It has been a year since the brutal massacre of at least 57 people in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao. To date, however, more than half of the suspects in the Maguindano massacre case continue to elude capture.
Of 196 people facing charges of multiple murder in connection with the case, 82 have been arrested, including eight known Ampatuan allies; 22 members of Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) or paramilitary units; and 52 members of the police force.
Meanwhile, of the 113 suspects remaining at large, 21 are known Ampatuan allies; 78 are CVO members; 10 are policemen; and 4 are soldiers.
Wanted posters are scattered throughout the province of Maguindanao to help facilitate the capture of suspects, said Police Chief Superintendent Benito Estipona of Task Force Maguindanao.
The government is also offering from P250,000 to P300,000 to anyone with information leading to the arrest of any of the suspects, he said.
In what has been called the worst case of election-related violence in the country’s history, at least 57 people on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for gubernatorial candidate Esmael Mangudadatu in Maguindanao were brutally killed. Members of the Ampatuan clan, a powerful local clan and rival political group, have been accused of perpetrating the murders.
The massacre victims, slain on November 23, 2009, included Mangudadatu’s wife, his two sisters, lawyers, aides, journalists who were to cover the political event, and even passengers of two vehicles who were not part of the Mangudadatu convoy.
Despite many of its members facing murder raps in the pending multiple murder case arising from the massacre, the Ampatuans still dominate the province, according to newly-elected governor Mangudadatu. (See: INTERACTIVE: Family tree of the Ampatuan clan)
“Napakadami pa diyan — ‘yung apo, ‘yung pamangkin na nahalal din bilang isang alkalde. At ‘yung kanilang mga direct relatives na naghahawak ng baril. More than 600 armed men nandiyan pa rin po,” Mangudadatu told GMA News reporter Rhea Santos in an interview.
(There are so many Ampatuans still in power — the grandchildren and the nephew who was elected mayor. And also their direct relatives who still bear arms. There are still more than 600 armed men.)
Last week, the international organization Human Rights Watch released a 96-page report urging the Aquino administration to “dismantle and disarm these militia forces,” noting that “families like the Ampatuans have used officially sanctioned paramilitaries as private armies to spread terror and maintain power.”
However, Aquino has thumbed down the abolition of militia forces like CVOs, saying that paramilitary units are necessary to augment the country’s security forces.
Employing paramilitary units is a viable solution to the lack of national security forces, as the government cannot afford to hire more police and military personnel because their pensions would be a burden to the national coffers, Aquino argued.
There are more or less 50,000 militiamen currently under the command of Army divisions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Considered auxiliary units of the AFP, Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) enjoy privileges such as exemption from the gun ban during elections.
Of the 284 guns recovered by authorities from the Ampatuans’ private army, only four have been positively linked to the Nov. 23 massacre, based on ballistics tests.
Investigators recovered 126 spent M16 shells and three spent M14 or AK47 shells, among others, from the crime scene. Several guns used in the massacre remain missing.
“Ang importante dito ay umuusad ang kaso… sooner or later, ma-aacount natin lahat ng ito,” said Estipona.
(The important thing is, the case is making progress… Sooner or later, we will be able to account for all the items.)
As the police continue their investigation of the case, the Department of Justice (DOJ) criticized the defense team in the multiple murder trial for their “delaying tactics.”
At the rate the Ampatuan trial is going, resolution of the case may take up to 20 years.
Out of frustration over persistent delays in the trial, private prosecutor Nena Santos said with only a tad of irony that it would be better if the more than 100 suspects remain at large, at least for now, so the court could concentrate on those facing trial. (See:Prosecutor wishes other massacre suspects would remain at large)
To facilitate a speedier resolution, the DOJ has appointed a supervising undersecretary to the case.—Larissa Mae Suarez/JV/HS, GMANews.TV