwin Andrews Air Base personnel to let the relatives claim the cadaver there, and the refusals of Captains Kay and Boyer and Master Sergeant Gines to answer questions pertaining to Cardeno’s employment and demise.

The killing of Captain Ignacio further fuels suspicions that a cover-up is being perpetrated. Having been an officer of the AFP’s Military Police, he appeared to have relevant information on the circumstances behind Gregan’s death. Ignacio was personally helping in the investigation and had been talking to Cardeno’s relatives and to representatives of Karapatan before he was killed. Who would benefit from his silence?

Arousing more suspicion is the fact that the US FBI has stepped into the investigation of the case. Is the Philippine government aware of the FBI’s involvement in the probe? Why is the FBI even involved in a supposedly domestic incident, unless there may have been involvement of US troops in Cardeno’s death?

Based on the calls Cardeno made and the text messages he sent to his wife and relatives during his two days on the job, he clearly wanted out of his work. It is also interesting to note that all messages contained in Cardeno’s phone were mysteriously erased before the family arrived to retrieve the body, according to their account.

It was already public knowledge that US troops had facilities located within Camp Navarro, Edwin Andrews Air Base, and Camp Malagutay, all in Zamboanga City; Camp Bautista in Jolo Island, Sulu; Camp Sionco in Maguindanao; and the Philippine Naval Station in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi. The deployment of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) can also be seen in their official website. Former Navy Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian also revealed in her testimony the extent of operations of the US forces in Mindanao.

It was only through Cardeno’s death that we learned of the existence of a unit of the US military based in Marawi. From what we know of the nature of this unit, the LCE, we fear that it may be a combat unit operating outside the purview of the VFA and in violation of the Constitution. It is important that the public be made aware of the possible clandestine operations US forces are conducting in our country, in violation of our laws.

There are also questions as to the US forces’ engagement of Filipinos for undisclosed operations or work, via private military contractors and local sub-contractors, to avoid any public accountability. What does Dyn Corporation really do in the country? What about their sub-contractors like Skylink? What kind of operations do they run? How are they aiding the US military presence in the country?

There are also questions as to whether there was adequate response of the Philippine government to the death of a Filipino inside an American military facility, and employed though indirectly, by the US military. Could a deeper probe have been conducted, instead of declaring the case closed by simply ruling it a suicide? Did the Philippine government even inquire what Cardeno was doing in Marawi? Or is there a presumption of regularity because those involved are US troops? Is not the Philippine government duty-bound to investigate on the circumstances of Cardeno’s death?

The deaths of Cardeno and Ignacio should spur the Philippine government to review the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allows US military presence on Philippine soil. This is just the latest of many incidents involving the US forces in Mindanao. The mysterious and possibly related deaths of Cardeno and Ignacio prompt us to ask these questions to the outgoing and incoming administrations.

We demand the following:

l    A full and impartial investigation into Cardeno’s death by the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA) and other relevant agencies. The probe should also review the response undertaken by the Philippine government and US troops with regards to the Cardeño death.

l    A probe into the presence of US troops in Marawi and other areas where they may be conducting clandestine operations. A disclosure of the real nature of the LCE’s deployed in Mindanao.

l    Full disclosure of the nature of  the Philippine operations of private military contractor Dyn Corp and its subcontractor Skylink. They should clarify the real nature of Cardeno’s work in Marawi. A congressional probe can also be undertaken to examine the work being done by Dyn Corp in our country, given that it is known to be present in areas where there are armed conflicts involving US troops.

l    An independent probe into the death of Captain Javier Ignacio.

l    The review and abrogation of the VFA.


1.     Contract of Service between Thomas P. Rivera III and Gregan Cardeño, executed Jan. 30, 2010

2.     Fact Sheet No. 2010-002, Kawagib (Alliance for the Advancement of Moro and Lumad Rights), prepared by Bai Ali Indayla, Feb. 23, 2010

3.     Transcript of radio message from Marawi City Police Station to Lanao del Sur Provincial Police Office, Feb. 3, 2010

4.     Gregory Wilson, “Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and the Indirect Approach,” Military Review, November-December 2006

5.     Alexander Martin Remollino, “What’s a Notorious US Military Contractor Doing Inside the AFP’s Camp in Zamboanga?”, Sept. 12, 2009

6.     Alexander Martin Remollino, “US Troops in Philippines: America Pursues Expansionism, Protects Economic Interests,”, August 28, 2009

7.     JSOTF-P Fact Sheet, (accessed June 4, 2010)


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