Friday, August 19, 2011

Political Developments for the Third Quarter of 2011, Part I: Assasination Attempt on Governor Mangudadatu, Part 2

After Director Senior Superintendent Marcelo Pintac of the PPO, or Police Provincial Office of Maguindanao Province failed in his attempt to have the Provincial Board of Maguindanao censure Mayor Reshel Santiago Ampatuan of Datu Unsay, the Mangudadatu Clan sponsoring Pintac temporarily turned their attentions towards other more pressing problems.

Just two weeks later, on March 15th, 2011, at 4PM, Maguindanao's Provincial Prosecutor Akilali Balt was in the mood for a game of tennis. His driver slash bodyguard Dandan Balt Datu Dakula, a maternal relative was driving Prosecutor Balt to the tennis court near his home in Cotabato City, in the adjacent province of North Cotabato. As the Government owned black Isuzu Fuego pickup truck drove down Sinsuat Avenue in the city's Barangay Mother traffic slowed almost to a standstill. As the truck inched its way toward the corner of Pansacala Street a black and white Honda Wave motorcycle managed to thread its way through the stalled vehicles until it was nearly parallel with Balt's pickup truck. The man riding tandem on the back of the motorcycle slowly raised a 45 caliber pistol and squeezed off 5 rounds, 3 of which connected with the target, Prosecutor Balt. Shot in his lower right ear, lower right neck, and on his right forearm Balt slumped in his seat.

As the motorcycle began moving forward and turning slowly down Pansacala Street Balt's driver Dandan got out of the truck to give chase. Reaching the corner in time to see the motorcycle accelerate down Pansacala Street he stupidly endangered hundreds of people by squeezing off 7 rounds out of his own 45. Quickly returning to the truck Dandan stood vigil until Prosecutor Balt had been attended to and transported to the city's Notre Dame Hospital, before being transferred to Davao Doctors Hospital in Davao City later that night. Meanwhile, as luck would have it, a rookie police officer with the Cotabato City CPO, or City Police Office, gave chase as he saw the motorcycle roar past him on Pansacala Street. Most police on the island, certainly in Cotabato City, are wise enough to steer well clear of any professional killing. Two men tandem on a single motorcycle and utilising a 45 caliber pistol is a textbook case of "murder for hire." Gung ho rookies though see things very differently.

Finally coming upon the motorcycle abandoned on a deserted section of Pansacala Street, in Barangay Rosary Height #10, the rookie alerted his superiors who began scouring the barangay. A little more than 8 hours later a Barangay Tanod, or Barangay Guard heard a moaning sound emanating from a riverside culvert across the river from where the would be killer and his partner had ditched their motorcycle. Splitting up, the shooter, Acmad Makakena Maliga then swam across the Pulangi River (Rio Grande de Mindanao) before taking refuge in the aforementioned culvert. One of the rounds fired by Dandan Balt Datu Dakula had connected with Maliga's shoulder.

On March 18th Maliga authored a 5 page affadavit in which he named his driver, Marcelino S. Raguinot also known as James Tugaya or Noel Tugaya. Even more importantly Maliga revealed that Raguinot was employed as a bodyguard to a local politician. Most importantly, that politician had dispatched them with a strict order to kill Prosecutor Akilali Balt. Who was this local politician? Mayor Ibrahim "Diong" Mangudadatu of Buluan in Maguindanao Province. Shortly before the shooting took place Mangudadatu and Balt had almost come to blows when the Prosecutor had dropped weapons charges iniated by Director Marcelo Pintac against Datu Unsay's Mayor Reshal Santiago Ampatuan. Mangudadatu naturally took umbrage and did his best to twist Balt's arm on the matter. Preoccupied with the much more pressing gang rape of a 21 year old volunteer nurse in the municipality of North Upi, a case that at the time had riveted the attention of the nation, Prosecutor Balt didn't have the time or energy to cater to petty political feuds. The Mangudadatu Clan though doesn't handle denial very well.

As Balt was being transferred to Davao Doctors Hospital his daughter Aminah began a personal crusade for justice. Jotting off an email to Secretary Leila de Lima of the DOJ, or Department of Justice Aminah outlined all that she knew, having been taken into her father's confidence shortly before the shooting. She told of the heated argument with Mayor Mangudadatu and the dropping of charges against Mayor Ampatuan. Aminah asked that her father be transferred to another hospital in a safer locale, one out of reach to the Mangudadatu Clan and its wide circle of supporters. Ms. Balt asked that confessed triggerman Acmad Makakena Maliga be transferred from the Cotabato City Jail to the custody of the NBI, or National Bureau of Investigation at its headquarters in Metro Manila. The nation's top law enforcement agency is generally viewed as being above the fray and unbeholden to any political patron. Of course this isn't the case but it is undeniable that an inmate in fear for his life in a Mindanowan prison is in much safer hands simply by virtue of being held in Metro Manila. For the Mangudadatus, killing him in the Cotabato City Jail is a trifling matter. Finaly, Aminah Balt asked Secretary de Lima to appoint a Special Prosecutor to the case knowing that in Cotabato City justice could never be served.

On March 21st Secretary de Lima signed Departmental Order #200 in which she empaneled three trusted subordinates:

1) Assistant State Prosecutor Vimar Barcellano

2) Prosecutorial Attorney Mark Roland Estepa

3) Prosecutorial Attorney Gerard Gaerlan

to cover the preliminary aspects of the investigation. The order also authorised Balt's transfer to Capital University Hospital in Cagayan del Oro City, though the location wouldn't be revealed for safety reasons. Located in Misamis Oriental Province on the islands northern coast it was considered far enough away from Central Mindanao as to be relatively assured of safety. Unfortunately Balt's condition wouldn't be able to withstand the rigours or an air evacuation to Manila, more than 900 kilometers to the north. The order also set in motion the petition for a Change of Venue which if granted by the Supreme Court would have any eventual trial transferred out of Cotabato City's jurisdiction and allow proceedings to take place in Metro Manila where personnel aren't tarnished by either the Mangudadatu OR Ampatuan Clan's influence. Finally, the order also called for the transfer of Acmad Makakena Maliga to NBI custody. Aminah Balt got all she wished for and more.

On March 24th Chief Presiding Judge of Regional Trial Court #14 in Cotabato City, Bansawan Ibrahim al Haj signed off on the Transfer of Custody Order on Mr. Maliga allowing the NBI to take custody of him and whisk him off to the relative safety of Manila. That same week the DOJ Panel arrived in Cotabato City and began collecting new affadavits. In fact, on the very same day that Judge Ibrahim (al Haj is merely an honourific) signed that Transfer Order, Mayor Mangudadatu had been scheduled to appear in person and render his counter-affadavit. In other words, this was the day when Mangudadatu would finally get to clear the air. Since the killing 9 days earlier he had told anyone who would listen that he was chomping at the bit to present HIS side of the story. On the 24th however Mangudadatu was nowhere to be seen. From that point on Mangudadatu refused all communication with the Panel and despite being summoned to appear on two subsequent occaisons, June 16th and June 23rd, he never said another word. Before he found himself mute however his theory revolved around jealous rivals upset about his stated intention to run for Governor of ARMM, or Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Why a jealous rival would then kill Prosecutor Balk however was never articulated. The story became even more ridiculous when his uncle, clan patriarch Pax Mangudadatu himself entered the race and sidelined Mayor Ibrahim's ambition.

Though Prosecutor Balk had showed some modest improvement he took a turn for the worse on of all days, March 24th. Slipping into a coma Prosecutor Akilali Balt passed away at 808PM on Sunday, April 3rd. I would love to be able to tell you that justice is being served in the case but this is Mindanao after all where political killings are a part of the local landscape. Though officialy still empaneled the DOJ investigative team isn't doing much these days, having reverted to their earlier duties. The driver of the motorcycle, Marcelino S. Raguinot is still missing and presumed to have been killed by the Mangudadatus. Likewise with the owner of the motorcycle, Asma Samaon, though he played no direct role in the killing.

At 830PM on July 1st loitering residents saw two men riding tandem on a black Honda XRM turn off of the Mamasapano P
Roundabout (traffic circle) and drive slowly past them in Barangay Poblacion in Maguindanao Province's municipality of Shariff Aguak. The dirt acess road off of Isulan-Cotabato National Hiway led to a large compound holding al Khariah Mosque, generally referred to as Shariff Aguak's "Grand Mosque." On the right side of the compound sits the modest but comfortable home of Bai Galema Ampatuan Olimpaya, who besides being a daughter of the infamous clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., is also a Municipal Councilor in the town of Shariff Saydona Mustapha. Those same residents saw the two men dismount from their motorcycle inside the mosque compound while carrying a burlap rice sack containing a bulky object before the two men hurried next door to the Ampatuan home.

The men then unsuccessfully tried breaking into Councilor Ampatuan Olimpaya's home before getting spooked and quickly returning to the compound. There they deposited the rice sack on the right side of the mosque's facade and left just as the mosque's caretaker had been alerted by one of the curious onlookers. 27 year old caretaker Aminodin Arsad Satal, originally from Lanao del Sur Province had recently assumed his position as a favour to his father, the mosque's Imam, or cleric. Imam Satar had grown apprehensive over having such a high ranking member of the Ampatuan Clan living next door to the mosque. As Aminodin Satar came upon the rice sack he approached it but when he was still within a meter of the sack the IED, or Improvised Explosive Device (as in "bomb") inside it detonated. Fashioned from an 81MM mortar shell with a Nokia 5510 cellphone as the trigger it left a 30 centimeter deep crater in the asphalt in front of the facade and pockmarks all over the front exterior. Aminodin Arsad Satar was killed instantly.

At the heart of the aforementioned "weapons case" lodged against Mayor Reshal Santiago Ampatuan was SWAT, or Saviour Weapons and Tactics Security, owned by Cotabato City's Jesus "J.V," Martinez. Martinez is the scion of one of Cotabato City's oldest Christian families, his ancestors having moved there in the middle of the 19th Century. Marrying into the Ampatuan Clan, with the mandatory conversion to Islam, he parlayed a small fortune inherited from his parents into a considerable one reliant upon political patronage. Centering his small empire on Cotabato City's De Mazenod Street he left the day to day affairs to his extended family and spent most of his time in Davao City.

On August 2nd a motorcycle rigged with a powerful IED was parked in front of Martinez's "SWAT Gun Store" on Quezon Avenue, just around the corner from De Mazenod Street. Unfortunately the 3 story building also housed a pharmacy and a number of other businesses as well. Even more unfortunately, when that IED detonated just after 8PM hapless passerby took the brunt of the explosion. 14 people were hit, including a 5 year old girl. One of those 14, photographer Jimmy Ali was killed instantly. The device consisted of a 60MM mortar shell and a Nokia 5510 cellphone trigger.

On August 6th the same attackers took aim at Martinez's "SWAT Security Agency," located inside a residential compound owned by Martinez on De Mazenod Street. At 740PM two men riding tandem on a single motorcycle pulled parallel to the compound's outer wall. The passenger then dismounted, threw an M67 fragmentation grenade into the compound, re-mounted and the two calmly rode off just as the grenade detonated with a thunderous blast. Fortuitously noone was hit in that explosion despite one of Martinez's brothers in law having been inside the security agency office just 2 meters from where the grenade made contact. Aside from all windows in the building being shattered there were no casualties as he had been in a back office and so emerged unscathed. Though Martinez doesn't live in the compound some of his extended family does and so the last attack literally hit closer to home.

Predictably the authorities are busy tripping over each other in the mad race to make fools of themselves. Cotabato City's CPO pinned the first attack on...Jemmah Islamiyyah, or JI. DIPO-West, or Directorate of Integrated Police Operations-Western Sector Director Senior Superintendant Felicisimo Khu concurred. The AFP, or Armed Forces of the Philippines, via the 6ID, or 6th Infantry Division Spokesperson put the blame on the "MILF SOG," or Special Operations Group and its bogeyman, the Afghan-trained Basit Usman. Within two days though they began inching away from their semi-retarded pronouncements as Cotabato City Administrator, attorney Cynthia Guiani Sayadi took to the airwaves and blamed it all on "personal grudges" against Mr. Martinez. However in her mind those "grudges" related to Martinez having recently sold tracts of land in Maguindanao Province and having failed to share in the profits with his large extended family.

When one realises that Ms. Sayadi herself has also married into the Ampatuan Clan (and converted to Islam as well though it isn't required of females) the story becomes clearer. Linking the attacks to the Datu Unsay weapons case against Mayor Reshal Santiago Ampatuan and the feud with the Mangudadatu Clan will only bring closer scrutiny to the whole sordid affair and therefore prevent retaliatory the August 15th assasination attempt against Maguindanao Governor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu via that powerful carbomb in Tacurong City.

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