'Ampatuans have enough guns for 2 batallions'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 07 2009 05:53 PM | Updated as of Dec 08 2009 01:53 AM

MANILA - The Ampatuans carry enough weapons to arm at least 2 Army battalions, representatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Monday.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, AFP spokesman, said military and police units have seized 883 guns of various calibers from weapons caches believed to be owned by the powerful Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao.

At least 10% of the seized weapons appear to have been sourced from the military while the rest are from private arms dealers, said the military.

Authorities said weapons like these may have been bought directly by Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) local government units since government laws allow the procurement of firearms.

Aside from weapons, the military also recovered 430,000 ammunition (including bullets) and 10 armored vehicles.

A large cache of weapons was discovered last Thursday in a vacant lot in Shariff Aguak near the Ampatuan mansions which a military general said was enough to supply the ammunition requirement of brigade-size Army unit.

A large portion of the ammunition were still in boxes which have markings of Philippine National Police and the Government Arsenal of the Department of National Defense.

Police also recovered stockpiles of ammunition from the house of Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. during a search of the Ampatuan compound in Shariff Aguak on Friday morning.

About 40 more firearms, including M16 assault rifles, were uncovered on a ranch that is believed to be owned by former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., a military spokesman said on Sunday.

Private army

In President Arroyo’s report to Congress on the declaration of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Maguindanao province, the Ampatuans were described to have “consolidated a group of rebels consisting of 2,413 heavily armed men, with 1,160 of then having been strategically deployed in Mindanao.”

Detailed descriptions were given in the report of 8 armed groups ranging from 50 to 500 strong, most of which were described as having been “moved to offensive positions.”

The groups were reported to be armed with 2 “Sanguko” armored vehicles, light machine guns, recoilless rifles or bazookas and mortars among others.

The “rebels” are reportedly concentrated in 16 towns of Maguindanao which, the report said, are apparently the political stronghold of the Ampatuans.

One group was described to be led by a former commander of the Moro National Liberation Front.

According to a previous Newsbreak report, Ampatuan has a virtual army of at least 500 armed civilians. The same report stated that Ampatuan and his private army enjoy support from the military as they have been allies against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ever since the Marcos era.

Arrests

Days after the Ampatuans were accused of organizing the murder of 57 civilians and journalists in Ampatuan town, President Arroyo declared Martial Law in Maguindanao.

Clan patriarch, Ampatuan Sr., ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and other members of the powerful clan have been taken under custody by the police and the military.

Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., meanwhile, was indicted as the principal suspect in the massacre and is detained at the National Bureau of Investigation jail in Manila.

As of press time, 62 suspected members of Ampatuan's private army, which government now considers a rebel armed group were placed in police and military custody after martial law was declared in the province late Friday.

Authorities said those detained will be “processed for rebellion charges.”

The military on Sunday also said that there are ongoing negotiations for the surrender of around 2,000 former Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) members who are believed to be part of the Ampatuans' private army.

Civilian auxiliary units are primarily used by the AFP for civil defense and counter-insurgency operations. Report from ABS-CBN News.