MANILA - The military on Thursday morning took control of the provincial capitol and two municipal halls in Maguindanao as authorities prepared to take into custody a member of a powerful political clan suspected of leading an election-related massacre of 57 people.
Armed Forces' spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said the military took control of the provincial capitol of Maguindanao and the municipal buildings of Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan towns around 4:30 a.m.
Brawner said the military already has physical control of the local government compounds.
He said the military has started disarming militia members loyal to the powerful clan of the Ampatuans.
The military leadership on Wednesday announced that it has deactivated Special Cafgu Active Auxillary (SCAA) companies in Maguindanao, numbering to about 340 civilians. It said all firearms, ammunitions, equipment and uniforms of the members of the two Cafgu companies will be turned over to the Army's 6th Infantry Division.
National Police chief Director General Jesus Verzosa announced that as of 7 a.m., they have already disarmed and taken into custody 20 Cafgu members allegedly involved in the massacre.
"We are hoping that by this action we will bring in peaceful resolution of this problem in Maguindanao," Brawner told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda.
The military spokesman, meanwhile, clarified that there was no "martial rule" in the province and that the three local government units will "still function as government units."
Ampatuan Jr. surrender
Brawner earlier said they were expecting the Ampatuan clan to surrender Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. to Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza on Thursday morning.
"Today we are expecting Mayor Unsay Ampatuan to be turned over peacefully to the authorities," he said.
The mayor is being tagged as the mastermind in the massacre of 57 people in Ampatuan town on Monday. Among those killed were the wife of Buluan town Vice-Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and his two sisters.
Mangudadatu's wife, escorted by supporters and journalists, was on her way to file a certificate of candidacy for governor on behalf of her husband when they were stopped and massacred by 100 armed men in Barangay Saniag, Ampatuan town.
Ampatuan Jr. allegedly wanted to stop the wife from filing the COC. He was being groomed by the Ampatuan family to succeed the gubernatorial post.
Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said Ampatuan Jr. will be investigated upon his surrender and may be arrested "if warranted."
"There is a process being observed. Through his surrender he will be investigated and the process will go on until the warrant of arrest comes out," he said.
Dureza, meanwhile, has received Ampatuan Jr. from his family at the provincial capitol grounds.
Ampatuan Jr. was flown to General Santo City, where he will be turned over by Dureza to Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera.
Espina said the Philippine National Police has relieved the whole police force, including the chief of police, of Ampatuan town as they intensify pursuit operations against the suspects involved in the massacre.
He said all members of Civilian Volunteers Organizations (CVOs) and SCAA in Maguindanao and in the two municipalities will be disarmed and investigated for their alleged involvement in the gruesome killing.
Fingerprint samples will be taken from all militia members and their firearms will be subjected to ballistics examinations, the police spokesman said.
He added that all CVO and SCAA members who will be taken into custody will be brought to the crisis management committee's headquarters in Sultan Kudarat.
He said the police will also recommend the suspension of supervision of local chief executives over all police forces in all the areas where the operations are being conducted.
Espina said that a total gun ban is also being implemented in the whole province of Maguindanao and in the towns of Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan.
Brawner, meanwhile, told ANC that hot pursuit operations are concentrated in the mountainous area of Maguindanao, where several suspects in the massacre have been hiding.
"Most of the armed group that perpetrated this crime have run away towards the mountainous area of Maguindanao," Brawner said. – With reports from Patricia Evangelista, ANC executive producer and Noel Alamar, radio dzMM