Monday, December 07, 2009

Ampatuan mansion yields machine guns; followers attack police forces in Maguindanao

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 7, 2009) – Philippine security forces seized heavy infantry weapons Monday in a raid at a mansion of the patriarch of powerful political warlord whose clan is implicated the brutal slayings of 57 people in the southern Maguindanao province, officials said.

Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said four .50-caliber machine guns were seized by soldiers and police commandos from the mansion of Andal Ampatuan Snr, the provincial governor, in Shariff Aguak town.

“We have recovered four machine guns – all .50-caliber – from the mansion of Governor Andal Ampatuan Snr. We have a warrant to search the mansion and the search yielded machine guns,” Ponce said told the independent newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

He said civilians were providing information about the locations of buried weapons allegedly owned by the clan. “Civilians are themselves providing us all these information about the illegal weapons,” Ponce said.

Authorities said more than 800 various weapons, mostly high-powered, and close to half a million rounds of munitions, had been recovered from various sites in Shariff Aguak town believed owned by the Ampatuan clan, a former key political ally of President Gloria Arroyo.

Arroyo placed Maguindanao under martial rule over the weekend to contain a growing rebellion and arrest without warrants all those implicated in the brutal murders of the 57 people.

Police chief Jesus Verzosa said some 30 gunmen opened fire late Sunday on a police patrol in the town of Datu Unsay, whose mayor Andal Ampatuan Jnr, was tagged by authorities as the mastermind of the November 23 massacre of supporters of rival politician Esmael Mangudadatu, the deputy mayor of Buluan town.

“There were no police casualties in the fighting that lasted about 10 minutes,” Verzosa said.

He said police and military were tracking down about 2,400 gunmen who are followers of the Ampatuan clan.

Ampatuan Jnr surrendered to authorities three days after the massacre and denied all the charges against him. His father, Ampatuan Snr, was also arrested last week along with his three other sons – Akmad Ampatuan, his deputy governor; Zaldy Ampatuan, the governor of the Muslim autonomous region; Anwar Ampatuan, the mayor of Shariff Aguak – and several more relatives implicated in the grisly murders of the 57 people in Ampatuan town.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said charges of rebellion are being readied against the Ampatuans on top of the multiple counts of murders in connection with the killings.

Among those killed were 30 journalists, who were accompanying Mangudadatu’s caravan, on its way to file his nomination papers for gubernatorial elections next year. Ampatuan Snr was grooming his son Andal Jnr to be the next governor of Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

Manila also ordered an audit of all the funds of the Muslim autonomous region, and probably Maguindanao province, to determine whether the monies intended for government projects were diverted to purchase illegal weapons.

In 2006 alone, the Muslim autonomous region received more than 2 billion pesos in the form of internal revenue allotments. Maguindanao’s internal revenue allotment in 2006 was more than 600 million pesos, according to investigative reports. (Mindanao Examiner)

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