Court orders arrest of Lanao mayor under Duterte adviser's custody

MANILA, Philippines – A regional trial court in Lanao del Norte ordered the arrest of Pantar town Mayor Jabar Tago over a murder charge, a document obtained by Rappler showed.

Lanao del Norte Regional Trial Court Judge Silvestre Orejana Jr on May 28 issued an arrest warrant against Tago and a certain Jameloding Tago, who was identified in old news reports as his brother. 

No bail bond was recommended. (See copy of the arrest warrant below the article.)

Who is Mayor Jabar Tago? Tago is the same politician the military arrested on May 13 for possession of high-powered firearms. An adviser of President Rodrigo Duterte had prevailed upon the military to release Tago and place him under his custody.

Tago was turned over to the custody of Secretary Abdullah Mama-o, Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers and Muslim Concerns.

It's a move that put under question the powers of the military in Mindanao, where martial law remains enforced, amid its aggressive crackdown on loose firearms. 

Mama-o promised the military that the mayor will be available for investigation. "I assure you that they will cooperate with the military and the police should there be any investigation scheduled for their appearance,” Mama-o wrote in his letter to the military.

The military had said it woud still purse a case against the mayor. 

DUTERTE ADVISER. Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mamao (middle) looks on as President Rodrigo Duterte greets one of the attendees at a Palace event July 17, 2017. Malacau00f1ang file photo

DUTERTE ADVISER. Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mamao (middle) looks on as President Rodrigo Duterte greets one of the attendees at a Palace event July 17, 2017.

Malacau00f1ang file photo

Details of the arrest warrant: The arrest warrant issued on May 28 stemmed from a murder charge.

The document provided no details of the murder charge but a source said it was related to the death of Tago's predecessor, Mayor Exchan Limbona, in an ambush in December 2017.

The judge ordered "any officer of the law" to arrest Tago and his brother. It was addressed to the Iligan City offices of the Philippine National Police, Criminal and Investigatigation and Detection Group, and National Bureau of Investigation.

"You are hereby commanded to arrest Jameloding D. Tago and Jabar D. Tago who are said to be at Punod, Pantar, Lanao del Norte, or anywhere in the Philippines and who have been charged before me with the offense of murder and bring them forthwith before me to be dealt with according to law," read Orejana's order.

Pantar, where clans are engaged in long-running feuds, is notorious for killings and election-related violence. The latest incident was the killing of Limbona on December 29, 2017.

Tago became the mayor in January, after the Commission on Elections declared him the real winner for vice mayor in the 2016 elections. This made him the rightful successor of Limbona.

ELECTION VIOLENCE. This 2015 file photo shows a man calling for calm and sobriety as Jabar Tago (center, in sky blue shirt) filed his certificate of candidacy in Pantar, Lanao del Norte town hall. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

ELECTION VIOLENCE. This 2015 file photo shows a man calling for calm and sobriety as Jabar Tago (center, in sky blue shirt) filed his certificate of candidacy in Pantar, Lanao del Norte town hall.

Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

The politician Tago replaced – Hadji Rakim Alingan – ran and won the elections despite a 2009 Ombudsman ruling barring him from occupying any government position.

Details of incident with military: On May 13, Tago was arrested after a brief firefight with the military in his hometown. He was reportedly found at the site, where a cache of high-powered weapons were recovered.

The military said back then that the mayor and 6 of his companions were arrested for violation of Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.

Rappler sources privy to what happened said Mama-o supposedly badgered the military to release Tago. Major General Rosseler Murillo initially defied Mama-o, but the Malacañang executive went to Murillo's superiors.

A high-ranking military general based in Camp Aguinaldo described the situation to Rappler as "sensitive" when asked about the compromise.