DATU UNSAY, Maguindanao (MindaNews/29 January) – “Unfair treatment,” Mayor Bai Reshal Ampatuan, wife of former mayor and principal suspect in the Ampatuan Massacre, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., said of the January 13 incident when the police disarmed her security escorts and seized their firearms.
Senior Superintendent Marcelo Pintac, Maguindanao police chief, had earlier said six MP-5 firearms and two M-16 rifles were confiscated from her security escorts wearing blue guard uniforms, at around 2:45 p.m. on January 13, 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.
Maguindanao has remained under a state of emergency since the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao. The province was placed under a state of emergency the next day, November 24, and placed under martial law for about a week in early December 2009, then back to being placed under a state of emergency immediately after.
The mayor’s security escorts were all from a private security agency named Savior Weapons And Tactics (SWAT). But Pintac said that SWAT’s Temporary License to Operate expired last January 6, 2011.
In a press conference on January 20 at the town hall here, the mayor said they only had four firearms.
She accused Maguindanao governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu of allegedly influencing the police command to refuse her request for police security.
She also asked why she was singled out when most of the politicians in the province are bringing their own escorts, including the Mangudadatus who, she said, have numerous bodyguards now.
She said politics was behind the provincial police office’s refusal to grant her request and that Mangudadatu is using the incident to justify the extension of the state of emergency over Maguindanao.
She said as mayor she has the right to have at least two police personnel for security.
“Is it because I am the wife of Unsay (nickname of Andal Ampatuan, Jr.)? Is it because I am an Ampatuan?” she asked.
As a woman and a mother, she said, the Army is better because “they can understand my situation, that I am also facing threats.” She said she has two Army escorts.
But Pintac told MindaNews, “anybody is entitled to his/her own opinion. Para sa akin pantay ako sa lahat. Sanay kasi yan sila na lahat ng gusto nila masusunod. Nung sila ba ang namahala sa Maguindanao naisip ba nila ang mga ginagawa sa tao di na maganda?” (I am fair to all. They’re so used to getting what they want. When they were governing Maguindanao, did they think of what they did to the people?)
Governor Mangudadatu denied the mayor’s allegations. “It’s a police matter anymore if she violates the state of emergency,” he said.
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.
The Ampatuans and Mangudadatus were allies until the latter opted to run for governor in late 2009.
The mayor’s husband, Andal Ampatuan, Jr., wanted to run for governor, unopposed, as his father was in the May 2007 elections.
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 mayor 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. There, he said, the team found Pata Usman, 52 and Abdulhamid Lumena, 32, both of Datu Unsay town, reporting that the mayor’s group removed their streamers.
Protesters were seeking the intervention of President Benigno Aquino and Gov. Mangudadatu as they complained of alleged massive fraud in Datu Unsay town during the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in October 2010.
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.
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 were taken in 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. (Ferdinand Cabrera/MindaNews)