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26/11/2009: Puno: Government has taken Forceful Measures in Maguindanao

November 26, 2009. Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronnie Puno said Thursday the government has quietly taken an array of forceful measures meant to bring to justice all those responsible for the massacre of at least 57 people in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao and at the same time restore peace and order in the province.

Puno said that hours after the heinous crime was uncovered last Monday, the government had immediately created a crisis management committee led by Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Jesus Dureza—on top of the local crisis management panel formed to investigate the incident—to take measures that led, among others, to Thursday morning’s surrender of Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the mayor of Datu Unsay in Maguindanao, to Dureza at the provincial capitol.

“We gave him an ultimatum yesterday and we gave him until 10 o’ clock this morning,” Puno said.
He said that had Ampatuan refused to board the plane that would take him to General Santos City enroute to Manila, both the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) were prepared to take action and exert all physical force necessary to ensure that he is brought to inquest by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In a press briefing held in Camp Crame, Puno said that as of that time, Ampatuan was now on his way to General Santos City after being taken from the Provincial Capitol grounds. Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, along with several witnesses to the incident, will await Ampatuan in General Santos City and will fly him to Manila.

On top of taking custody of Ampatuan, who is a suspect in the massive killings, Puno said four police officers allegedly involved in the incident were removed from their posts and were already placed under restrictive custody since Monday.
The police officers of the Maguindanao PNP Provincial Office—Senior Supt. Agusana Maguid, Officer in Charge; Chief Insp. Sukarno Dicay, OIC, Deputy Police Director; Senior Insp, Ariel Diongson, OIC, Group Director 1508th Provincial Mobile Group (PMG); and Senior Police Officer 2 Badawi Bakal;, OIC of the Datu Ampatuan Police Station—will also be flown from Cotabato City to join Ampatuan and several other suspects in inquest proceedings to be held in Camp Crame.

These four officers, along with Insp. Armando Mariga, OIC, Group Director of the 1506th PMG and Insp. Saudi Mokamad, OIC, Group Director of the 1507th PMG were all administratively relieved from their posts.

“What we did was to focus on three general areas: take physical control, conduct an honest-to-goodness investigation that will yield evidence that will hold up in court…. and informing the public of developments and keeping confidential first information of sensitive character, measures that need to be implemented first before we can report it to the media,” Puno said.

“This is something our society cannot accept; our enforcers of the law cannot accept. We are sorry if we were not very open about all the things we have been doing. We have all been bound by the exigencies of the work we have to do,” Puno said.

He said the government is determined to get all those involved, in one way or another, in the commission of the heinous crime.

Puno said Ampatuan, who is the son of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., and other suspects will be detained in Camp Crame.

The DILG Chief said that besides these measures, the government has also replaced all police officers in Maguindanao; secured the provincial capitol building along with the municipal halls of Ampatuan and Shariff Aguak, and placed under investigation all policemen of the Ampatuan police station for possible complicity in the crime.

Law enforcers, Puno said, also ensured that the four companies of Special Cafgu Active Auxiliary (SCAA) units in the area were deactivated and all of their 347 members combined were disarmed.

The DOJ, Puno said, has also quietly taken the deposition of all witnesses who would provide strong evidence for the government to be able to build an airtight case against those responsible for the massacre.

He said that Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera was set to return to Manila Thursday afternoon with all the witnesses to the crime.

Moreover, the Napolcom, which Puno chairs, has unanimously adopted a resolution withdrawing the deputation powers of Maguindanao Gov. Ampatuan Sr. and all mayors of the municipalities in the province which effectively strips them of all their powers over the local PNP in their respective areas of responsibility.

Philippine National Police Chief Director General Jesus Verzosa, for his part, said that all permits to carry firearms have been indefinitely suspended in the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City.Verzosa said he is also reiterating his earlier recommendation to limit the assignment of police officers to government officials to only two close-in security aides who should all be in proper uniform when on duty.

Given that national agencies like the DILG have no jurisdiction over government agencies in autonomous regions, Puno said he will ask permission from the Office of the President for the Department to investigate all local executives who will be implicated in the massacre and to place all of them under preventive suspension pending such a probe.

“Forceful measures have been taken quietly since Monday while not allowing armed groups, including the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) from taking control of the area,” Puno said.

He said it was the quick response by the military to secure the site of the crime and pursue these perpetrators actually prevented these assailants from burying all of the dead and their vehicles.

(Press release courtesy of the Department of Interior and Local Government)