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Ampatuan armory found

By AARON B. RECUENCO and NONOY E. LACSON

December 4, 2009, 6:39pm


The noose further tightened on neck of the embattled Ampatuan clan as authorities discovered on Thursday a cache of high-powered firearms and ammunition near the family residence in Maguindanao which officials said is enough to arm a battalion of security forces.

Director General Jesus Verzosa of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said subsequent raids conducted Friday on the houses of four members of the Ampatuan family, including that of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. in Poblacion Tres in Shariff Aguak town also yielded a 60mm mortar which is only issued to special police and military units.

“If it’s a mortar it’s unauthorized; then it’s loose because there are only authorized units or security forces that are allowed to possess these firearms. Civilians or local government executives are not allowed to have them,” said Verzosa.

Verzosa said they are expecting to arrest one of the Ampatuans whose house where the 60mm mortar was recovered.

The serving of warrants on residents of the four Ampatuan houses was an offshoot of the recovery of high-powered firearms and ammunition that were buried some 300 meters away from the house of the Ampatuan patriarch.

Seized were two 90mm recoilless rifles, one 57mm recoilless Rifle, three 60mm mortar tubes, four M-60 light machineguns, two 81mm mortar tubes, one caliber 50 Barrett sniper rifle, a FAL rifle, an Ultimax automatic rifle, a Bushmaster 5.56mm rifle, two Browning automatic rifles, an AK-47 rifle, and an HK11 rifle.

There was also an 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. Some military uniforms were also unearthed in the site.


Verzosa said authorities used a bulldozer to dig the site as the firearms and uniforms were buried deep under the ground, an indication that heavy equipment was also used in burying the armory.

“Our estimate is that these seized firearms are enough to arm a battalion,” said Verzosa, adding that they were able to track down the hiding area through information relayed by a civilian.

“It’s interesting to note that the area where these firearms were recovered are near the houses of some suspects (of the massacre) belonging to the Ampatuan family. It’s more or less 300 meters from the house of Andal Ampatuan Sr.,” said Verzosa.

The official said all of the firearms will be subjected to ballistic examinations to determine whether they were used in the massacre of journalists, media workers and civilians in Ampatuan town last November 23.

The victims belonged to a convoy that was supposed to file the certificate of candidacy of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu as governor of Maguindanao when heavily armed men intercepted them in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan.

The PNP Crime Laboratory earlier established that there were six M16 rifles, an M14 rifle and an AK-47 used in the gruesome killings – now referred to as the Maguindanao massacre – based on the spent shells recovered from the carnage site.

Five M16 rifles have yet to be accounted for since an M16 rifle confiscated from Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) member Esmael Canapia earlier was already established as among those used in the killings.

Canapia and his fellow CVO Takpan Dilon were already recommended to be included among those who will be slapped with multiple murder charges along with six members of the Ampatuan clan.

Asked if the discovery of the firearms near the house of Ampatuan Sr. is enough to pin down the Ampatuan patriarch on the massacre, Verzosa said: “The proximity is an indicator of persons that might be involved in an attempt to hide them.”

“But the distance itself from the person is not sufficient to prove the connection of a person and the armory, but this is a continuing investigation... we will try to get witnesses that might have witnessed the actual burying of the armory and the persons who brought them there," he stressed.

Reports said military troops aided by members of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) team of the PNP dug up the arms cache late Thursday.

The report added some residents living near the area tipped the military about the arms cache which prompted government troops to seek a search warrant from a local court.

The military is presently securing all vital government installations in the province and assisting the police in searching for more evidence in connection with the massacre.

Meanwhile, unidentified men reportedly shadowed two Peruvian forensic experts working on the massacre site, prompting the foreign specialists to fly back to Manila Thursday due to security concerns.

Lawyer Romel Bagares of CenterLaw said they had to ask Peruvian forensic expert Dr. Jose Pablo Baraybar and weapons expert Christopher Cobb-Smith to fly to Manila after unidentified men were seen shadowing them at the Pacific Heights Hotel in Cotabato City Wednesday night.

Bagares said the foreigners and their team left the hotel and spent the night elsewhere.

“The foreigners do not want to leave but we prevailed on them. We are concerned with their safety,” Bagares told the Mindanews website.

The foreign experts were tapped by Commission on Human Rights Chairman Leila de Lima to conduct an independent probe of the killing of 57 unarmed civilians, including 30 journalists.

Aside from the foreigners, a team composed of Dr. Ben Molino of the Medical Action Group and lawyers from the CenterLaw went to the crime site in Barangay Salman.

Bagares said the other reason they decided to go back to Manila was the non-cooperation of local government agencies.

“We’ve been trying to borrow a back hoe for several days but none of the agencies here would lend us one,” Bagares said.

He said they even approached several construction firms but all declined to help.

“It seems nobody wanted to be involved,” Bagares said.

Bagares said they need the back hoe to search for Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, photographer of Midland Review of Tacurong City, whose body is believed still buried somewhere in Barangay Salman.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), meanwhile, said there was no inconsistency with the findings of PNP medical experts who found semen in private parts of five female victims of the massacre with the bureau’s earlier statement that the victims were not raped.

Deputy Director for Intelligence Services lawyer Reynaldo Esmeralda said the bodies which the bureau processed were different with that of the PNP.

“There is no inconsistency because they were different bodies. Iba iyon sa PNP at iba rin sa NBI,” he said.

Police medical experts found semen in private parts of five female victims of the Maguindanao massacre, an indication, they said, that they could have been sexually abused before they were brutally killed.

The NBI said on Tuesday that there were no signs that the 15 female victims of the massacre, including the wife of Mangudadatu, were sexually abused.
________________________________
(With reports from Ali Macabalang and Jeamma Sabate)

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