The Ampatuans expelled from Lakas-Kampi-CMD (ABS-CBN News/Bandila screen grab)
MANILA - Distancing themselves from the powerful Maguindanao clan who were pinpointed by police as allegedly responsible for Monday's massacre in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province, the ruling Lakas Kampi CMD party has expelled the Ampatuan clan's head and 2 sons from their fold.
“We unanimously decided to expel from the party the following, Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., governor of Maguindanao and the chairman of Lakas-Kampi CMD of that province; Governor Zaldy Uy Ampatuan, ARMM governor and Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. They are no longer considered as members of Lakas-Kampi CMD,” announced administration party chair and standard bearer Gilberto Teodoro Jr. in a press conference Wednesday night.
The administration party's announcement came after its National Executive Committee unanimously voted to expel the 3 Ampatuans in a meeting Wednesday evening in Pasig City.
Teodoro said the Ampatuans are responsible for the province of Maguindanao yet they did not do anything after the deadly election-related incident, which killed 57, among them members of the rival Mangudadatu clan, journalists and lawyers.
“We feel that they have failed to exercise their moral and actual authority over their clan members which is most probably the cause of the incident,” said Teodoro.
The decision of the party leadership did not need consultation with President Arroyo, Teodoro said, adding that the Ampatuans and the president herself do not yet know of the decision.
He, however, said that the party's verdict does not mean that the Ampatuans are guilty.
“No its not good as a guilty verdict... This involves their membership in this party and we don't delve into their culpability under law but their membership in this party ends,” said Teodoro.
Meanwhile, Teodoro also said that the incident has "laid to waste" his work as National Defense chief for 2 years.
He also said that military commanders in the area should be relieved from their posts.
Teodoro also appealed to the government to disarm the Ampatuans' private armies.
The military earlier on Wednesday had announced that 2 Special CAFGU Active Auxiliary companies organized in Maguindanao were to be deactivated and all firearms, ammunitions, equipment and uniforms of the members of these companies are to be turned over to the Philippine Army.
Lakas-Kampi-CMD party chairman Gilbert Teodoro announcing the expulsion of the Ampatuans from the party, in a press conference in Pasig November 25, 2009. (ABS-CBN News)
Loyal, favored ally
The administration’s apparent 180-degree turn in its treatment of the Ampatuan’s may however be more in connection with the coming 2010 elections. The administration party’s standard bearer has been lagging in surveys with Teodoro only getting 2% in the results where the top 4 are members of the anti-Arroyo opposition.
With the election season heating up, the domestic and international pressure to give justice to the massacre victims and having the Ampatuan’s continually connected to the administration party may have been seen to be more of a liability than what the powerful clan can contribute to the party.
The Ampatuans are well-known to be a close and favored ally of President Arroyo and Lakas-Kampi CMD and its predecessors before the merger this year - Lakas CMD and Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi).
Andal Sr. has been a close ally of President Arroyo and has delivered for her administration coalition in recent elections. (Read: New clan war erupts in Maguindanao)
In 2004, Arroyo garnered a total of 193,938 votes from Maguindanao’s 27 towns while closest rival Fernando Poe Jr., got only 59,892 votes.
Poe did not get a single vote in 3 Maguindanao towns.
Arroyo supposedly returned the favor in 2005 by allowing Ampatuan to field his son, then Shariff Aguak mayor Zaldy Ampatuan for ARMM governor. Zaldy is the first leader who had no links to any of the rebel groups in the area to ever acquire the title. He was reelected to his second term in 2008.
In 2007, Ampatuan once again demonstrated his dogged loyalty to the administration when he delivered to the administration coalition’s Team Unity a 12-0 sweep in Maguindanao. Many candidates of the Genuine Opposition received not a single vote from 20 of Maguindanao’s 22 municipalities.
In that same poll, Ampatuan ran, uncontested, for reelection as governor of the province. So did several members of his family.
Last year, the Mangudadatus went to Shariff Aguak to inform the senior Ampatuan that a member of the clan would vie for the gubernatorial post in 2010, according an abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak's military source who is familiar with politics in the area.
Until recently, the Mangudadatus were close allies of the Ampatuans. (Read: All in the Family)
The father of vice mayor Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu, former Buluan mayor Pua Mangudadatu, was one of 4 key allies of Ampatuan clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan, when the latter was just starting to flex his political muscles. (Read: Guns, Fealty, and Money)
But last year, the Mangudadatus went to Shariff Aguak to inform the senior Ampatuan that a member of the clan would vie for the gubernatorial post in 2010, according an abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak's military source who is familiar with politics in the area.
Emissaries from Malacañang and the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD party offered the Mangudadatus several posts in government to avoid a clash with the Ampatuans in the upcoming polls in May 2010.
Teodoro himself had admitted that prior to the massacre, he attended 4 meetings that were set up to mediate the brewing feud between the 2 clans, who are both allies of the administration.
The meetings seemed however to have favored the retention of the Ampatuans on the provincial government. Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr. was reportedly set to run as governor to succeed his father. Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu was offered different posts to dissuade him from contesting the gubernatorial post but he reportedly declined. (Read: 'Mangudadatus offered posts to avoid conflict with Ampatuans')
Teodoro may be trying to save the situation for the administration party in the province after the massacre as he visited the Mangudadatu's Wednesday to condole and tell them who their true "kakampi" (allies) are.
Teodoro visited the house of Vice Mayor Mangudadatu with runningmate Eduardo Manzano.
It was here that the new administration party announced that he was recommending the expulsion of the Ampatuans from the party rolls.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party said Mangudadatu has offered to be their official candidate for Maguindanano governor in the May polls.
LP Chairman Franklin Drilon confirmed this in the ABS-CBN News Channel program Strictly Politics.
"Toto Mangudadatu is supposed to take his oath with us. I talked to him Friday (November 20 and we're processing his interest in party affiliation and we're about to schedule him for oathtaking, and this happened so we have to postpone it," Drilon said.
He said however that they have decided to postpone further talks to give time for the Mangudadatus to grieve over the loss of members of their kin.
11 more bodies found, body count now at 57
Security forces meanwhile have found 11 more bodies on Wednesday at the site of massacre in Ampatuan town, taking the toll to 57 dead, officials said.
Not all have been identified, but 22 of them were believed to be journalists, making Monday's attack the deadliest ever on the media anywhere in the world. Thirty-three of the victims were men and 24 were women, police said.
The government has clamped emergency rule on the province of Maguindanao, where the killings took place, and in adjoining Sultan Kudarat province and Cotabato City. Truckloads of troops were brought to the area on Wednesday and armored cars were parked along highways.
"The perpetrators will not escape justice," President Arroyo told reporters. "The law will hunt them until they are caught."
The Army also sent an extra 500 soldiers, pulled out from a central island in the Philippines, to reduce tension in the area with the disbandment of the 2 militia companies.
Investigators have said they will probe allegations that some members of the paramilitary force participated in the killings.
The massacre has been condemned around the world. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it a "heinous crime".
"The Secretary-General extends heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and hopes that no effort will be spared to bring justice and to hold the perpetrators accountable," a U.N. statement said.
The journalists were accompanying several women of the powerful Mangudadatu clan to file the candidacy of one of the family for the provincial governor's post in elections next year.
No men from the family were present, since they believed that women would not be attacked by rivals.
Their convoy was stopped by about 100 armed men, who herded them to a remote hillside and attacked them with M-16 rifles and machetes. Two of their vehicles and many bodies were thrown into a freshly-dug pit and covered with earth by an excavator.
A Reuters photographer at the scene said the vehicles were buried with dead men at the wheel.
Clan feuds are common in the southern Philippines and the Mangudadatus have been at loggerheads with the Ampatuans, another local family, for months. Datu Andal Ampatuan, the patriarch of the family, has been elected governor of Maguindanao in three previous elections.
The Mangudadatus have blamed supporters of the Ampatuans for the massacre, but no arrests have been made and government officials were guarded in their comments.
"We expect to file criminal complaints as soon as we finish documentation and the investigation process," Ricardo Blancaflor, a justice department undersecretary, told Reuters.
"We're looking for direct evidence to pin down those behind these gruesome murders. We're now getting statements and waiting for the medico-legal reports needed for filing the complaints."
Both families have close links to Arroyo. With a report from Ces Oreña-Drilon, ABS-CBN News and Reuters