Thursday, August 18, 2011

Political Developments for the Third Quarter of 2011, Part I: Governor Mangudadatu Survives Assasination Attempt

August 15th, 2011 marked Governor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu's 43rd birthday. Because it took place during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, where adherants fast during daylight hours the Governor held a low key gift giving celebration that afternoon at his residential compound in the Mangudadatu Clan stronghold of Bualan, in Maguindanao Province, the municipality that now serves as the provincial capital. The main celebration though was set to be held after sundown at the Governor's Genalin Forest Garden Resort just across the provincial border, in Sultan Kudarat Province's Tacurong City, seat of clan patriarch, ex-Congressman Pax S.Mangudadatu.

The Governor was in great spirits having just that morning received word from his attorneys that the Department of Justice, or DOJ had just trashed the most pressing of three murder charges against him. The case in question revolves around the February 11th, 2010 shooting death of 41 year old Tomano Kagi Kamendan, a resident of Shariff Aguak, the former capital of Maguindanao Province. Kamendan, an Ampatuan Clansman had spent the afternoon at Gaisano South Citiland Mall [sic] on Ilustre Street in Davao City shopping with his wife Natividad de Arce Kamendan. The couple had made their way up to the mall's fourth floor in search of a dress for their 5 year old daughter. Mrs. Kamendan was four months pregnant and the day was wearing on fast her so that they agreed that they would leave after buying the dress.

Finally picking out a sundress the tired couple walked to counter #80 and prepared to pay for their purchase. Examining the dress Mrs. Kamendan only looked up when her usually talkative husband stopped abruptly in mid-sentence. Directly in front of them stood Esmael Mangudadatu, waiting to purchase clothes for his two daughters who together with him stood enveloped by four bodyguards, two of whom were uniformed policemen carrying sidearms. Tomano Kamendan had good reason to be nervous. Afterall, his uncle Andal Ampatuan Sr. And several other clan members were currently in jail for having killed Mangudadatu's wife Genalin along with his sister and other assorted family members less than 90 days earlier. As Mrs. Kamendan first noticed Mangudadatu he turned around slowly and locked eyes with her husband.

Mangudadatu, not missing a beat, asked Kamendan how his uncle Andal Sr. was adjusting to life on Luzon, an obvious dig at the clan patriatch's having been incarcerated over the killings. Kamendan nervously offered that he hadn't spoken to his uncle since December. Mrs. Kamendan tried to help her husband out of an extremely uncomfortable situation by interjecting light heartedly that they were exhausted having been shopping all afternoon. Being a convert to Islam Mrs. Kamendan had spoken in Tagalog, and not Maguindanowan, the tribal language of both her husband and Esmael Mangudadatu. Mangudadatu ignored her attempt at polite diversion and turned his back on the couple. None the wiser his bodyguards pretty much ignored the entire exchange.

Having finished his purchase Mangudadatu began moving away from the counter as the Kamendans gingerly approached. All of a sudden though, Mangudadatu stopped. The cashier, caught unawares, asked Mangudadatu if the Kamendans were with him. To that Mangudadatu repeated her question rhetorically before launching into a tirade about how degenerate and perverted each and every member of the Ampatuan Clan really was. Mrs. Kamendan grabbed her husband's elbow and steered him away from the counter, afraid he might respond and add fuel to the growing fire. She began walking with her husband, away from the embarrasing confrontation but suddenly her husband bolted and began running. It was then that she heard Mangudadatu order his bodyguards to, "Ten bak nu den!" Perhaps thinking that noone would understand Maguindanowan, after all Mrs. Kamendan had spoken in Tagalog, he had just ordered his men to shoot her husband. Now fearing for her own life and the life of her unborn child Mrs. Kamendan rushed towards the nearest door and begged a salesgirl to help her. The quick thinking store employee sheparded the distressed woman into a stockroom where Mrs. Kamendan hid in blind fear.

As Mangudadatu gave the order the two uniformed policemen turned and ran full speed after Tamano Kamendan before one officer, PO1 (Police Officer First Grade) Surab Lintukan Bantas cornered the fleeing man in the kitchenware section. As the police officer drew his 45 caliber pistol Kamendan grabbed the officer's wrist. As the two men wrestled for the pistol they shattered a glass display case spraying glass shards everywhere. As the second officer, PO1 Ibrahim Langalen came upon the melee Kamendan managed to extricate himself and once again tried to flee for his life. Both officers drew down. Musa's 9MM pistol fired three rounds, all failing to connect and all miraculously failing to harm any of the store's hundreds of customers. However Officer Bantas managed to connect with every one of his five rounds, four of which landed in Tamano Kamendan's back.

Naturally the case was reported with hundreds of eyewitnesses having seen it transpire, not to mention the store's CCTV (closed circuit television) having recorded it for posterity so that there was no way to avoid calling it in. The Davao City CPO, or City Police Office registered a report at 730PM. Not long after that then Mayor Duterte himself arrived on the scene. Even in non-election seasons malls are offlimits for weaponry. Guards armed with pump shotguns stand watch s their colleagues frisk each and every patron entering the mall (all malls) while a third guard uses a wand metal detector for redundancy. The only exceptions are uniformed police officers and soldiers who must show proper ID and then sign a special form, or logbook. Moreover, in election seasons COMELEC, the national electoral authority implements nation wide gun bans in which only uniformed personnel who are on duty may carry any manner of weaponry in an attempt to mitigate election related violence. Ergo, Mangudadatu's two civilian bodyguards:

1) James Musa

2) Arnell Alangkat

were unarmed, as mandated by law. The two police officers, attached to Mangudadatu's security detail were deployed out of the ARMM PRO, or Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Police Regional Office, were legally permitted to bear arms. Still, Mayor Duterte questioned just why the two police officers had felt it necessary to retain their sidearms inside the mall.

Mangudadatu and his four bodyguards reported that while they were at counter #80 they heard Mangudadatu's youngest daughter, age 11, scream. They turned and saw Tamano Kagi Kamendan with his arm wrapped around the girl's neck apprently trying to abduct her. Though Mangudadatu never said a word, much less instruct anyone to shoot, both police officers ran after Kamendan who after realising his attempted abduction would fail did his best to escape by running full speed for the escalator. PO1 Bantas reached Kamendan first, at the kitchenwares section immediately adjacent to the escalator. Kamendan, realising that the gig was up lunged for Bantas' sidearm, a 45 caliber pistol. As they wrestled for the weapon they smashed a display case. Kamendan was able to grab a large shard of glass and attempted to wrest the pistol away from his opponent by repeatedly stabbing the officer's wrist with the shard. Only when PO1 Langalen arrived on scene did Kamendan stop struggling and once again begin running for the escalator. Both officers drew down and fired on the fleeing assailant.

As one easily sees, there is quite a bit of discrepancy between the version supplied by Mangudadatu and his security detail and that offered by the widow and store sales people. Even if we forget that the store personnel have absolutely no vested interest in the outcome of the case we have to admit that the Mangudadatu version is just preposterous. If Tomano Kamendan planned to abduct Mangudadatu's daughter, why bring his pregnant wife? Why choose the fourth floor of an incredibly busy mall, the interior of which is monitored by CCTV and whose exterior entrances are all guarded by men holding pump shotguns? IF it was a crime of passion or an opportunistic crime why pick THAT moment? While the party is directly in front of a cashier? Why do it as the 4 bodyguards are with the girl? It is just too silly to fathom but this was Mangudadatu's response after the Davao City Prosecutor charged the two police officers, and later Mangudadatu himself with murder.

By March however, the Davao City Prosecutor had appointed a three person investigative panel to examine the case a lot more closely and render a recommendation on actual prosecution. The charge against Mangudadatu was then dropped with the Prosecutor's Office remarking that Natividad de Arce Kamendan's original affadavit made no mention of Mangudadatu having ordered his guards to shoot Mr. Kamendan. It was only after she had conferred with her own counsel that she chose to revise her affadavit. Furthermore, her choice in counsel happened to be none other than Philip Pantojan, house counsel for the Ampatuan Clan in local matters. Ergo her revised affadavit was suspect.

Mrs. Kamendan then filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration with regard to Mangudadatu having been dropped from the case but was unsuccessful in this endeavour having had it denied at the end of April. Still, the case against the police officers remained as is. It wasn't until May of 2011 that Mrs. Kamendan finally submitted a formal withdrawal of her complaint against Mangudadatu, having received a generous "donation" from Mangudadatu, by then sitting as Governor, in her dear departed husband's name. It took the DOJ until August 15th to formally drop all initiatives against Governor Mangudadatu with regard to the murder case. It is assured that both police officers will also beat the case but that in the interim will have to go through the rigamorole of a trial. Philippine Law allows for Self Defense, which is what the two officers are utilising as their defence, but doesn't allow for prosecutorial latitude in such matters. In other words, in the American System after which the Philippine System was fashioned, a prosecutor can make a judgement call if Self Defense is tenable and decline to even present the case to a Grand Jury for indictment. The Philippine System is markedly different not least of all because of its lack of Grand Jury and Indictments. Because the Philippine System also lacks Trial by Jury Self Defense must be judged entirely by the trial judge. In this case the two officers will get their days in Regional Trial Court, or RTC #16, Davao City.

Returning to August 15th, at 330PM the guests at Governor Mangudadatu's compound piled into vehichles for the short ride across the provincial border to his resort in Tacurong City. Leaving in a convoy of 7 vehicles the Governor naturally rode at the head of the line in his armoured van. Entering Tacurong City along Tacurong -Koronadal National Hiway, generaly known as Alunan Hiway, the convoy had just passed Fitmart Department Store, the scene of a bombing just 3 weeks prior when a white Kia Avellana parked in front of the Cherubim Methodist Learning Center, next to the Land Bank of the Philippines and packed with a powerful IED, or Improvised Explosive Device (as in "bomb") fashioned from multiple 105MM Howitzer shells detonated. All that remained of the Kia was its front axle and a partial front quarter, the rest had simply disintegrated.

The explosion took place 7 seconds after the Governor's lead vehicle passed the parked Kia. The third vehicle in the convoy, a black Toyota Fortuner owned by Maguindanao Provincial Board Member Datu Russman "Russ" Sinsuat Sr. took the brunt of the explosion. In fact it was Sinsuat himself who was the most seriously injured of the 5 people in that truck, all of whom sustained moderate to serious wounds. In addition, a triksiad (motorised tricycle used as a taxi) driver, Raffy Parenas of Tacurong City's Purok #9 was killed instantly. A sixth person was wounded as well while riding in the convoy's fourth vehicle. All six of the wounded were rushed to Tacurong City Doctor's Hospital. Sinsuat's son, Datu Russ Jr. had to have his right leg amputated. As the operation was being performed his father was being declared dead, having expired at 1217AM.

Just before the detonation an idling triksiad driver had witnessed a man leaving the Kia and running across the road at full speed. Just after the blast the witness informed a police officer on scene that a man had just gotten out of the Kia and run across the street. A dragnet was quickly thrown up and officers from the CPO, or City Police Office were able to quickly apprehend Datu Karim "Alibara" Masdal, a resident of Guindulungan in Maguindanao Province. After taking him into custody he was rapidly transferred to the custody of Criminal Investigation and Detection Group- Region 12, or CIDG-12. CDIG-12 then immediately implemented a news blackout until today, August 18th, on the arrest citing National Security concerns, hence my not being able to post on the event until today.

A second man, Jay R. Reyes of Cotabato City is listed on the Kia's bill of sale as having purchased the SUV from its previous owner, Maureen Ella Macasindil, of Davao City, a resident of Barangay Datu Luho in Maa District. Ms.Macasandil claims that two of her employees actually handled the transaction for her so that she never actually saw the person in question. CIDG is currently interrogating both employees while remaining cognisant that Ms. Macasindil spent a number of years living in Maguindanao Province. A warrant has been taken out on "Mr. Reyes" but the name is an alias. Searches at the LTO, or Land Transportation Office, Civil Registry, COMELEC Voter Registries, and the Social Security rolls have all failed to turn up anyone with that name or any variation on the name. Masdal, the man fingered as the man who had been sitting in the Kia meanwhile, denies any involvement and hasn't provided a shred of intelligence. Knowing the type of interrogation he would be subjected to I reckon he is merely a patsy hired to drive the Kia to Tacurong. The IED was triggered by cellphone so that the fact that Masdal ran across the hiway just before the detonation doesn't neccessarily relate to his having fore knowledge of the bombing. Co-incidentally, perhaps, an IED was recovered in Guindulungan this past Saturday, August 13th though its signature doesn't match the carbomb in Tacurong City.

For most people considering the matter the obvious culprit would be the Ampatuan Clan. Afterall, the Governor's late wife Genalin, namesake of that aforementioned resort in Tacurong City, was but one of 58 people murdered by the Ampatuans on November 23rd, 2009 when another Mangudadatu convoy was waylaid en route to the previous provincial capital, Shariff Aguak. That infamous act of violence, the so called "Maguindanao Massacre" is what caused then President Gloria M.Arroyo to declare the still extant State of Emergency (with nearly a week of actual Martial Law just after the incident). Though this latest act of violence IS related to the now two year old blood feud between the two clans it is NOT directly related to the Maguindanao Massacre.

The Massacre it should be recalled, took place because of Ampatuan paranoia in the face of Mangudadatu's insistence on fielding his candidacy in the May 2010 Gubneratorial Race in Maguindanao Province. The two clans had been firmly allied since the 18th Century when together they led a victorious raid on the Spanish Fort in the Cotabato Basin. Slaughtering all survivors the clans' alliance was literally sealed in blood. Since that time they have heavily intermarried with one another and rarely have not been in full agreement. Though rooted in the same province, Maguindanao, the Mangudadatus wisely chose to build their powerbase in the adjacent province of Sultan Kudarat and so avoided direct competition. At the beginning of 2009 Esmael, the current Governor, but then merely the Vice Mayor of Buluan convinced patriarch Pax, his paternal uncle, to back his run for Governor of Maguindanao.

With a bit of internal debate Uncle Pax gave his blessing and Esmael, accompanied by a few dozen well armed members of the clan paramilitary, known as the "Buayan sa Ranao," or Crocodiles of the Lake (their hometown Bualan sits on a lake of the same name), paid a visit to the residential compound of the Ampatuan Clan patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr., currently incarcerated at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, on Luzon, for the Massacre, but who at that point had just resigned as Governor of Maguindanao after the Supreme Court dissolved the province he had created out of a Maguindanowan Congressional District in 2008, the province of Shariff Kabansuan citing Constitutional issues. Though obstensibly out of office, he had son Zaldy Uy Ampatuan, then Governor of ARMM, or Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao but now jailed along with his father, appoint youngest son Sajid Islam Ampatuan as OIC, or Officer in Charge Governor of Maguindanao.

Andal Sr.'s endgame was to keep the seat warm for the May of 2010 Election when he would have his other son, and namesake, Andal for election. The verb "run" is not quite apt since the clan controlled most municipalities in the province and so dictated who ran, and therefore who won. Andal Sr. wasn't so bothered that Esmael Mangudadatu dared to run for the Governor's seat as much as he was angered, neigh infuriated that he would dare to appear at his doorstep with dozens of men carrying long arms. THIS was the impetus for the Massacre.

Though in stir the clan's hold on the province, though surely not as firm as it had been prior to the Massacre was still strong. Under Andal Sr.'s direction clan members ran for key posts. One post retained was the mayoralty of the municipality of Datu Unsay. Named for Andal Jr.'s nickname, the town was specifically created for him by his father, Andal Sr. With Jr. in jail one of his wives, Bai Reshal Santiago Ampatuan ran in his stead. Not suprisingly she emerged victoriously. Almost from the start she dealt with a very small but vocal dissident faction backed by the Mangudadatus. With the shakeup in the local powerbase all PNP, or Philippine National Police serving in Maguindanao Province were transferred far and wide. Though most of the rank and file ultimately returned to their original positions the command structure was permanently disassembled. With new commanders Governor Mangudadatu was able to groom his own loyal following. One such commander who planted himself firmly in the Governor's camp was Director Senior Superintendent of the Maguindanao PPO, or Police Provincial Office, Marcelo Pintac.

On Janurary 10th, 2010 Director Pintac jotted off an official memorandum to the ARMM PRO, or Police Regional of the ARMM, is under the ARMM PRO AOR, or Area of Responsibility (as in "jurisdiction"). In this memorandum the Director accused Mayor Reshall Ampatuan of dereliction of duty for rank absenteeism. According to the Director the Mayor had not shown up for a single day's work since July 15th, 2010. The memorandum is extremely note worthy because such matterss are no concern at all of any police official though technically, any civil servant can formally complain about any other civil servant. Still, it was so unusual that the Director of ARMM PRO simply filed it away and did nothing more.

Curiously, two members of Datu Unsay's dissident faction:

1) Pata Usman, age 52

2) Abdulhamid Lumena, age 32

chose Janurary 13th as the day to make a stand, knowing that in doing so they would provoke a serious confrontation with either the Mayor or her supporters. The two men hung banners on the outside walls of the municipal compound on which they appealed to not only Governor Mangudadatu but President Aquino himself to intervene in the face of what they maintained was rank corruption in the October of 2010 Barangay and SK (Sangguniang Kabataan, or Youth Council) Elections. Mayor Ampatuan, who contrary to PPO Director Marcelo Pintac's claim WAS working quickly had municipal workers tear down the banners.

Having choreographed their actions with Mangudadatu's camp the two protestors immediately entered the compound and once inside the MPO, or Municipal Police Office reported the incident so that it would be officialy recorded. Having been notified before the protestors had even raised their banners PPO Director Pintac had already deployed two of his senior men:

1) Senior Inspector Greg Soliba, Commanding Officer of the PPO's PSCs, or Public Safety Companies (formerly known as PMGs, or Police Mobile Groups)

2) Senior Inspector Lino Capellan

who rendevouzed with a small detachment from the 45IB (Infantry Battalion), to use as armed backup. Speeding from Shariff Aguak, the former provincial capital which still houses most provincial government offices. Arriving at the municipal compound the two Inspectors and they military backup conferred with the two protestors. According to Senior Inspector Soliba they were then surrounded by eight well armed men and their commander, members of the Mayor's security detail.

According to Soliba he defused the tense situation by convincing the commander, Mayoral Aide Tungko Zakala, to accompany him inside the MPO so as to verify the eight armed guards' permits to carry weapons. Once inside the MPO Soliba claims that he was able to verify that in fact, the eight guards were all employed by SWAT (Saviour Weapons and Tactics) Security Agency in Cotabato City. Moreover Soliba says, he ascertained that the company's Temporary Liscence to Operate had expired exactly one week previously on Janurary 6th, 2011. At that point Soliba says, he had the soldiers from the 45IB confiscate two M653s (mini-M16s) and six MP5s. The eight guards, all local Maguindanowan Tribesmen under the employ of SWAT were then released to the town's Information Officer, Paisal Sulaik.
At the same time, the Ampatuans aren't the only group on the Governor's dancecard, the Mangudadatu paramilitary has entered into a conflict with the MILF and its military arm, the BIAF, otr the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces in the clan stronghold of Buluan. I covered this flare up in my entry, "MILF Armed Contacts for the Second Quarter of 2011

Mayor Reshal Santiago Ampatuan did not just roll over. On Janurary 20th she went to the media and complained of dirty politicking on the part of PPO Director Marcelo Pintac. When her guards were forcibly disarmed, at gunpoint she added, she formally submitted a request to Director Pintac to provide her with two uniformed and armed police officers. Pintac ignored her request. Mayor Ampatuan correctly noted that by law she is entitled to the two officers and that Pintac's actions, and conversely his lack of action thereafter prove that the Director is operating with a political agenda. Pintac's response? "Para sa akin pantay ako sa lahat. Sanay kasi yan sila na lahat ng gusto nila masusunod. Nung sila ba ang namahala sa Maguindanao naisip ba nila ang mga ginigawa sa tao di na maganda? Idiomatically translated, Director Pintac denied any unfair treatment saying that he treats all people fairly BUT then immediately followed with, "They (the Ampatuan Clan) are so used to getting what they want but when they were in power here in Maguindanao, what did they ever do for anyone?" Nah, no bias there, right?

Then Pintac promptly filed a formal complaint with Magiuindanao Provincial Board in which he charged the Mayor with Illegal Possesion of Weapons, Illegal Possesion of Ammunition, and Absenteeism. The Provincial Board, or Sangguniang Panlalawigan tossed the complaint in the trash and derided Pintac for wasting their time with it. Co-incidentally this move was the first open indication that the Mangudadatu alliance with Vice Governor Ibrahim "Dustin" Veloso Mastura had fractured, with Vice Governor Mastura steering the Board on that issue. At the birthday party on August 15th Mastura was not in attendance signalling that the rift is major.

I will continue with the conclusion of this entry in a subsequent post utilising the same title, with the addition, "Part 2."

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