“A big lie,” Mayor Ampatuan says of reports they abandoned towns and supported BIFF

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/18 August) –  Mayor Datu Saudi “Sheam” Ampatuan III of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, belied reports he and four other Ampatuan mayors supported the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and abandoned their towns when the armed group attacked last week.

He  told MindaNews in a telephone interview that they are willing to face any investigation to prove their point.

Reports about abandoning their towns and supporting the BIFF are “a big lie,” he said, adding he feels sad that “despite risking our lives to stay in the area at the height of the war, this is what we (get). We are ever loyal to the government since the time of our patriarch (so) how could we be supporters of these rebels?”

Maguindanao Vice Governor Ishmael Mastura told reporters that accusing the mayors of  allegedly supporting the BIFF in last week’s attacks is “really unfair and not true.”

“How can these people support BIFF when it is known in Maguindanao that the BIFF headed by (Amiril) Umra Kato is an arch-enemy of the Ampatuans, especially Andal Ampatuan, Sr.,” Mastura  told reporters Thursday night.

Mayor Ampatuan,  grandson of the patriarch said he and  his aunts who are also mayors  “never abandoned the towns.”

“We have documents and media can attest that we stayed there, In fact during the height of skirmishes we still managed to assist evacuees and provided food,” he said.

The mayor admitted he has a house in Brgy. Ilian but sleeps in Cotabato City for security reasons and that he only goes to the office at daytime.

Mayor Ampatuan and his cousin Tahirodin Benzar Ampatuan, mayor of Mamasapano town, were among 13 out of 116 municipal mayors in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao who received the Seal of Good Housekeeping (SGH) for good governance performance in 2011 from President Aquino during the ARMM Local Governments Summit in Davao City in June.

Investigation

Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo on August 10 issued “show cause orders” against five Maguindanao mayors of the Ampatuan clan, who allegedly abandoned  their posts when the BIFF “threatened to attack their respective towns last Sunday morning.”

Robredo gave the mayors five days within which to answer why they should not be charged for abandonment of post.

At the  meeting he called for at the provincial capitol of North Cotabato in Amas, Kidapawan City on Monday, Robredo was quoted as saying they are “also interested whether they gave financial support” to the BIFF.

But ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman told MindaNews the five mayors were only made to explain if, indeed, they abandoned their posts. He said Robredo may have been misquoted on the probe on the mayors’ alleged financial support to the BIFF

Hataman acknowledged having reports about prominent personalities suspected of supporting the BIFF.

Robredo said they “do not want to be seen that this is a political vendetta but provincial governments have their machinery in investigating administrative cases against erring elected officials.”

He said Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Magugundatu would  take the lead in the investigation.

No need for probe

But ARMM Local Governments Secretary Haroun Al-Rashid Rashid Lucman told MindaNews Friday that the mayors have sent their explanations. He said Mangudadatu “did not conduct any investigation because there is no need for it.”

Earlier, prominent personalities, including Mangudadatu himself, were reported to have been supporting the BIFF, an allegation Mangudadatu vehemently denied.

Lucman said ARMM Governor Hataman convened the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Friday morning to review existing policies on disaster preparedness on human conflicts, taking as a cue the recent conflict in the five municipalities and the IDP (internally displaced persons) issues.”

Aside from the Datu Saudi mayor, the other mayors who were asked to answer were Mayor Bai Johaira “Bongbong” Midtimbang Ampatuan of Datu Hoffer town, Mayor Bai Reshal Santiago Ampatuan of Datu Unsay, Mayor Bai Zandra Sinsuat Ampatuan of Saydona town, and the  OIC  mayor of Datu Salibo town.

The mayor of  Datu Unsay town  is the first wife of detained former mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., the principal suspect in the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao; the mayor of Datu Hoffer town is the wife of detained former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan while the mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha town is the wife of the youngest Ampatuan son, Sajid Islam who is also detained in connection with the massacre. Sajid won as vice governor of Maguindanao in 2007 and assumed the post of  Governor when his father, three-term governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr.. He won a seat in the Provincial Board in the May 2010 elections.

Akmad Ampatuan,  elected mayor of Datu Salibo in 2010 and the elected vice mayor, Kanor Ampatuan,  were both implicated in the 2009 massacre.

The DILG  website  named the Datu Salibo mayor who was asked to “show cause” as “Vice-Mayor Kanor D. Ampatuan (who) assumed as mayor of Salibo town after its duly-elected mayor, Akmad Ampatuan, had gone hiding three months ago after a warrant for his arrest was issued against him by a Midsayap, North Cotabato court after new witnesses implicated him in the  (2009 massacre).”

Akmad was earlier dropped from the list of respondents in early 2010. Kanor was among 11 Ampatuans whom the panel of investigating prosecutors in a joint resolution on February 5, 2010, named as having been “positively identified by witnesses” to have participated in the carnage. He has been in hiding even before the May 2010 elections but won as vice mayor.

Abumisry Mama, spokesperson of BIFF denied any support from Maguindanao politicians, claiming their cause will never be tainted by politics. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera/MindaNews with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas)

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