MANILA - Andal Ampatuan Jr., prime suspect in the brutal election-related murders of 57 people in Maguindanao last Monday, maintained his innocence Thursday and placed the blame on a "rogue" Moro commander being chased by Philippine authorities.
Ampatuan Jr., who is currently the mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao province, is now being held at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) headquarters in Manila.
Ampatuan Jr maintains innocence, blames MILF's Umbra Kato (larger video)
In an interview by RPN News while in detention at the NBI, Ampatuan pointed to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Commander Umbra Kato as the possible mastermind of the Maguindanao massacre.
"Wala po akong kasalanan. Kaya pumunta po ako dito para ipakita po sa inyo, hindi ako nagtatago at wala akong kasalanan, [o] alam sa ibinibintang sa akin," Ampatuan said.
He denied that he is the mastermind of the atrocity.
"Napakadaling sabihin ang ganoon [that he is the mastermind]. Pero dapat may ebidensiya sila. Wala po akong kinalaman doon. Wala po akong kaalam-alam," Ampatuan said.
"Ang MILF po, alam natin terorista, lalo na po sa pamumuno ni Umbra Kato. terorista po sila," he said.
He also denied that he was at the scene of the crime, saying he was at the Datu Unsay municipal hall at the time of the massacre.
"Wala po ako [noong] time na 'yon, nasa munisipyo po ako," Andal Jr. said.
The military is pursuing Umbra Kato and his men for allegedly carrying out attacks in several villages in North Cotabato in 2008. The attacks sent thousands fleeing their homes and left scores of people dead. The attacks came after the Supreme Court (SC) prevented the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in August 2008. The MILF leadership however has denied the military’s allegations.
7 counts of multiple murder
Andal Ampatuan Jr. surrenders (larger video)
The plane carrying him and a group of government officials, led by Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza and Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, landed at the Villamor Air Base at past 7 Thursday evening.
Ampatuan's hands were not handcuffed, which is the standard operating procedure for suspects accused with heinous crimes. HE was restrained however by 2 NBI agents.
Seven counts of multiple murder charges are set to be filed against Ampatuan Jr. by the Department of Justice on Friday (November 27).
Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño said he has instructed prosecutors in Maguindanao to file the case by Friday in Cotabato City.
The DOJ has created a prosecution panel for the case. Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera will lead the group.
At the same time though, the DOJ will be making a request to the SC to have the case transferred.
The motion to the SC will seek the transfer of the trial venue from General Santos City to Manila, to ensure that security is guaranteed to all parties and witnesses who will appear in the court hearing.
Devanadera said they are still working on evidence against other suspects, but she did not disclose how many.
She also said they have 17 other sworn statements from other witnesses including the Mangudadatus.
When asked whether technicalities might be raised because the crime happened Monday, Zuño said no, arguing they are still in hot pursuit so they are still covered by the allowable period.
From Maguindanao to Manila
To transfer Ampatuan from General Santos City to Manila, the DOJ immediately conducted an inquest on the mayor at General Santos City’s Awang airport. It was conducted after Ampatuan Jr. was flown in by Dureza in a helicopter from Maguindanao’s capital town Shariff Aguak.
The inquest is the summary proceeding that enables the prosecutors, to directly bring the charges directly to court, in lieu of a long preliminary investigation.
Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu was also present at the airport, to swear in his affidavit of complaint.
Since the massacre Monday, it was the first time the bitter rivals met.
Tension ensued as Mangudadatu pointed his finger at Ampatuan.
He was about to confront the man who allegedly killed his wife and relatives, when the people around him prevailed upon him to calm down.
Not enough, says Mangudadatus
Mangudadatus bury massacre victims, hope for justice (larger video)
The Mangudadatus, who buried on Thursday family members slain in the bloody incident, said they are not satisfied with just Andal Ampatuan Jr.s surrender.
"Hindi isang Ampatuan lang ang sangkot diyan, kaya hindi pa sapat ‘yang paglantad ni Unsay dahil sa dami ng biktima," Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Assemblyman Khadaffy Mangudadatu said.
They asserted, more members of the Ampatuan clan were involved in the murders.
Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno has recommended that all local officials in Maguindanao, including other members of the Ampatuan clan, be suspended, amid suspicion they were also involved in the crime.
Puno admitted, provincial police are also at fault.
"Nakalimutan na nila na ang dapat nilang ipagtanggol ay ang Republika ng Pilipinas, hindi ang mga ninong-ninongan nila sa lugar na ‘yon," Puno said in a press conference at Camp Crame.
Aside from Ampatuan, 4 policemen who were allegedly in the area when the massacre occurred, are now under arrest.
Initial investigations showed, the mass killings were planned.
"Ang plano siguro nila i-cover up at ilibing lahat para mawalan. Iyon ang unang unang theory,” Philippine National Police chief Director-General Jesus Verzosa said.
"Everything was planned... talagang alam nila na gagawin nila ito," Puno added.
Puno will ask Congress and the Commission on Elections to scrap the law allowing local government officials to choose police officers in their areas.Puno believes, this will prevent local officials from abusing their powers.