'Maguindanao massacre suspects seek refuge with MILF'

By Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Nov 19 2012 05:26 PM | Updated as of Nov 20 2012 01:26 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Police authorities are having a hard time running after the remaining suspects in the massacre in Maguindanao three years ago that led to the deaths of 58 civilians, mostly journalists.

In a press conference ahead of the third year commemoration of the so-called Maguindanao massacre on November 23, Task Force Maguindanao commander Keith Singian said they have confirmed reports that some at-large suspects “sought refuge in MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] areas.”

He said, however, that they continue to validate information obtained by their trackers that these massacre suspects have joined the MILF, which is in the thick of discussions with the government for a peace pact. “This is information that needs to be validated.”

Singian, who is also the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group deputy director for operations, said they are also checking information that some suspects have joined the ranks of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, an MILF breakaway group.

He cited, for example, an incident last August. PO1 Abbey Guiadem, one of the suspects in the 2009 massacre, died after an encounter between the MILF’s 105th and its 106th Base Command in Sultan sa Barongis town in Maguindanao.

He was arrested subsequently at his house due to his serious medical condition.

Singian said they cannot just employ manhunt operations and enter MILF territories since this would put at risk the gains achieved by the government in moving the peace talks forward.

Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife was one of the victims, said he also received information that the suspects are roaming around the municipalities of Mamasapano, Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Shariff Aguak.

Of the 195 suspects named in the charge sheet filed before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, 103 have already been arrested.

Singian added they need to coordinate with the peace panel to bring their concerns before MILF officials. “We don’t want this to be misconstrued as if we’re having operations against the MILF…We also urge the MILF to assist us in tracking these at-large persons.”

The government and the MILF signed a framework agreement on October 15, paving the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity. The agreement would open doors for MILF soldiers to work with the national government in arresting of lawless elements.

Singian said that while authorities are on top of the situation, certain concerns continue to crop up during operations.

He said they need to update the pictures and biographical sketch of the suspects. He said they already had three cases of mistaken identities.

“We ask the witnesses to lead us in arresting the right suspects,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mangudadatu expects peaceful elections in the Maguindanao province in the 2013 elections. “I am happy that it was included as one of the hotspots.
Lawless elements would be more careful of their actions.”

Mangudadatu noted, however, that the police have so far confiscated 20% of the firearms allegedly owned by the lead respondents in the case, the Ampatuans, as well as their allies.