Friday, December 4, 2009

Martial law in Maguindanao (Palace move paves way for arrest of massacre suspects)

December 5, 2009, 12:42am

Original Story:

Malacañang placed Maguindanao under the state of martial law effective Friday night in preparation for the arrest of several key personalities implicated in the November 23 massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists, a well-placed source revealed last night.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde refused to neither confirm nor deny the report, saying: "No comment."

Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza said if the report was true, Malacañang will not announce it as it will defeat the purpose.

Among those to be arrested are members of the Ampatuan political clan, the source said.

With the imposition of martial law, the military will now temporarily take over in running the provincial government, the source said.

However, ABS-CBN reported that while martial law is in effect, Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao commander, will take over from Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., one of the suspects in the massacre, as the provincial military governor.

At present, there are now six battalions of government forces deployed in the entire province of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City.

But while Maguindanao is now under martial rule, state of emergency remains in effect in Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City.

Of the six battalions of military troops, three are concentrated in Shariff Aguak, the capital of Maguindanao and where the main mansions of the Ampatuans are located. One mechanized battalion with more than a dozen Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) are also in Shariff Aguak.

On Thursday, government forces discovered a huge cache of artillery and ammunition buried at a vacant lot near the mansion of the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak. Authorities believed some of these weapons were used in the massacre.

Gov. Ampatuan Sr. summoned

Earlier Friday, government prosecutors summoned Ampatuan patriarch, Maguindanao Gov. Ampatuan Sr., six members of the clan, and five others to appear before the Department of Justice in Manila on December 18 in a preliminary investigation to answer multiple murder charges (six counts) filed against them by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in connection with the deaths of six of 57 persons killed in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, last Nov. 23.

The respondents who were summoned, aside from Andal Sr., were his detained son Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr., Shariff Aguak Vice Mayor Datu Ulo Ampatuan; Mamasapano Mayor Bahnarin Ampatuan; Salibo Vice Mayor Kanor Datumanong; Tony Kenis Ampatuan, a police auxiliary of Shariff Aguak; Muhamad Sangki, Sangguniang Bayan member of Datu Abdullah Sangki town; Tammy Masukat; Tumi Timba Abas, a police auxillary of Shariff Aguak; one alias Kumander Beri, a member of the civilian volunteer organization in Shariff Aguak; and a certain Dahutay, a militiaman assigned at Sitio Binibiran, Matagabong, Ampatuan town.

The respondents were required to file their respective counter-affidavits on the murder charges when they appear before prosecutors on Dec. 18.

The CIDG filed multiple murder charges against Andal Sr. et al before the DoJ Wednesday in connection with the deaths of lawyer Catalino Oquendo and his daughter-lawyer Cynthia Oquendo Ayon, Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro "Bong" Reblando, Jepson C. Cadagdangon, Mac Gilbert Ariola, and Francisco Subang, Jr.

The Oquendos, counsel of Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate and Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, were accompanying the wife of Mangudadatu and a few supporters in filing his certificate of candidacy at the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak when they were waylaid by a group of armed men allegedly led by the Andal Jr.

Reblando, Cadagdangon, Ariola, and Subang Jr., were part of a news team from General Santos City who were covering the filing of Mangudadatu’s election papers when they were killed. The news team considered the filing a significant event in the province as no one had dared challenge the power and influence of the Ampatuans.

Andal Jr. was reportedly being groomed by the elder Ampatuan to take his place after three terms as governor. Andal Sr. had always run unopposed.

The respondents have already been placed on the watch list by the Bureau of Immigration.

Earlier, 25 counts of murder had been filed by the DoJ before a Cotabato City court against Andal Jr., for the death of 25 out of the 57 massacre victims.

The additional six counts of murder filed by the CIDG with the DoJ raised to 31 the number of murder cases filed against Andal Jr.

Meanwhile, police and military authorities recovered on Thursday several powerful firearms buried in a vacant lot near the Ampatuan residence in Shariff Aguak, according to a report reaching the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP-WesMinCom).

The report, which was also sent to PNP headquarters in Metro Manila, said military troops aided by members of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) team of the Philippine National Police (PNP) dug up late Thursday several high-powered firearms buried in a lot in Barrio 3, Shariff Aquak, Maguindanao.

Found were two 90mm Recoilless Rifles, one 57mm Recoilless Rifle, three 60mm mortar tubes, four M60 Light Machineguns, two 81mm mortar tubes, a caliber .50 Barret sniper rifle, a FAL rifle, an Ultimax automatic rifle, a Bushmaster 5.56mm rifle, two Browning automatic rifles, an AK-47 rifle, an HK11 rifle, a 5.56mm M14 rifle, four 9mm pistols, seven .45 pistols, 140 boxes of 5.56mm ammunition, a spare barrel for caliber 50 and assorted gun parts and magazine assemblies.

The report added some residents tipped off the military about the arms cache buried in the area and the troops asked a local court for a search warrant.

The troops also recovered several military uniforms in Barangay Poblacion Tres, Shariff Aguak, suspected to have been used by the gunmen in the killings of the 57.

Director General Jesus Verzosa, chief of the PNP, said raids were conducted on the houses of four members of the Ampatuan family in Poblacion Tres, Shariff Aguak town.

He said 60mm mortars are issued only to special police and military units. "If it’s a mortar, it’s unauthorized, it’s loose. Only authorized units or security forces are allowed to possess these firearms. Civilians or local government executives are not allowed to have them."

Verzosa said a bulldozer was used to dig the site as the firearms and uniforms were buried deep under the ground. "Our estimate is that these seized firearms are enough to arm a battalion," he said.

All of the firearms seized will be subjected to ballistic examinations to determine if they were used in the massacre.

Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., said initial reports by the AFP state that discovery of the buried firearms was made through joint operations by the police and the military led by 601st Brigade commander Col. Leo Ferrer, together with 73rd IB’s Lt. Col. Edgardo de Leon under the 10th Infantry Division and intelligence groups. (With a report from Genalyn Kabiling)

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