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Troops Surround Ampatuans’ Home in Maguindanao—Army

By Katherine Evangelista

Agence France-Presse

Posted date: December 03, 2009

GENERAL SANTOS – (UPDATE) The Philippine Army sent Thursday hundreds of extra troops to contain a powerful Muslim clan whose members have been indicted for the political massacre of 57 people last week.

The extra battalion of 400 soldiers brings to more than 3,000 the number of soldiers now guarding the home of the Ampatuan clan and government offices in Maguindanao province, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner said.

"Our forces are now stationed in the area. They are restricting their movement within the compound [home]," Brawner told Agence France-Presse. "We have added one more infantry battalion."

Brawner said that the deployment of the 33rd Infantry Battalion to Maguindanao Capitol in Shariff Aguak would be to guard at least two mansions of the Ampatuan clan and also to provide security to the members of the family.

Supporters of the clan, which has ruled Maguindanao for a decade and has its own private army, were being barred from entering the home in the provincial capital of Shariff Aguak, Brawner said.

“First of all, we do not allow just anyone inside their houses because someone might manage to sneak in, someone might pose as a supporter of Ampatuan and then do something else. And of course, we are also restricting the movements of the Ampatuans because there are threats to their life,” Brawner said in Filipino.

The military spokesman refused to identify which group was threatening the Ampatuan clan but said that there was a “possibility of retaliation.”

“There is a possibility, of course, maaaring hindi mismo sa pamilya galing maaaring yung mga supporters nila [it may not come from the family but from their supporters]… maaaring may mga galit na galit dyan at gustong bumawi [there may be those who are mad and will want to retaliate] so this is also one thing that we are guarding against,” Brawner said.

The move is also meant to support the national police if and when warrants of arrest are issued for several clan members who could be charged with murder, including the patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., he said but admitted that he did not know to whom the warrants would be served.

“Hindi pa namin alam kung kanino ito ihahain itong mga [We still don’t know to whom these] warrants of arrest [would be issued] but just the same we are preparing for that,” Brawner said.

He added that the troops were also tasked to secure the surrounding vicinity of the Ampatuan’s residence.

“Ang mission po nila ay magbigay ng seguridad dito sa lugar at kailangan po kasi ng dagdag na mga pwersa natin [Their mission is to provide security in the area and there is a need to add troops] just in case magkaroon po ng kaguluhan ay handanghanda tayo [there will be trouble, we are ready],” Brawner said.

With the additional deployment of troops, a total of four Infantry Battalions – the 64th IB, 46th IB, 33rd IB and one Mechanized Battalion – of soldiers are now deployed in Shariff Aguak alone, Brawner said.

When asked until when would there be military presence in the province, Brawner said that it was still “too early to say.”

“It’s too early to say kung hanggang kailan yung mga tropa natin [until when our troops will stay] but as long as kailangan yung forces natin dun ang ating [our forces are needed there, our] Chief of Staff [General Victor Ibrado] nagsabi siya na [said that] our forces will remain in that area,” Brawner said.

The patriarch's son and namesake, Andal Ampatuan Jr., was arrested three days after the November 23 massacre and has been charged with 25 counts of murder so far. Authorities said he would likely face more charges.

The savagery of the murders, which included the deliberate targeting and execution of at least 30 journalists, has shocked this Catholic nation as well as the international community.

Police have indicted Ampatuan Sr. and four other family members for their alleged role in the massacre, and are waiting for the justice department to decide whether to charge them in court.

Police allege Ampatuan Jr. and 100 of his gunmen shot dead the occupants of a convoy that included relatives of his rival for the post of Maguindanao governor in next year's elections, as well as a group of journalists.

The rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, said the killings were carried out to stop him from running for office.

Many of the journalists killed were from General Santos, a major port city a few hours' drive from where the massacre took place.

Ampatuan Jr. and Sr. were members of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's ruling coalition until being expelled last week because of the killings.

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