DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 June) – Suspected members of the Maute Group, including its alleged top leader Cayamora Maute, 67, were arrested at the checkpoint of Task Force Davao in Sirawan, Toril, Davao City at around 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Police identified the other suspected Maute members as Maute’s second wife Kongan Alfonso Balawag, Norjannah Balawag Maute and her alleged partner Benzarali Tingao, and Aljon Salazar Ismael, the driver of the van they were using.
Police said they recovered a grenade and a .45 caliber pistol from the suspects’ vehicle.
In a press conference, Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, martial law spokesperson for the Eastern Mindanao Command, said Maute himself confirmed his identity as father of Omar and Abdullah, leaders of the Maute Group.
The Maute Group has been battling government forces in Marawi City since May 23 in a siege that triggered a mass evacuation of residents.
The suspects were heading for Davao City on board a black Toyota Grandia for the elderly Maute’s medical checkup.
Upon checking, Gapay said authorities found an aged man wrapped in a blanket that partly covered his face lying on a passenger seat.
He said the man bore resemblance to the Maute’s top leader upon verification.
He said the police brought the suspects to the Davao City Police Office for investigation.
He said police recovered from Maute several identifications (IDs) with different names but admitted his true identity during the investigation.
He said Maute will be charged with rebellion and Balawag with violation of Presidential Decree 1866 for alleged possession of blasting caps and triggering devices.
Police Regional Office 11 director Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan said the father’s arrest was a big blow to the Maute Group as he is considered one of the brains of the terrorist group.
He said there is a standing warrant of arrest against 89 other Maute members including the patriarch for five counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in Lanao del Sur.
He said they are still verifying reports on the presence of Maute members in the city.
“There are various information being confirmed. They are attempting to enter the city. As to the exact identifies we cannot ascertain it. We are assuming they have sympathizers here,” he said.
In an interview with reporters, driver Salazar denied involvement with the Maute Group.
He said he picked up Tingao and Norjannah at Hotel Filipino in Cotabato.
He said Tingao, a friend from college, told him that they would pick up passengers in Sultan Kudarat before they would head to Tagum City.
Upon reaching Sultan Kudarat, he said they picked up another unknown couple.
He said the instruction to him changed. Instead of Tagum City, he said he was told that they were going to Davao City.
Gaerlan said they are still studying whether they will include the driver in the rebellion case, given the evidence.
He said Maute was attended to by Central 911 because he had cough. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)