Maguindanao “going to normalcy” but still under a state of emergency

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/01 August)  — Maguindanao is now “going to normalcy,” police and military officials say, even as it remains under a state of emergency nine months after the massacre of November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan town.

Police Sr. Supt. Allen  Fortes, deputy regional director for operations of the Police Regional Office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), told the weekly Tapatan sa ARMM today that “going normal na yung sitwasyon dito sa Maguindanao” (the situation in Maguindanao is going normal).

Col Prudenco Asto, Chief of the 6th Infantry Division’s Public Affairs Office, told the same forum that the situation in Mindanao, is, indeed “going back to normalcy” but “napakaganda nitong state of emergency” (the state of emergency is beautiful) because now you don’t see people carrying firearms.

He said lifting the state of emergency now could mean a return to the old days when firearms were displayed publicly. “Parang wild, wild west na naman tayo,” Asto said.

Both officials said members of the CVO (civilian volunteers organization) identified with the Ampatuan clan have dispersed after the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, at least 32 of them from the media. Some CVOs were arrested, the rest dispersed to neighboring towns.

Asto said some CVOs want to come down to surrender but are afraid they would be killed. He said wrong information is being fed to the CVOs that “pag CVO ka, patay ka.”

He said CVOs should be told that if they did not have anything to do with the November massacre, they should come out to clear their names.

CVOs and police personnel under the command of then Datu Unsay Mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr..,  reportedly stopped the convoy of the wife of then Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu of Buluan, Maguindanao, in Ampatuan, town. The convoy was en route to Shariff Aguak, the next town, to  deliver Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao, when stopped by Ampatuan Jr’s men. They and occupants of two other vehicles who happened to pass at the wrong time, were herded into Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, some 3.5 kilometers from the highway, where they were massacred and some of them, buried,

Ampatuan, Jr., was supposed to run for governor. Ampatuan has been detained since November 26, 2009.  Mangudadatu won  the gubernatorial post in the May 2010 elections.

Fortes cited the recent arrest of six suspects in the massacre although acknowledged that there are many more with warrants of arrest who have yet to be arrested.

Arrested in July and August in connection with the massacre were Edres Kasan, Patutuhon M. Esmail, Samaon M. Andatuan, Toy K. Datumanung, P01 Nakouk D. Masku and Butukan S. Malang.

Kasan, Malang and Esmail were sent to Taguig City in Metro Manila on April 19 to join the other suspects in the massacre.

Fortes after the forum gave MindaNews a summary on the developments on the arrests made from February 2010 to present.

Of 31 “Ampatuans and other allies with warrants of arrest,” eight have been arrested, 23 are still at large.

Of 99 CVOs with warrants of arrest five have been arrested while 94 are still at large.

Of four AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) personnel with warrants of arrest, no one has been arrested.

Of 63 police personnel with warrants of arrest, 50 have been arrested and 13 are still at large.

To sum up, of 187 persons with warrants of arrest, only a total of 63 have been arrested while 134 remain at large.

Ali Macabalang, chief of the Bureau of Public Information of the ARMM explained at the Tapatan sa ARMM that at the recent Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee meeting last week, the lifting of the SOE was discussed following complaints by the business sector especially those who have transactions at the Polloc Port in Parang, Maguindanao about the negative psychological impact on an SOE over business.

But the Committee, he said, decided on recommending that the lifting of the state of emergency or limiting of its scope be done six months later.

Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Proclamation 1946 declaring a state of emergency over Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City on November 24, a day after the massacre. On December 4, Arroyo declared martial law over the same areas but lifted it on December 12. The state of emergency, however, remained. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)