COTABATO CITY: Army soldiers from the 6th Infantry Division (6th ID) based in Camp Siongco, Maguindanao are heavily guarding the town hall of Talitay after high-powered firearms were recovered from the house of the mayor who reportedly has been missing since September.
Army troops found several types of weapons, mortar launchers and shoulder-fired grenade launchers kept in a hidden armory of Muntassir Sabal, the mayor of Talitay who is wanted for possession of drugs.
The now fugitive Sabal was earlier named by President Rodrigo Duterte as one of the “narco-politicians” included in the list of drug traffickers in the country.
Sabal is now in his third term as mayor of Talitay, which reportedly has become a major transshipment point for methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) after he became the local chief executive six years ago.
On Tuesday, officers of the Army’s 601st Brigade confirmed that two .50 caliber machineguns, four .30 caliber machineguns, two 81 millimeter mortar launchers and a 60 millimeter launcher were recovered in the house allegedly built by Sabal for his partisan armed group.
An imported ammunition reloading machine and dozens of rifle-propelled grenades were also found in one of the houses of Sabal’s security personnel
Civilians are not supposed to own such heavy weapons.
The recovery of the high-powered guns was preceded by Monday’s gunfight in Talitay between soldiers of the Army’s 5th Special Forces Battalion and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which is reportedly protecting local drug lords identified with Sabal.
An Army soldier identified as Staff Sergeant Giovanni Olimpo and four BIFF members – Kamir Sukarno, Bitol Samad, Ubaida Diwan and a young boy identified only as Omar – were killed in the gunfight.
On November 18, a raiding team composed of members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and several Army troops found shabu and unlicensed guns at the house of Sabal in Talitay.
The mayor has been AWOL (absent without official leave) from the office since early September 2016, about a month after Duterte exposed the mayor’s name on the drug list.
His brother, Abdulwahab, the vice mayor of Talitay whom Duterte also implicated in drug trafficking activities, was arrested in September at the Cotabato Airport by anti-narcotics agents and has been detained since.
Lt. Col. Markton Abo, 6th ID spokesman, said the recovered weapons and explosives will be used by state prosecutors as additional pieces of evidence in the prosecution of Sabal and his followers.
He added that the 6th ID soldiers involved in the operations were just providing the police and the PDEA tactical support in stamping out the illegal drug trade in Talitay and other towns in Central Mindanao.
The soldiers learned of Sabal’s arms and explosives cache from confidential informants, including field commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Meanwhile, Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said the provincial board, led by Vice Gov. Lester Sinsuat, will declare vacancies of Talitay’s mayoral and vice mayoral posts to pave the way for the designation of legitimate caretakers.
Mangudadatu added that Sabal violated the Local Government Code when he left the country last September to perform the pilgrimage or hajj in Makkah, Saudi Arabia without written permission from the provincial government and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
The governor said the caretakers shall be incumbent elected members of the Sangguniang Bayan.