Thursday, November 26, 2009

The untouchable: PNP won't touch Mayor Ampatuan

By Cecile Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) Updated November 26, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday refused to categorically name Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., a political ally of President Arroyo, as the prime suspect in an election-linked massacre in Maguindanao in the absence of concrete evidence against the Ampatuan family.

This came amid speculations that Ampatuan Jr. had already fled the country. Other sources, however, said that he is still in Maguindanao.

National police spokesman Chief Super intendent Leonardo Espina earlier said that “according to initial reports, those who were abducted and murdered at Saniag were stopped by a group led by the mayor of Datu Unsay.”

But Espina later backtracked and told reporters “to verify first the report” because the word suspect is a technical term.

“Let’s evaluate first if he will be implicated in the statements. After it is done and concluded, if he is included then his status will change. That’s the time we call him suspect,” the PNP spokesman said.

Ampatuan is a member of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition and a son of an extremely powerful politician in the region who has ensured local support for President Arroyo in previous elections.

The military and the relatives of the victims had previously named the bodyguards of the Ampatuans as the suspects in Monday’s massacre in which relatives and supporters of a rival politician, and a group of journalists who went with them to cover the filing of his Certificte of Candidacy, were abducted and brutally killed in a village on the outskirts of a town that bears the clan’s name.

Espina’s comments were the first time Ampatuan Jr. was specifically mentioned in connection with the gruesome massacre.

He was being groomed to succeed his father, who is on his third and last term as Maguindanao governor.

Espina said he is hopeful that charges against the perpetrators will be filed within the week.
Complicity of men in uniform?

Espina also said it will question Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) police director Chief Superintendent Paisal Umpa on why he did not grant the request of Buluan Mayor Mangudadatu for a security detail on the convoy.

It was earlier reported that Umpa rejected Mangudadatu’s request for police protection.

“He will be investigated for that. He has also yet to make and submit a report on the incident,” Espina said.

The PNP earlier relieved and placed under investigation Maguindanao police director Senior Superintendent Abdusana Maguid and his deputy, Chief inspector Zukarno Dicay.

Central Mindanao’s Muslim and Christian communities have also asked for a probe on Col. Medardo Jeslani, commander of the Army’s 601st Brigade, who they said ignored the presence of armed men along Barangay Salman, Ampatuan days before the incident.

The 601st Brigade has jurisdiction over Ampatuan and surrounding towns in the second district of Maguindanao, the known political bailiwicks of former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Even lowly Army intelligence operatives of battalions under the 601st Brigade said they had informed their superiors, all under Jeslani, of the presence of the suspects on Friday.

“I was told by my superiors that we can’t do anything because it’s a political thing and that we should not interfere,” an Army agent told reporters.

The suspects, according to farmers residing near Barangay Salman, even erected an Army squad tent in a spot not far from the highway where they kept their firearms, some of them M-60 machineguns.

Witnesses said the gunmen were even seen mingling with policemen from the Maguindanao provincial police while in the area.

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