GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/2 March) – Police officials in Sarangani Province admitted Wednesday that they don’t have any evidence yet that could establish the involvement of an alleged suspect, who was arrested over the weekend in the coastal municipality of Glan, in the infamous Maguindanao massacre.
Senior Supt. Florendo Quidilla, Sarangani police director, clarified that they were still verifying the real identity of suspect Norodin Amigos Calolong, 29, who was nabbed by police operatives at dawn Sunday in Sitio Kalipagan, Barangay Big Margus in Glan.
“Regarding his involvement in the massacre, that is still subject to verification. As of now we don’t have any evidence against him,” he told reporters.
Quidilla said they arrested Calolong, who was tagged as massacre suspect Norodin Datumanong Ampatuan, following a search in his house that allegedly yielded a .38 caliber revolver and several dried marijuana.
He said the operation was based on a search warrant issued by a local court against Calolong, who was initially reported to have been carrying a handgun while roaming around Barangay Big Margus.
After Calolong’s arrest, the police official said they received a report that the suspect was supposedly among the suspects in the gruesome massacre on November 23, 2009 in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao that killed 58 people, including 32 journalists.
Quidilla said Calolong was supposedly an alias and the latter was the real Datu Norodin “Nords” Datumanong Ampatuan of Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao.
Chief Supt. Benito Estipona, deputy chief of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation Group (CIDG), declared Calolong on Tuesday as Norodin Datumanong Ampatuan and the 88th massacre suspect who had been arrested by the police.
Ampatuan was among those charged with 57 counts of murder and included in the warrant of arrest issued last year by Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes in connection with the massacre.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government, through Memorandum Circular 2010-76, placed a P300,000 reward for Ampatuan’s arrest.
Ampatuan was listed in the massacre’s most wanted posters released by the CIDG but it did not include his photograph.
But in an interview with reporters in his cell at the police station of Alabel town in Sarangani, Calolong, who was initially charged with illegal possession of firearms and possession of illegal drugs, denied that he was the real Norodin Datumanong Ampatuan.
“I don’t have anything to do with the massacre. They (police) had been pushing me to confess to that crime but I really don’t know anything about it,” the suspect said in the vernacular.
Calolong claimed he was a long-time resident of Glan town but admitted that he had stayed with a relative in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao for at least three months sometime in late 2009.
The suspect also admitted that the .38 caliber pistol was indeed found by police operatives in his possession and that he owned the dried marijuana.
The Department of Justice earlier filed 57 counts of murder charges against Andal Ampatuan Jr., former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatauan Sr., suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, former acting Maguindanao Gov. Sajid Ampatuan, several other members of the clan and more than 180 civilian volunteers and militiamen in connection with the massacre.
A group of armed men allegedly led by Andal Jr. held and later killed members of the family of then Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, their lawyers and at least 30 journalists who were on their way to file the latter’s certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor at the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak town.
Joint police, Army and civilian search and retrieval teams initially found at least 22 bodies scattered at a hilly portion of the massacre site and later retrieved 24 more remains at a shallow grave in the area. Some 11 more bodies were later retrieved from a second grave nearby. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)