MILF denies Ampatuan's claims

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 27 2009 10:57 AM | Updated as of Nov 27 2009 07:32 PM

MANILA - A Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) spokesman on Friday denied Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.'s allegation that a wanted MILF commander was responsible for the Maguindanao massacre last Monday.

"I think it's a clear attempt to divert the issue. It's conditioning the minds of the people. This statement is issued [by Ampatuan Jr.] with support from the concerned authorities," MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu told ANC's [email protected]

Kabalu fears that Ampatuan Jr.'s allegation against wanted MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato might lead to another major government offensive in Maguindanao, which has been placed under a state of emergency along with Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City.

In a statement caught on video by government-owned TV network RPN News, Ampatuan Jr. pointed to Umbra Kato as the mastermind of Monday's election-related massacre of 57 people in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao .

"Wala po akong kasalanan. Kaya pumunta po ako dito para ipakita po sa inyo na hindi ako nagtatago at wala akong kasalanan, [walang] alam sa ibinibintang sa akin (I did nothing wrong. I came here to show you that I am not in hiding and that I did nothing wrong and I don't have anything to do with the allegations being hurled against me)," Ampatuan Jr. said.

He said he could not have led the bloodiest election-related killing because he was at his office of the municipal hall of Datu Unsay town at the time of the massacre.

Mangudadatu doesn't believe claim

Buluan town Vice-Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, meanwhile, laughed at Ampatuan Jr.'s alleged attempt to divert the blame to the MILF. 

In an interview with ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda (UKG) on Friday, Mangudadatu said if Ampatuan Jr.'s statements were true, it would mean that the MILF commander's atrocities in Maguindanao were sanctioned by the Ampatuans.

"Dapat pinag-iisipan niya kung ano ang sinasabi niya. Kaalyado pala nila si Umbra Kato kung ganun. Ginamit pala ni Umbra kato ang mga pulis at armored car nila at backhoe ng probinsya ng Maguindanao? (He should think before he makes a statement. It means Umbra Kato is their ally. Umbra Kato used the police and the armored car and the backhoe of the province of Maguindanao?)," the vice-mayor said.

Mangudadatu's wife and two sisters were among those killed on Monday. His wife was on her way to Shariff Aguak to file a certificate of candidacy for governor on his behalf when they were stopped by at least 100 gunmen.

His wife's group, including more than 20 journalists, were stopped at the highway and then brought to a prepared burial site before being massacred.

The attackers used the provincial government's backhoe to prepare the victims' burial site.

Strong case

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera told reporters at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) headquarters that they have a "very strong case" against Ampatuan Jr..

Devanadera faced the media after taking Ampatuan Jr. into custody at the NBI headquarters in Manila. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is filing 7 counts of multiple murder charges against the mayor.

Devanadera said murder charges will be filed in Cotabato City, but they would be asking the Supreme Court to create a special body to hear the case in Manila for the protection of the accused and the Mangudadatus.

DOJ Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor said they will continue on Friday to collate more statements from the victims' relatives for the filing of more murder charges against Ampatuan Jr..

Blancaflor said they already have 17 statements from several witnesses and complaints from the relatives of the massacre victims.

International intervention

Lorelei Fajardo, presidential deputy spokesperson, assured the public that the government will conduct an impartial investigation into the massacre despite the Ampatuans' close political ties with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

"This is beyond friendship and politics and political allies. The President can assure the public that justice will prevail," Fajardo told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda.

President Arroyo's spokesperson was reacting to Akbayan Rep. Etta Rosales's suggestion that the government should ask the United Nations and other international bodies to conduct an independent investigation into the massacre.

Rosales said the public would not trust an investigation by the government because no less than Mrs. Arroyo is a very close ally of the Ampatuans. She said Mrs. Arroyo owes too much from the Ampatuans, who were instrumental in bringing in the votes from Maguindanao for her successful presidential bid in 2004.

Fajardo said the government has proven to the public that it has been acting impartially on the case with the arrest of Ampatuan Jr. and the disarming of paramilitary troops loyal to the powerful political clan.

"We don't see a need for foreign investigators. We can assure the public and the family of the victims that our investigations will be impartial," he said.