MANILA - Malacañang will not order the relief and arrest of Datu Unsay town Mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. until cases are filed against him for his alleged involvement in the massacre of more than 50 people in Maguindanao province.
"We have due process to be observed also, so let us allow the investigators on the ground to come up with [a case] through their investigation," Press Secretary Cerge Remonde replied to Sonny Fernandez, National Union of Journalists (NUJP) in the Philippines secretary-general, during an interview over ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda on Wednesday.
Fernandez asked Remonde if Malacañang can immediately relieve Ampatuan Jr. from his post as mayor of Datu Unsay town while police are investigating his supposed involvement in the killings.
Remonde said the relief and arrest of Ampatuan Jr. will come only after the police have found sufficient evidence that would link him to the murder of more than 50 people in Ampatuan town.
The press secretary said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself has repeatedly assured the Mangudadatu family of impartial investigation. He added that Mrs. Arroyo is frequently in touch with the grieving family.
"It's a very big embarrassment not only to the government, but also to the entire nation," he said, stressing that the government will not rest until the people responsible in the massacre are charged and arrested.
As of Wednesday afternoon, authorities have recovered at least 50 bodies from the "burial" site of the massacre victims. Many of the victims were women who belong to the Mangudadatu clan.
Fernandez said that as of the NUJP's last count, there were 12 journalists included in the number of fatalities. He said they expect the number to increase to 20.
The journalists were supposed to cover the filing of the certificate of candidacy for governor of Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu on behalf of her husband, Buluan Vice-mayor Ismael Mangudadatu.
The vice-mayor said that he was able to talk with his wife over the phone before their group was massacred. In their conversation, she was able to identify Ampatuan Jr. as one of the attackers. He said Mrs. Mangudadatu told him that they were stopped by at least 100 armed men led by Ampatuan Jr..
Before their conversation was cut off, Ismael said his wife told him Ampatuan Jr. had slapped her.
On Tuesday, Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Affairs, met with the Ampatuans, including Ampatuan Jr., and sought their cooperation in the investigation.
Dureza said he did not directly talk about the details of the case with the Ampatuans despite the account given by Vice-Mayor Mangudadatu.
The Mangudadatus believe the killings were politically motivated because the vice-mayor will oppose Ampatuan Jr. in the gubernatorial race in 2010.
'Disturbing, unusual treatment'
Commission on Human Rights chairperson Leila de Lima told radio dzMM that the government's "unsual treatment" of Ampatuan Jr. is disturbing.
De Lima said that at this stage and with the statement from the Mangudadatus, the police should have already invited Ampatuan Jr. for questioning or at least to get his side.
“I also observed that there is an unusual treatment. If you’re an ordinary suspect and there is a lead and information [of your supposed involvement] you will be immediately invited,” she said, adding that the government should heed to the public’s clamor of swift and decisive action against the killers and the masterminds in the massacre.
She added that Dureza’s meeting with the supposed primary suspect in the brutal killings was also unusual.
She said suspects should be invited to present themselves to the police to explain their side, not visited.
“Go to our precinct. Explain your side, execute a statement if you want to. But to be visited just get an assurance [of your cooperation]?” De Lima said.
De Lima also questioned the police’s “less than decisive action.”
She urged the police to provide the public with the details of their manhunt operations.
“What is the progress or the status of the manhunt? Who are they running after and where? These are the questions that have yet to be answered [by the police],” the CHR chief said.
‘Unpreserved crime scene’
De Lima said the CHR’s sub-office in Cotabato City has been closely monitoring the conduct of the conduct of the police’s investigation.
She said the CHR central office is also sending a team to Maguindanao to augment its sub-office team.
De Lima said that one of the most glaring of the observations that the sub-office team has reported to her is the police’s failure to preserve the crime scene.
She said the people seen in news footage digging up the “burial site” were actually relatives of the victims.
She said the police’s crime scene investigating team should not have allowed civilians step on the scene of the crime.
“You might not find anything, the area has been disturbed,” she said, adding that the Philippine National Police has not sent its national crime scene investigators’ team to the Maguindanao to handle the high-profile case.
She said she received information that the digging operations at the burial site will resume on Wednesday. Police were still looking for two vehicles -- a Toyota Tamaraw FX and Toyota Vios -- that were buried along with the bodies of the victims, she said.
She said the Toyota Tamaraw FX’s occupant was a son of a councilor of Bulan town who was just “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
She said the vehicle’s occupant was not included in the Mangudadatus’ convoy and was just travelling to Cotabato City at the time of the ambush.
De Lima added that they have information that the wife of Vice-Mayor Mangudadatu could have also been raped before being killed.
She said she received information that the wife’s private part was exposed and had a bullet wound.
The other women’s pants were also pulled down, she said, indicating that they could have also been raped by the killers.
The Mangudadatu family has requested for the involvement of the CHR in the investigation.
The family has also requested authorities for a “comprehensive” autopsy of the victims’ bodies due to suspicions of rape.