Philippine troops `played basketball` with suspects

Over 55 people were murdered in the country`s worst political massacre.

Manila: Philippine soldiers were accused on Saturday of playing basketball with suspects from the country`s worst political massacre, causing acute embarrassment to the military.

An inquiry is under way into allegations made by a relative of one of the 57 people murdered in the November 2009 attack, military spokesman Commodore Miguel Rodriguez said.

"The instructions are, if these people are indeed suspects, we should arrest them, not play ball with them," Rodriguez said.

"The chief of staff (armed forces chief General Eduardo Oban), was livid and ordered an investigation," Rodriguez added.

He said the governor of the southern province of Maguindanao -- whose wife, sister, and several other relatives were among the massacre victims, had complained to the military over the alleged incident.

State prosecutors say the 2009 killings were an attempt by a rival clan to stop Esmael Mangudadatu from running for the provincial governorship. He won the electoral contest six months after the attack.

Six senior members of Maguindanao`s rival Ampatuan clan, including the patriarch Andal Ampatuan Snr, are detained along with 73 other suspects.

But more than 100 others, including three other members of the Ampatuan clan who were supposedly seen by Mangudadatu followers playing basketball with soldiers in Maguindanao, are at large.

The Ampatuans had ruled Maguindanao province for a decade under the patronage of former president Gloria Arroyo, who rights monitors said allowed the clan to keep a large private army as a proxy force against Muslim rebels.

Rodriguez, the military spokesman, said taking part in sports activities was part of the Philippine military`s standard practice of winning the hearts and minds of communities amid a decades-old fight against various insurgencies.

He said it was plausible that the soldiers in question were unaware that they were playing basketball against people who are fugitives from justice.

"If we play ball with them, we do not ask whether they are members of the Abu Sayyaf (a militant Islamist group blamed for the country`s worst terrorist attacks), or whether they are Ampatuans or Mangudadatus," Rodriguez said.

Bureau Report

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