Another village torched
|What is affected||
|Type of violation||
|Date||10 January 2010|
|Region||A [ Asia ]|
|Location||Datu Hofer Ampatuan, Maguindanao Province|
|- Number of homes|
|- Total value €|
Duty holder(s) /responsible party(ies)
SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao , Philippines - A growing number of residents here are now camping in different evacuation areas after another village in the town of Datu Hofer Ampatuan was raided and torched at dawn yesterday by unidentified armed men. This, as authorities in Maguindanao and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) started excavating the so-called killing fields to locate two mass graves in the towns of Datu Hofer Ampatuan and Datu Piang where at least 800 victims of summary executions were reportedly buried. “We will not stop our diggings to locate the mass graves.
This is a long process of investigation, though there are no perpetrators yet. First we have to exhume, then the DNA testing before the criminal prosecution,” CHR Commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag said. Maguindanao police director Senior Superintendent Alex Lineses said that roaming armed men burned several houses in Sitio Motod, Barangay Limpongo. A village in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town was looted earlier by the same group and torched to the ground before the raid on Sitio Motod. Lineses said three of the looters were arrested by his men in Datu Unsay, hometown of Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., prime suspect in the Nov. 23 massacre of civilians in the province. Police and military forces, however, are facing a blank wall as far as the identities of the perpetrators are concerned.
“We are still conducting our investigation. It could be from the group of Ampatuans’ militiamen who are trying to harass the residents to create a chaotic scenario,” a high-ranking military official said. PNP: Everything under control The Philippine National Police, however, downplayed those reports and gave assurance that they are in full control of the peace and order situation in the province. “Maguindanao is so saturated with police and military security forces that it is almost a remote possibility for criminal elements to be able to move around without being challenged,” said PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina.
PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa has instructed the acting regional police director of the (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Senior Superintendent Bienvenido Latag, to look into the alleged looting incidents. Espina said the PNP is also looking into the reported burglary at the provincial office of the Commission on Elections at the Maguindanao capitol building in Shariff Aguak town. “From all indications, there was no forcible entry into the Comelec office as indicated by evidence,” he said. Citing reports from the ARMM regional police director, Espina said the burglary was discovered only last Monday when employees of the provincial capitol reported back to work.
“The employees noticed the main safety hasp and lock of the Comelec room including the glass windows were intact indicating no signs of forcible entry,” Espina said. Among the items discovered missing from the office by the Comelec employees were a rice cooker, a water dispenser, plates, and some window curtains. Out of revenge But local officials are saying that the gunmen terrorizing villages were either farmers or guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“We’ve been receiving information lately that many of them were former owners of lands that former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. either grabbed or bought from them at very low price, procured under duress,” said a former provincial board member, who asked not to be identified.
Ampatuan Sr. owns at least 2,000 hectares of arable lands in Shariff Aguak and in the nearby towns of Datu Hofer, Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, and Mamasapano that originally belonged to local farmers who were forced to relocate to other areas after they were pressured to sell their farms. A rice trader, who requested anonymity, said that some of the gunmen roaming at night were relatives of MILF rebels killed in previous encounters with members of the former governor’s private militia. “All they want is revenge. Their hearts are full of vengeance,” farmer Sanday Aktab said in the Maguindanaon vernacular.
Col. Jonathan Ponce, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said their commander, Gen. Anthony Alcantara, is now initiating “backdoor efforts” to convince the groups to move away and seek redress through the proper agencies and the judiciary. “Violence cannot conquer violence. The 6th ID is trying to convince them to allow justice to take its course,” Ponce said. He said their intelligence units have identified the people leading the armed groups sowing terror in Shariff Aguak and surrounding towns.
Eid Kabalu, spokesman of the MILF, said their organization is not in any way involved in the activities of gunmen preying on hapless villagers here. He said the MILF has also been initiating an inquiry on the identities of the gang men and their real intention in sowing terror among the Muslim communities.
A former town councilor, a close relative of the Ampatuans, said one group is led by a rebel commander whose uncle was abducted some three years ago.
Demolition by members of a local militia and has since been missing. “We’re quite sure the victim was already killed and buried somewhere,” said the source. An ustadz (preacher) in one of the mosques said that another group wants revenge for the displacement of dozens of people who were driven away by the Ampatuans just because they were related to some key MILF commanders. “They think now is the time for revenge. They want to get even with the Ampatuans. Sadly, not all of the Ampatuans were responsible for their sad predicament.
These gunmen should exercise prudence,” the ustadz said. The police were having a hard time building up cases against the gunmen due to the lack of interest of affected villagers to testify against them. Lineses said investigators have been documenting the atrocities perpetrated by the suspects. Ponce said the gunmen have not been attacking the police and the military. “Their activities are quite strange. They are not doing anything to provoke the police or the military. They are instead attacking communities where there are followers and relatives of the Ampatuans,” Ponce said. [...]
(Source: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=539541&publicationSubCategoryId=63, 10 January 2010)