Mayor Reshal Ampatuan’s security escorts disarmed

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao (MindaNews/17 January) – Police and Army personnel confiscated eight high-powered firearms from the security escorts of Mayor Reshal Ampatuan on Thursday afternoon.

The incumbent mayor is one of  two wives of former Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the principal suspect in the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media.

Senior Superintendent Marcelo Pintac, Maguindanao police chief, said six MP-5 firearms and two M-16 rifles were confiscated by a composite team led by Chief Inspector Greg Soliba, director of the Police Provincial Security Company of the Philippine National Police, and elements from the Army’s 45th IB from the security escorts wearing blue guard uniforms, on Thursday at around 2:45 p.m.

Maguindanao has remained under a state of emergency following the massacre. It was placed under a state of emergency on November 24, 2009, was placed under martial law for about a week in early December 2009 and reverted to a state of emergency since then.

In his report to the regional director of the PNP in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, dated January 13, Pintac said they received reports at about 2:45 that afternoon that “there was a commotion between the incumbent Mayor Reshal Ampatuan of Datu Unsay municipality and a group of protesters at Datu Unsay Ampatuan municipal police station.”

Pintac said he immediately directed Soliba and Senior Inspector Lino Capellan and the 45th IB led by Marvin Licodine to proceed to the police station. Three, he said, the team found Pata Usman, 52 and Abdulhamid Lumena, 32, both of Datu Unsay town, reporting that the mayor’s group removed the streamers.

The report noted that while at the police station, “one Tungko Zangkala accompanied by eight blue guards armed with MP-5 and M-16 rifles allegedly under Mayor Reshal Ampatuan who remove(d) the streamers attached on the municipal fence at about 2:30 in the afternoon of January 23, surrounded them.”

The report said Soliba invited the blue guards inside the police station “to verify their authority to carry high powered firearms  but upon verification of their identification and documents found out that Temporary License to Operate of Savior Weapons and Tactics Security Agency expired last January 6, 2011” prompting Soliba to confiscate the weapons.

The eight Maguindanaoan guards or “protective agents,” aged between 21 and 38, were identified in Pintac’s report as residents of “Dona Carmen, Arellano St., Barangay Palanan, Makati City.”

A total of 33 long magazines and seven short magazines loaded with live ammunition were confiscated along with the six MP-5 9 mms weapons.  Confiscated along with the two M-16 rifles or baby armalites were nine long magazines and one short magazine for cal. 5.56 loaded with live ammunition.

Pintac reported that the weapons and ammunition are now in police custody “for  verification of license and the authority of the security agency to operate and issue high-powered firearms to protective agents.

The guards were released to the custody of Paisal Sulaik, information officer of Datu Unsay town.

Mayor Ampatuan could not be reached for comment.

Protesters have been seeking the intervention of President Benigno Aquino and Maguindanao governor Esmael Mangudadatu for alleged massive fraud in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in October 2010.

Since the massacre, Maguindanao’s 42 private armed groups (PAGs) with 3,330 armed followers, have reportedly been disbanded, and while calls have been made for the lifting of the state of emergency (SOE), fears have also been expressed that doing so would also mean a return to the days of civilians carrying firearms since lifting the SOE would also mean lifting the ban on the issuance of permits to carry firearms.

On September 1, 2010, Col Prudenco Asto, Chief of the 6th Infantry Division’s Public Affairs Office told Tapatan sa ARMM, a weekly forum with media, that the state of emergency is effective  because “now you don’t see people carrying firearms.”

He said lifting it could mean a return to the old days when firearms were displayed publicly. “Parang wild, wild west na naman tayo (We will be like ‘wild, wild west all over again),” he said.

Politicians who were among those who had PAGs before are now seen in the company of  security escorts armed with high-powered weapons, wearing uniforms of blue guards. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)