MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 13 April) – A former mayor who was in President Rodrigo Duterte’s August 2016 list of personalities allegedly involved in illegal drugs and who went into hiding since late May 2017 as he was ordered arrested for alleged involvement in the Marawi siege, showed up at the rally of the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipinas (PDP) Friday, was publicly acknowledged by senatorial bets but was intercepted by the military as he stepped out of the Dimaporo Gymnasium and brought to the headquarters of the 103rd Infantry Brigade.
The military said they did not arrest but merely “invited” former Marawi mayor Omar Solitario, who has been wanted since his name was listed in Arrest Orders 1 and 2 issued on May 29 and June 5, 2017 by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the Martial Law administrator.
Solitario is one of nine candidates for mayor of the Islamic City of Marawi in the 2019 polls, running under the People’s Consultative Party.
There is no PDP candidate from among the nine bets although Solitario, Marawi mayor for two terms from 2001 to 2007, ran for mayor in 2016 under the PDP, but lost to Majul Gandamra of the Liberal Party. Gandamra is seeking reelection as candidate of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino. There is also no Liberal party candidate running for mayor.
MindaNews had just stepped out of the gymnasium where the PDP rally was held when seemingly agitated supporters gathered around a tall man — Solitario – standing beside a black Toyota Hilux vehicle while explaining something to Lt. Col. Jayson Jumawan, commander of the 82nd Infantry Battalion, at around 4:35 p.m.
Solitario’s companions and supporters, among them a woman who insisted on joining Solitario in the vehicle but was not allowed, were told by Jumawan that Solitario was “inimbitahan lang” (just invited) to the 103rd Infantry Brigade camp.
Solitario entered the vehicle, closed the door but opened it briefly, stood up to say something in Meranaw apparently to pacify his supporters, then shut the door.
A soldier in uniform jumped on the back of the pick-up vehicle marked with “For Registration” where the plate number should have been, before it sped off followed by two military trucks.
Phone signals continued to be jammed more than an hour after the end of the rally that was supposed to have been graced by Duterte. The President was a no-show. The PDP spokesperson Ronwald Munsayag said the President’s helicopter was not given clearance to fly due to bad weather.
MindaNews asked a government official-friend of Solitario if he was arrested. He said he verified and was told that Solitario “went there to drink coffee with the officers and gentlemen.”
“But he is still wanted, right?” MindaNews asked. Solitario’s friend replied “di na daw kuno” (not anymore).
Asked how he was cleared, the friend said he had no details but added that Solitario “is campaigning with so much ease in movement.”
Solitario sat on the front row on the right side of the gym facing the stage.
Ordered to release
“We just invited him for an interview,” Col. Romeo Brawner, 103rd Infantry Brigade commander, said in a text message Friday night in response to MindaNews’ query if Solitario was arrested.
Asked where Solitario was, Brawner told MindaNews he had been released. “We received orders to release him,” he said.
Asked who ordered them to release Solitario, Brawner sent no reply.
MindaNews asked Lorenzana Friday night on the status of Solitario, if he had been cleared. He replied at 1:53 a.m. Saturday: “We are in the process of doing it. We’ll know in a couple of days if he will be cleared and removed from the arrest order(s).”
Asked early Saturday morning who ordered Solitario’s release, Lorenzana had yet to reply as of 2 p.m.
MindaNews also asked Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal who ordered Solitario’s release but as of 2 p.m. Saturday he had not sent a reply.
Lorenzana’s arrest orders, issued following the declaration of martial law on May 23, 2017 — Day 1 of the Marawi Siege — directed the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Director-General of the Philippine National Police, Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, the Director of the National Bureau of Investigation and Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration to “arrest, take into custody and conduct/continue the investigation on the following personalities for violation of Article 134 (Rebellion) of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines or any crime related thereto.”
In August 2017, Solitario’s name was removed from the list of persons ordered arrested. Lorenzana told MindaNews on August 19, 2017 that he gave Solitario “conditional clearance” on the recommendation of then Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza.
“I told him (Dureza) it is conditional. That we are not stopping the gathering of info about his alleged connection to the Mautes and illegal drugs,” he said.
Lorenzana issued a certification on August 16, 2017 that Omar Macabalang Ali, also known as Solitario Ali Salic and Omar Solitario Ali, “is removed from Martial Law Administrator Arrest Order Numbers 01 and 02.″
The certification, like the Arrest Orders, was issued to the same officials.
On August 19, 2017, Dureza shared with MindaNews his text message to Lorenzana. “Well, Omar (Solitario) had been doing a lot before vs extremism. He wrote a book about how to deal with it, he activated a radio station with OPAPP’s (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) help to counter extremism even before Marawi happened.”
He added that when Solitario “met with President Duterte early on and volunteered to help, I engaged him (in) OPAPP with a consultancy.”
He recalled that Solitario “even volunteered to help talk to the Mautes as his brod was related by affinity to the Mautes” but they “dissuaded him” as the situation then was “fluid.”
Dureza added that when Solitario’s name “was in the watch list, I revoked his consultancy.”
He also said that when Solitario was in hiding, ‘he continued to provide inputs on how to address the problem. And he committed to help now. So let’s see if he delivers otherwise we can put him back on the list.”
Solitario had earlier denied allegations he was engaged in the illegal drugs trade or was involved in the 2017 siege.
During the first martial law under then President Ferdinand Marcos, Solitario was a commander of the Moro National Liberation.
MindaNews sent queries to Solitario through his friend but he had not responded as of 2 p.m. Saturday.
Cleared on Aug. 16, subject to arrest again by the 22nd
Six days after Solitario and his two sons were stricken off the Arrest Orders list, Lorenzana on August 22, 2017 revoked their “conditional clearance,” citing “vehement objections” from the AFP, PNP and local leaders in Marawi and Lanao Sur.
That same day, Dureza announced on his Facebook page that “after a speedy review made by the Department of National Defense on the basis of the inclusion of former Marawi Mayor Omar Solitario and his two sons in the list to be arrested pursuant to the declaration of martial law, Secretary Delfin Lorenzana found basis for their being retained in the arrest list and ordered the cancellation of their temporary clearance.”
Dureza explained that the clearance he recommended and was initially granted by Lorenzana “was intended in our efforts to facilitate their planned meeting with Secretary Lorenzana and be allowed safe passage through martial law checkpoints.”
Lorenzana told MindaNews it was Dureza who wanted to talk to Solitario. “Dili man ako ang interesado makigstorya niya (I am not the one interested in talking to Solitario). What is there for me and Solitario to talk? Mag surrender muna siya” (He should surrender first).
“It was Dureza who wants to utilize him kaya humingi siya ng clearance, only to find out that the military, police and Muslim leaders don’t want them released for complicity in the Marawi siege and illegal drugs,” Lorenzana said.
“The error was rectified,” he added.
Arrest Orders 1 and 2 contained a list of 324 persons, 36 identified only by their aliases. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindNews)