Big arms cache near Ampatuan mansions unearthed

Posted at 12/03/09 11:12 PM

MANILA - The military on Thursday unearthed a large cache of arms and ammunition, enough to supply a brigade-size unit of the military near the mansions of the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak, capital town of Maguindanao.

In an interview, Col. Leo Cresente Ferrer, Philippine Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade acting commander, said they found different types of high-powered firearms and ammunition buried in the ground in a vacant lot in Poblacion 3 in Shariff Aguak.

He said the lot is near the mansions of the Ampatuans, who are being investigated for their role in the Ampatuan massacre last November 23.

As of 8:30 p.m., Ferrer said they have discovered 141 boxes of ammunition for high-powered firearms such as M60 machine gun, M16 automatic rifles as well as caliber .45 bullets.

The Army commander said the ammunition found can supply the requirements of a brigade-size unit. An Army brigade consists of at least 1,500 men or at least 2 battalions plus several companies.

He said they also found the following:

  • two 81mm mortars;
  • a 60mm mortar;
  • two 90mm and one 57mm recoilless rifles commonly known as bazookas;
  • 4 M60 machine guns;
  • caliber .50 Barrett sniper rifle;
  • 200 other high-powered guns;
  • 1 Ultimax light machine gun;
  • 1 Bushmaster 5.56mm carbine;
  • 2 Browning Automatic rifles (BARs);
  • 1 FAL automatic rifle;
  • 1 AK-47;
  • 1 Heckler & Koch HK 11 light support machine gun;
  • one 5.56mm M4 carbine;
  • 9mm and caliber .45 pistols.

Gun replacement parts were also found.

More ammos expected

Ferrer estimated that the military hardware they have so far found has been placed in an area the size of a basketball court. He said the armaments found so far are worth around P1.4 million.

He said they expect to recover more guns and ammunition since the digging is still ongoing.

The digging may take 2 days since the soldiers are only using their hands.

Ferrer said they initially used a bulldozer but decided to stop using it since it might trigger an explosion in case they hit a bomb, artillery or mortar round buried in the ground.

Ferrer said a concerned citizen reported the arms cache to the Army on November 25, 2 days after the massacre which killed at least 57 people in Ampatuan town. The concerned citizen claimed to have seen a backhoe digging in the vacant lot after the killings.

“We have information from a concerned citizen, this was given to the Army and the police, that there was something buried on the night of Nov. 25,” he said.

He said they immediately sent a unit with bomb-sniffing dogs to confirm the report.

From gov't arsenal

Ferrer said the ammunition boxes found bore markings of Armscor, meaning it came from the Government Arsenal in Bataan. He said some of the boxes even indicate the date of manufacture, June 2009.

Armscor supplies ammunition to the military, police, and also civilians, but only upon authorization of the government.

He said military and police uniforms were also found at the excavation site.

Ferrer, however, declined to connect the Ampatuans to the buried arms cache.

He said it would be up to the police to file a case based on the evidence found by investigators.

He said he could not confirm if the firearms were used in the Ampatuan massacre.

“I don’t know. We have the mortars and I don’t believe the mortars were used. May mga bala rin dito, different calibers, puwedeng nagamit noon o ibinaon para sa ganoon magamit pa ng mga goons ng mga private armies,” said Ferrer.

However, he said everyone knows who has the capacity and influence to buy such a large amount of firearms and ammunition.

“We will find out. Wala pa kaming personality. Pero obvious naman eh,” said Ferrer.

Ferrer also expressed his thanks to the civilian who tipped them off. He said the informant is helping achieve peace in Maguindanao.

A breakthrough

Director Felizardo Serapio Jr., directorate for Integrated Police Office-Western Mindanao, hailed the arms and ammunition find.

“This is a breakthrough sa investigation side. Naka-breakthrough na tayo dun sa shells ano... This has been one of the clamor na bakit nakikita natin old firearms. Here, we can see bago, mga brand new... we have not only assault rifles but we have offensive weapons like the Barrett,” said Serapio.

The military earlier recovered firearms from the two Special Civilian Active Auxiliary (SCAA) companies of Maguindanao which are alleged to have been used by the Ampatuans as part of their private army.

However, the recovery of the firearms was criticized since only old firearms such as World War II-vintage M1 Garand rifles were turned over.

The military said the arms and ammunition from the excavation site would be turned over to police, who are expected to test the firearms and see if they were used in the Ampatuan massacre.

“We will know that after the investigation. We will find out...That will be one of the objectives of our investigation. Most probably, may koneksyon sa mga nangyayari,” said Serapio.

Hold accountable

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public information chief, said that whoever was responsible for the buried arms cache found would be held accountable.

He said that the AFP and the Department of National Defense (DND) will immediately launch an investigation.

He confirmed that the ammunitions found were from the Government Arsenal.

Brawner said only soldiers and police should be using supplies from the Government Arsenal located in Limay town in Bataan province, which is where ammunition is manufactured.

Like Ferrer, he also declined to identify who is responsible for the arms cache. -- with a report from Lerio Bompat, ABS-CBN Central Mindanao and Nickee Butlangan