Martial law set in Maguindanao?

- John Unson and Mike Frialde -

MANILA, Philippines - Amid reports that martial law will be imposed today in Maguindanao, government forces raided several homes of the Ampatuan clan, seizing weapons and ammunition that police said were enough to arm an entire battalion.

On Thursday, military and police teams raided the mansion of Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., principal suspect in the Nov. 23 massacre in Maguindanao, seizing several high-powered guns and stockpiles of ammunition hidden in a compartment under a concrete stairway of the house.

Quoting unnamed sources, the abscbnnews website reported last night that President Arroyo had given the go-signal for the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao effective today.

The go-signal was reportedly given amid reports that supporters of the Ampatuans were preparing to fight back.

Palace officials said last night that martial law was discussed but no decision was reached on its imposition during a National Security Council meeting earlier in the afternoon. They said it was not the main agenda at the meeting, which they said focused on warring clans with private armies as well as the peace talks with Islamic separatists.

The searches went on until yesterday when the raiding teams uncovered more than 260 boxes of ammunition of assorted calibers, 22 assault rifles, customized sniper rifles, handguns and various gun accessories that were buried in a vacant lot adjacent to the houses of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and his father, former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Jesus Verzosa said the number of firearms seized was enough to arm 1,000 troops, or a battalion of soldiers or policemen.

Some of the weapons and crates of ammunition uncovered bore “government arsenal” markings as well as the name of its manufacturer, Arms Corp. of the Philippines (Armscor), with the manufacture date stamped October 2008.

Among the high-powered weapons seized were two 90RR (recoilless rifles), one 57RR, three 60mm mortars, two 81mm mortars, four M60 machine guns, an AK-47 rifle, one HK11 sub machinegun, a 50 caliber Barrett sniper rifle, one Ultimax light machine gun, a Bushmaster 5.56 automatic rifle, two Browning Automatic Rifles, one FAL automatic rifle, one M4 5.56 rifle, four 9 mm automatic handguns, seven .45 caliber pistols and several boxes of assorted ammunition.

Lawmen also unearthed gun replacement parts and several military uniforms at the site about the size of a basketball court.

Verzosa said the search for more weapons is continuing.

He said the military and policemen, armed with metal detectors and bomb sniffing K-9 units, have started serving search warrants on four other houses owned by the Ampatuans.

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division spokesman Col. Jonathan Ponce said the soldiers accompanied the policemen in raiding the Ampatuan mansions.

“They are looking for guns, bullets, everything. The (search) warrant covers everything,” Ponce said.

The lawmen did not make any arrests during the raid but questioned the household members of the Ampatuans.

It was a tense situation during the raid as Maguindanao Gov. Sajid Ampatuan only watched helplessly as battalions of government troops and policemen stormed the mansions of his relatives in search for more weapons.

Television footage showed the governor crying as an armored troop carrier entered the gate of his compound and with the clan's security men lying face down on the floor.

A policeman was also shown using a hammer to bore a hole on a concrete wall that was apparently part of the guardhouse of Ampatuan Jr.’s home.

The footage showed ammunition boxes being pulled out from the hole as other lawmen stormed Ampatuan Sr.’s home but found no weapons there.

Ponce said some residents have been providing information on other possible hidden arms cache sites in the province.

He said the military would expand their search for more weapons cache to other towns outside Shariff Aguak.

Verzosa added their information led the police to the location of the buried arms cache.

“Through an information, we were able to trace where the firearms were buried. There is the possibility that those weapons might have been used in the massacre. Or they could have been used by other armed groups in Maguindanao before,” Verzosa said.

Verzosa said their initial investigation revealed the arms stockpile was recently buried. He noted the buried weapons were unearthed a few meters from the house of the Ampatuans.

Verzosa admitted though the distance of the house to the site where the arms cache was uncovered is not enough to prove that the Ampatuans owned the buried weapons.

“But in this continuing investigation, we will see to it who witnessed the burying of the firearms. Then we will establish the connection. Proximity maybe an indicator of the persons involved,” he said.


Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Victor Ibrado immediately ordered an inventory of the seized firearms from the Ampatuans.

AFP chief spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said Ibrado has tasked Brig. Gen. Jovencio Magalzo, the military’s Inspector General, to lead the investigation to determine if the seized firearms and ammunition formed part of the military’s stockpile.

“The investigation will cover past and present commanders on the ground in Central Mindanao,” Brawner said.

Brawner said the seized weapons are now being stenciled to determine their origin on the possibility that may have been part of the police and military stockpile.

“If it turns out that those who have retired were behind these armed pilferage, we will go after them,” Brawner said.

Brawner said ballistic tests would be conducted if the weapons were used in last week’s massacre.

“The investigation will involve checking of the serial numbers of the firearms and checking, matching these with our records and then matching the lot number of the ammunition with our records,” he said.

The military also dispatched more troops in search for Senior Inspector Saudi Mokamad, the police officer suspected to have kept the firearms used in last week’s massacre.

Mokamad, commander of the 1507th Police Mobile Group in the province, was reportedly seen near the spot where the arms cache was buried a day after last week’s slaughter.

The police officer reportedly went AWOL after he was named as among the primary suspects in the massacre.

The military added Mokamad was among the police officers manning the checkpoint at a remote farming road in Barangay Salman near Ampatuan town that blocked the six-vehicle convoy of the Mangudadatus on Nov. 23.

Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn led the ill-fated convoy to file her husband’s certificate of candidacy to run as governor of the province in next year’s elections.

Some 30 journalists accompanied the convoy when Ampatuan Jr. allegedly led his armed militia in the attack by seizing the victims before slaughtering them.

“There are continuing operations by our intelligence units to help the police find (Mokamad). We are calling on the public to help the government find this man,” Ponce said.

Soldiers and policemen raided the house of Mokamad in Cotabato City but found only an M-16 rifle and dozens of ammunition.

Neighbors told raiding lawmen that they have not seen Mokamad since the massacre occurred.

Intelligence sources said Mokamad was last seen leaving the provincial capitol of Shariff Aguak driving a vehicle carrying several sacks that contained the firearms reportedly used by the gunmen in the carnage.

Senior Superintendent Willie Dangane, chief of joint Task Force Alpha investigating the massacre, said they would file additional charges of illegal possession of firearms against Ampatuan Jr.

Dangane said similar charges are also being readied against Ampatuan Jr.’s cousin, Hadji Akmad Ampatuan after raiding lawmen seized a 12-gauge shotgun from his house.

Dangane said they would first determine the owners of the large cache of firearms that the lawmen had unearthed yesterday beside the Ampatuan mansions before filing the charges.

Detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said the discovery of the huge arms cache only confirmed earlier suspicions that warlords and other rogue groups are being supplied and sourced from military arsenals.

“This corrupt and condemnable practice has not only led to the sacrifice of countless lives of soldiers, law enforcement officials and innocent civilians but has been fueling the endless war in Mindanao and other volatile areas,” Trillanes said in a statement.

Former ARMM governor Nur Misuari also said the large cache of weapons seized was an indication of possible connivance of corrupt military officials.

The former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chief said the large quantity of firearms and ammunition seized would come only from the military stockpile.

“How can a single clan collect such quantity of weapons in such a short period of time?” Misuari asked.

Misuari appealed on the government to go after other warlords in Mindanao that had been stockpiling weapons.

“We are calling on the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of National Defense, for the safety of the citizens, (that) they must abolish these unlawful institutions,” he said. –With Roel Pareño, Jaime Laude, James Mananghaya, Perseus Echeminada, Rose Tamayo-Tesoro

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