Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ampatuan Jr. Held at NBI

‘Not guilty,’ says main suspect in massacre

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: November 27, 2009


GENERAL SANTOS CITY — Andal Ampatuan Jr. was in denial and even tried to hide his face behind a scarf under a barrage of questions from reporters asking if he masterminded Monday’s massacre of 57 people.

“There is no truth to that,” said Ampatuan, mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, ruled by his family that is a close ally of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “The reason I came out is to prove that I am not hiding and that I am not guilty.”

Ampatuan was placed in government custody after his brother, Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, turned him over to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza Thursday morning.

But as Mayor Ampatuan stepped out of the helicopter that transported him from Shariff Aguak town to the airport here, the scarf was gone. He was sporting a red and blue putong, a headband usually used by Moro warriors.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera waited two hours for the arrival of Ampatuan, accompanied by Dureza. The mayor was then led to the airport’s VIP lounge for a summary inquest at mid-afternoon after his lawyer, Seigfred Fortun, arrived.

Esmael Mangudadatu, the vice mayor of Buluan town whose wife, two sisters and two lawyers were among the 57 killed while en route to file his certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao in the May elections, was visibly enraged.

He tried to raise his fist toward Ampatuan, who was just a meter away, sitting. But agents of the National Bureau of Investigation intervened.

Mangudadatu later told reporters he was enraged but that he had to contain his anger. “I don’t know what I could do, but truth will come out. Whatever the court decides, should be accepted,” he said in Filipino.

‘We Want Justice’

His brother, Buluan Mayor Ebrahim Mangudadatu, said: “We want justice. We leave this to the law ... We are educated. We do not kill people,” Ebrahim said.

During the brief inquest at the airport, state prosecutors heard preliminary evidence given by police, victims’ relatives and Mayor Ampatuan himself.

Devanadera told reporters after the hearing that prosecutors would evaluate the evidence and decide by the weekend whether criminal charges would be brought against Ampatuan.

“Wait until we come out with our resolution in 36 hours,” Devanadera said, when asked if charges would be laid.

At the hearing, victims’ relatives asked prosecutors to charge Ampatuan with multiple murder.

At 3:50 p.m., Ampatuan was flown to Manila, where he arrived three hours later. He was then whisked off to the NBI office in Manila under tight security.

Dureza told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Ampatuan would be held at the NBI jail “for as long as needed” based on the agreement between the complainants and the accused.

Devanadara said Thursday night in Manila that prosecutors were working overnight on a charge sheet for multiple murder to be filed Friday in the Cotabato City Regional Trial Court.

Allah Will Take Care of Them

But Ebrahim Mangudadatu told the Inquirer his family was not yet satisfied because the other assailants were at large.

“The massacre was planned. All those involved should be held to account,” he said.

The vice mayor also asked journalists to closely watch the progress of the case to avoid a whitewash.

“Let our family make the sacrifice. Allah will take care of them,” he said. “The blood that many of your colleagues shed should not go to waste.”

Mayor Ampatuan is the son of the Maguindanao governor, a Muslim clan chief of the same name who during his rule gave Ms Arroyo and her allies victories in the presidential election of 2004 and the senatorial contest in 2007.

The elder Ampatuan had been grooming his namesake son to take over as governor of Maguindanao. The victims’ relatives alleged the Ampatuans organized the murders so that Mangudadatu would not run for that post.

The attackers herded the victims to a remote hillside and attacked them with M-16 rifles and machetes.

27 Journalists Slain

The 57 dead included 27 journalists and up to 15 motorists who, like the reporters, had no known quarrels with the Ampatuans, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, a military spokesperson.

The 15 motorists unrelated to the Mangudadatus were aboard at least two vehicles that happened to drive past as the convoy was stopped by the gunmen, Ponce added.

Police continued the search around the sites of the mass graves Thursday, but no more bodies were found, Ponce said.

Police and troops deployed in Maguindanao have disarmed 347 members of the Special Active Auxiliary (SCAA) of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) employed by the provincial government.

“All security people are also possible suspects,” said Director Andres Caro of the Philippine National Police. “We are investigating them. More or less it will total about 400, including cops and families.”

Provincial Officials are Suspects

Four senior policemen from Maguindanao had also been brought to Manila for questioning about their roles in the massacre, and all policemen from Ampatuan town were being considered suspects, according to Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

He said he had also recommended to Ms Arroyo that all provincial officials be suspended and that Ampatuan Sr. be investigated for his potential links to the murders.

Puno said authorities had not been able to act as quickly as many wanted because local police and soldiers were suspected of being loyal to the Ampatuans.

“It was very difficult for us to rely on the local military and police forces to carry out the directives of the central headquarters on both the armed forces and police side,” he said.

Puno said he had warned the family they risked a military attack unless they turned over Ampatuan by midday Thursday.

As the helicopter carrying Ampatuan took off from Shariff Aguak, shots rang out but the aircraft was not hit, said Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command. It wasn’t clear who fired the shots.

Maguindanao Tense

Ferrer said the area around the Maguindanao capital was tense after troops disarmed the militiamen loyal to the Ampatuans. Such militias are meant to act as an auxiliary force to the military and police in fighting rebels and criminals but often serve as politicians’ private armies.

The military deployed tanks and truckloads of troops throughout the province under a state of emergency to hunt down the attackers and prevent retaliatory violence from the victims’ clan.


And despite more than 1,000 extra soldiers being sent into Maguindanao to restore order, the military said most of the Ampatuan family’s militiamen alleged to have carried out the massacre were still on the run.

“Most of the armed group that perpetrated this crime have run away towards the mountainous area of Maguindanao,” said Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. “That is where we are conducting our pursuit operations.”

Palace Welcomes Surrender

Malacañang on Thursday welcomed the surrender of Ampatuan.

“The taking in, inquest and the subsequent filing of charges against Datu Unsay [Mayor] Ampatuan is just the beginning,” Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said. “President Arroyo wants all the culprits punished without fear or favor.”

Caro said that investigators were not ruling out the involvement of Ampatuan Sr. and Zaldy Ampatuan in the massacre.

“We are also looking into that,” Caro said.

Caro explained the situation on the ground was complex because of several factors.

“This is an autonomous regional government area. There is actual real immediate threat from MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) groups. There are infamous reports of warlordism culture and we have to admit the fact that some of our local security forces are in some way were or are under influence of political leaders,” he said.

“We cannot trust the local forces so we have to inject troops from the outside.” Reports from TJ Burgonio, Jocelyn R. Uy, Jeannette I. Andrade, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Leila B. Salaverria, Volt Contreras, Aquiles Z. Zonio, Rosa May V. de Guzman, Dennis Jay Santos, Charlie Señase and Julie S. Alipala, AP, AFP and Reuters

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