Metro Manila, Philippines – One of the alleged masterminds in the brazen killing last Monday of close to 60 people in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines is already under the custody of authorities Thursday.
Andal Ampatuan, Jr., Mayor of Datu Unsay town in said province, surrendered to Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza at the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak town after he was given an ultimatum by authorities to yield not later than 10 AM today, Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno said in a statement released to the press.
Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, however, said in a separate news conference that Ampatuan, who was said to be present at the crime scene last Monday morning based on initial statements of the victims’ families, was arrested.
Ampatuan is a son of Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr. and brother of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan. Belonging to the administration political party Lakas-KAMPI-CMD, the Ampatuans are allies of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Ampatuan and a group of armed men allegedly stopped the party of Genalyn Mangudadatu, wife of Buluan town Vice Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu, while on their way last Monday morning to file the latter’s Certificate of Candidacy for Maguindanao Governor at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) provincial office in Shariff Aguak town.
Genalyn and her companions of more than 50 that include her sisters, lawyers, and several members of the media from the region would then be found dead later in the day and in the coming days.
Ismael Mangudadatu said the Ampatuans are opposed to his plan to contest the gubernatorial post with them during next year’s election, thus the mass killing.
But initial reports from GMA News said Ampatuan, interviewed by journalist Jessica Soho, denied any involvement in the mass killing that has elicited worldwide condemnation.
“Wala pong katotohanan yan, Madam. Wala pong katotohanan yan… Kaya po ako lumabas para patunayan na di ako nagtatago at di po ako guilty,” Ampatuan was quoted by GMA News to have said. (There is no truth to that, Madam. There is no truth to that… This is why I came out today to prove that I am not hiding and that I am not guilty). (http://www.gmanews.tv/story/177852/massacre-suspect-andal-ampatuan-jr-surrenders)
In an interview later in the day, Ampatuan said it is possible that the massacre was carried out by the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), particularly the group of Umbra Kato, citing what he say as the group’s terroristic nature.
Ampatuan was first taken to General Santos City, and then flown to Manila where he will be detained and subjected to investigation and prosecution, Puno said.
Puno said Ampatuan and other suspects will be detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City. But it was later found out that Ampatuan was jailed at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) cell in Manila City, while some policemen from the same province who have been relieved were restricted inside Camp Crame.
Aside from Amptuan, witnesses also flew to Manila on the same day with Devanadera, Puno said. Devanadera said they have a strong case against Ampatuan. A resolution to charge Ampatuan for the crime at least of multiple murder is expected not later than this weekend.
“The DOJ (Department of Justice) has also quietly taken the deposition of all witnesses who would provide strong evidence for the government to be able to build an airtight case against those responsible for the massacre,” Puno said.
In the province, Puno said four companies of the Special Cafgu Active Auxiliary (SCAA) units were deactivated and all 347 members have already been disarmed. These personnel were believed to have been utilized by the Ampatuans as their private army.
Maguindanao Governor Ampatuan and all mayors in the province were also stripped by the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) of their powers over local PNP units in their respective areas of responsibility, Puno added.
“Forceful measures have been taken quietly since Monday while not allowing armed groups, including the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) from taking control of the area,” Puno said.
“What we did was to focus on three general areas: take physical control, conduct an honest-to-goodness investigation that will yield evidence that will hold up in court… and informing the public of developments and keeping first confidential information of sensitive characters, measures that need to be implemented first before we can report it to the media,” he added.
The government has been receiving criticisms for failing to act swiftly on the massacre, especially on the arrest of the suspects. Some sectors expressed fear that the Arroyo administration will let the Ampatuans get away from their alleged involvement due to their political alliance.
The International Federation of Journalists, in particular, tagged the Philippines on Wednesday as the most dangerous place for newsmen after the Maguindanao massacre. Of the 57 recovered bodies, more than 20 belong to members of the media.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, though, has been issuing strong statements since Monday, assuring that “the perpetrators will not escape justice.”
“The gruesome killings in Maguindanao constitute a most heinous crime. What makes it particularly so is the fact that it counts among its victims, lawyers, media reporters, and other defenseless and innocent civilians. Like many others, I am appalled and outraged by it, and I join the rising chorus of indignation against it,” Arroyo said in her latest statement on Wednesday where she declared a national day of mourning in honor of the victims.
On Wednesday night, Arroyo’s political party, the Lakas-KAMPI-CMD, expelled the three Ampatuans from its roster for “their failure to uphold party ideals and principles in the province of Maguindanao, particularly those on peaceful and legal pursuit of political power.”
Arroyo has already declared a state of emergency in Maguindanao and in neighboring Sultan Kudarat province and Cotabato City.
The November 23, 2009-Maguindanao incident has been branded as the worst case of political violence in recent years and an unprecedented crime against humanity in the Philippines.
Asked if he is satisfied with the arrest of Ampatuan, Mangudadatu replied in the negative, saying that the other members of the former’s family should have also been held by authorities.
The arrest of Ampatuan was almost simultaneously done with the burial of Mangudadatu’s wife, sisters and other relatives in Buluan town.
The only consolation of Mangudadatu in the tragic incident that befell him and his family is that it was the 57, he said, who liberated Maguindandao.
Mangudadatu is expected to proceed with his filing of candidacy on Friday. He will be accompanied by resigned Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, the standard bearer of the administration in the 2010 elections./END