Cayamora Maute, father of the Maute brothers fighting government forces in Marawi City, was apprehended in a Toyota Grandia van that was stopped by Task Force Davao at a checkpoint. File

Maute family nabbed; P52 M in cash seized
(The Philippine Star) - June 6, 2017 - 4:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — Security forces yesterday arrested the head of the Maute clan after government troops discovered P52 million in cash stashed in his house in Marawi City.

Cayamora Maute, father of the Maute brothers fighting government forces in Marawi City, was apprehended in a Toyota Grandia van that was stopped by Task Force Davao at a checkpoint.

The elder Maute was in a vehicle driven by Aljon Salazar Ismael, along with his daughter Norjannah Balawag, son-in-law Benzarali Tingao and Kongan Alfonso Balawag, believed to be his wife, when it was stopped in Barangay Sirawan, Davao City.

Task Force Davao commander Col. Erwin Bernard Neri said no one had tipped off the military about the trip and the arrest of the elder Maute was incidental.

Lt. Col. Nestor Mondia, Task Force Davao checkpoint commander, said they stopped the van when they noticed one of the passengers was wearing a surgical mask and bore a resemblance to Cayamora.

“Our men were wondering why Cayamora refused to drop the blanket he used to cover himself. No matter what and how our men asked him to do it, he still refused to get the blanket off. That was why our men asked the group for identification cards and they presented different IDs. They had so many IDs,” Neri added.

Neri said a pistol and a grenade were seized from those in the van.

Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, deputy commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command, and Southern Mindanao police regional director Chief Supt. Manny Garland said they are checking out why the elder Maute was going to Davao City.

“We really do not know why they came to Davao City. We are looking into it,” Gapay said. 

Gapay claimed the elder Maute was the owner of the house in Marawi where the huge stash of money and checks were discovered by troops last Monday.

He said Cayamora is an engineer who has business interests in several cities in the country.

He added Cayamora and his first wife Ominta “Farhana” Romato are the brains of the Maute group.

“He planned everything. He organized everything and he established the network of the Maute group. He is their big man,” Gapay said.

Gapay said Cayamora and the three were in Marawi when the Maute group attacked the city last May 23. 

Cayamora reportedly admitted he was the owner of the house in Marawi but insisted the cash and checks seized there were not his.

Gapay added Cayamora and his companions were able to go to Cotabato City through Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur. 

When Cayamora reached Cotabato City, they checked in at the Hotel Filipino where they were fetched by Ismael on the way to Davao City.

Garland added authorities are now looking into other people the five may have contacted in Davao City.

The driver Ismael, on the other hand, denied any link with the Mautes, saying he was only driving the van they rented.

Millions for minions

The arrest came a day after government troops discovered the huge amount of cash and checks abandoned in a house formerly a stronghold of the Maute gunmen in Marawi.

Troops from the 7th Marine Battalion first found P52.2 million in cash in the house in Mapandi area. The soldiers had to knock down a machine gun nest and a sniper guarding the bundle of money inside the house.

Of this amount, P52 million was wrapped in plastic while P200,000 was stashed in envelopes.

The troops then found checks worth P27 million in the same house, bringing the total amount to P79 million.

“The recovery of those millions of cash indicates that they are running because the government troops are pressing in and focusing on destroying them,” Marines operations officer Rowan Rimas told a news conference.

Police said the money would form part of the evidence against the Maute extremists.

“If this cash or funds are being used to support Maute group, (they will have) less resources. We will look into the source of these checks. That is part of the investigation,” Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos said.

Tracking the source

Lawmakers immediately called on authorities to investigate the source of the money.

“The authorities should milk that cash recovery with all the valuable intelligence information that our troops may put to good use with possibly identifying the financiers of the Maute terrorists that attacked Marawi City and other co-conspirators,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.

He said the owner of the house where the bundle was discovered should also be investigated.

However, it was also possible that it was part of the loot taken by the Maute terrorists from the banks in Marawi City, he said.

“Either way, I take my hat off to our soldiers. No matter how battle-weary they are and considering the risk of life they’re going through, they were not tempted with the prospect of a comfortable life for themselves and their families,” Lacson said.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan said the authorities should “try to trace the origin, the source, the conduit, the pipeline and the recipient or user” of the cash.

Honasan said the probe could help pinpoint the support system and funding for terrorist activities in the Philippines and abroad, assuming the ownership or source has been established.

The military has enlisted the help of Bangko Sentral Pilipinas (BSP) to determine the origin of the stash.

The probe will be jointly conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said that aside from establishing the money trail, the military and police investigators also want to know the owner of the house where the stash was discovered.

“We are just wondering how come there was that huge amount of money there,” Año said.

While not ruling out that the money could be part of the Maute funding, Año said there are other factors to consider, such as businessmen fleeing the city from the fighting could have abandoned the money.

There were reports that aside from their local supporters, the Maute terrorists have been receiving financial assistance from their foreign backers in preparation for their planned takeover of Marawi City.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella claimed the stash of money had accumulated for the past two years.

Abella cited information gathered from official sources that the P52.2 million in cash was compiled from 2014 to 2016.

“I did inquire and apparently the money has been compiled over from the time of… within 2014 and 2016. Based on the records I think, it has been, it has been slowly accumulated over the past two years,” he said.

Abella, however, did not elaborate further why the money stash ended up in Maute’s hands.

BSP deputy governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. said the central bank is ready to track down the source of the money and checks taken in Marawi.

Espenilla said experts from the central bank could scrutinize the banknotes and checks.

“You have to first look at the physical evidence. We have experts who can do that so it has to be looked into. It might be very premature to comment,” he added.

Espenilla said the markings in the bank notes would help trace the source of the funds.

“I guess it all depends on the markings that are available. Maybe perhaps where it was sourced from it could be indicative,” he said.

Espenilla said the central bank has offices in Mindanao and its officials could look into the physical evidence.

Espenilla explained that all bank deposits and withdrawals amounting to P500,000 or more are subjected to cover transaction reports by banks and other financial institutions.

“These are for regulated financial institutions and other covered parties. I don’t know what would be the issue here because these are in the possession of elements who are not covered institutions then they won’t be reporting that,” he said.

The BSP official pointed out experts would also look into the checks discovered in the house.

“Checks are basically instruments of payment to people that is why it is difficult to comment on it without seeing what is out there in terms of documents or currencies,” he said. — Jaime Laude, Christina Mendez, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Roel Pareño, Lawrence Agcaoili, Reuters

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