Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cops ‘arrest’ suspects in Maguindanao massacre

11/26/2009 | 08:04 AM

Amid claims that Malacañang is going easy on the suspects in the Maguindanao massacre, the Philippine National Police announced Thursday the arrest of some civilian volunteers linked to the crime.

PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa also said a member of the Ampatuan clan linked to the murders has sent feelers he will “surrender."

“Meron tayong nakuha (We have taken into custody some people who are now) subject to investigation. Their firearms will be examined, their fingerprints will be compared with those we have taken in the crime scene," Verzosa said in an interview on dzBB radio.

The arrests came three days after the grisly massacre that drew condemnation from national and international groups, which noted that the Ampatuans are political allies of President Arroyo.

Verzosa did not identify the suspects, or say how many of them were in police custody as of early Thursday.

But he cited testimonies by witnesses who were earlier interviewed as saying that the suspects included Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) and civilian volunteer organization members.

Verzosa also said the police have secured the compound of the Maguindanao provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak, and the town hall in Ampatuan town, which has jurisdiction over the massacre site.

“May report na nagpuntahan sila sa kapitolyo ang mga suspek, that’s why we are securing the capitol. We will be conducting investigation on suspects and possible witnesses na makita sa lugar na yan (There were reports the suspects fled to the capitol to hide, that’s why we secured it. We will investigate suspects there, and interview possible witnesses as well)," he said.

Meanwhile, Verzosa said some members of the Ampatuan clan are considered “suspects" in the incident where armed men blocked the convoy led by the wife of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu last Monday.

At least 59 people were killed in the incident, including Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn.

“They are considered suspects," Verzosa said when asked how the PNP considers the Ampatuans.

“At this point, Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. is a suspect. Presidential adviser for Mindanao Jesus Dureza will accompany him for the investigation," he said.

Vice Mayor Mangudadatu had recalled his last phone conversation with Genalyn who said Mayor Ampatuan slapped her shortly before his men killed the victims.

Verzosa said the PNP “already invited" Mayor Ampatuan for questioning. “Siya ngayon ay isang suspect (The mayor is a suspect)," Verzosa said.

“Kung sinong tao ang ma-implicate sa investigation, they will be invited (Whoever will be implicated in the investigation, they will be invited). If charges are filed we will be arresting them," he added.

For its part, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it has deactivated the Cafgu in Ampatuan town.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. added they have set up additional checkpoints and are checking for loose firearms.

But Brawner said there is no reason to shake up the leadership of the local military in Maguindanao.

“As far as the AFP leadership is concerned, we see no need for of a shake-up," he said in an interview on dzXL radio.

Lack of arrests

An international media watchdog group on Thursday raised questions over what it claimed as “failure of making arrests" of suspects in Monday’s massacre.

“Is one of Mindanao’s most powerful clans more powerful than the law itself?"

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) hurled this question at the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration Thursday after it failed to make arrests over the bloodbath that killed at least 57 people in Maguindanao province.

“The toll from this massacre keeps rising but the governor’s son, the leading suspect, still has not been questioned by the police. President Gloria Arroyo says those responsible will be arrested and tried but all the information coming from the field so far indicates the contrary," the RSF statement said.

“Why have the governor’s son and the governor himself not been arrested? Are Mindanao Island’s power barons more powerful than the law itself? The Philippine government’s credibility is at stake," it added.

RSF said 26 journalists were among those killed in the massacre, supposedly carried out by alleged supporters of Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.

It quoted a journalist from Koronadal City as saying the “bloodbath is beyond human understanding."

Nonoy Espina of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), who is in Mindanao, told RSF that tallying and identifying the bodies is slow, but 26 journalists from several towns were killed.

“The government is not doing enough to arrest those responsible. How can the president’s adviser be pleased about obtaining undertakings from the governor when his son, the leading suspect, is still free? Settling for mere promises is unacceptable after this massacre,"
Espina said.

RSF noted the murdered journalists are as follows: Alejandro “Bong" Reblando of Manila Bulletin, Henry Araneta of radio DZRH, Bart Maravilla of Bombo Radyo Koronadal, Nap Salaysay of DZRO, Ian Subang of Pilipino Star Ngayon and Dadiangas Times, and freelance reporters Humberto Mumay, Ranie Razon, Noel Decena, John Caniba, Joel Parcon, Marife Montano, Art Belia and Jun Legarta.

The fatalities could include four UNTV reporters – Joy Duhay, Victor Nuñez, Macario Ariola and Jimmy Cabillo. Philippine news media have also named Leah Dalmacio of Mindanao Focus, Gina de la Cruz and Marites Cablitas of Today, Andy Teodoro of the Mindanao Inquirer, Bienvenido Lagarte of the Sierra News, Neneng Montaño of the weekly Saksi and Rey Merescon of MindaNews.

“The attackers reportedly raped, tortured and beheaded some of the victims. Most of the bodies have been found in mass graves," it said.

So far, it noted several members of Maguindanao police have been arrested and are being held in barracks while the Army announced the Ampatuan clan’s private militia will be disbanded. - LG, GMANews.TV

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