GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/20 August) – Police confirmed late Friday the arrest of an alleged member of the Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao who had been tagged as among the suspects in the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.
Senior Supt. Pedro Austria Jr., Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 12 chief, identified the suspect as Fahad Utto, 28, who was captured by police operatives Thursday in Sitio Minanga in Barangay Buayan here.
The alleged suspect, however, told reporters he is not Utto but Richard Gofel, a fish vendor.
Austria said Utto, who was listed as a resident of Poblacion in Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao, was nabbed based on a warrant of arrest issued by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes in connection with the massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.
Austria said the facial features of Utto, who carried the alias Richard Gofel, matched with the picture of a suspect that carried the same name and was included in the Maguindanao massacre’s wanted list.
He said they initially kept the matter under wraps pending the verification of the suspect’s identity.
“We were able to verify only now (Friday) that he was indeed suspect Fahad Utto and we have witnesses who could confirm that he was among those involved in the massacre,” he said.
But Utto, who is currently detained at the CIDG Region 12 headquarters here, denied involvement in the 2009 massacre.
He claimed he had never been to Maguindanao province and was not a CVO member.
Utto claimed his real name is Richard Gofel and that he is from Glan town in Sarangani province but has been residing in Barangay Buayan for the last eight years.
He said he was a former laborer at the fishport complex in Barangay Tambler but recently ventured into peddling fish products.
“I will never confess that I am Fahad Utto even if they kill me,” the suspect told reporters.
The Department of Interior and Local Government had placed a P250,000 reward for Utto’s arrest.
The Department of Justice earlier filed 57 counts of murder charges against Andal Jr., former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Sr., suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, former acting Maguindanao Gov. Sajid Ampatuan, several other members of the clan and 189 civilian volunteers and militiamen in connection with the massacre.
A group of armed men allegedly led by Andal Jr. held and killed members of the family of then Vice Mayor and now Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, their lawyers and 32 media workers who were on their way to file his certificate of candidacy for 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 third grave in the area. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)