MANILA - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday relieved two military commanders in the south for alleged inefficiency and lapses in judgement in relation to the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao last Monday.
Relieved were Major General Alfredo Cayton, commander of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, and Col. Medardo Geslani, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade.
Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, AFP spokesman, said the commanders’ relief paves the way for an impartial investigation into their possible liability in preventing the massacre.
Taking Cayton’s place is Brig. Gen. Pompeyo Limbo. Geslani will be replaced by Col. Pablo Amisola.
Brawner said the AFP, through its inspector general, will look into the complaints against the two officials and determine their possible violations.
Reports said Geslani turned down a request from the Mangudadatu clan to escort its members to Shariff Aguak, where they were supposed to file a certificate of candidacy (COC) for governor on behalf of Buluan Vice-Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
Those in the group, led by Vice-Mayor Mangudadatu’s wife, were massacred at least two kilometers away from the highway, where they were stopped and abducted by at least 100 gunmen allegedly led by Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr..
Brawner confirmed reports that Geslani was informed by personnel under his command about the unusual setting up of checkpoints by members of the Civilian Volunteers Organizations (CVOs).
The military spokesman clarified that CVOs are civilian police volunteers. He said militiamen under the military’s jurisdiction are called Special Cafgu Active Auxillary (SCAA).
He said Geslani did not act on the information because the checkpoints seemed legitimate and that he has no jurisdiction over CVOs.
A radio dzMM report said Cayton and Geslani welcomed their suspension. It said the two officials saw their suspension as an opportunity to explain their side.
Brawner said all 4 SCAA companies and 320 civilians have been disarmed and deactivated.
He said investigations were ongoing to determine if regular Army soldiers and SCAA members were involved in the massacre.
On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno announced that they are also filing charges against 4 police officers for their alleged involvement in the massacre.
The policemen were identified as Maguindanao police provincial director Senior Superintendent Abusana Maguid, Shariff Aguak town police chief, Chief Inspector Sukarno Dikay, a certain SPO2 Bakal, and an Inspector Diobingan.
Press Secretary Cerge Remonde on Friday said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has given Puno blanket authority to take into action his recommendations to suspend all local officials in Maguindanao who are suspected of being involved in the massacre.
“The President has authorized Secretary Puno or has delegated Puno full powers of supervision [of Maguindanao], even to the supervision of ARMM,” Remonde told reporters at Malacañang.
Puno has recommended to the President the suspension of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and all provincial officials who may be directly or indirectly involved in the massacre.
He has also recommended the suspension of the local officials to prevent them from using their power to hamper the investigations.
Remonde said Puno has also been given the authority to suspend and replace all police and military commanders in the province.
The governor’s son, Ampatuan Jr., has been arrested and is detained at the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) headquarters in Manila.
Multiple murder charges are being readied against him.
Remonde told reporters that the government is not limiting its investigation to Ampatuan Jr. only.
He said the Department of Justice is currently building a strong case against him and other people possibly involved in the massacre. -- Reports from Noel Alamar, radio dzMM and Jay Ruiz and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News