News Feature MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE REMEMBERED

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First of Two Parts

MANILA, Philippines – The writings on their placards says it all: “JUSTICE NOW.”

On it, and their hearts cry out for justice to finally be served their way after a decade of legal wrangling not to mention prolonged emotional toll one continuously suffers when loved ones are taken away especially by brutal force.

That emotionally-charged rally was staged by children of slain media workers to mark, six days ahead particularly last November 17, 2019 of the 10th anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre (November 23, 2009), in Maguindanao.

Their activity also included a visit to the site of the gruesome killing of 58 individuals which included media workers by around 100 gunmen in a hilly area in Sitio Masalay in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

candle lighting-2
MEDIAMEN, workers, and students of the University of the Philippines light candles Wednesday night (23 October 2019) marking the start of a month-long observance of the 10th year anniversary of the gruesome November 23, 2009 Maguindanao Massacre where 58 people perished including 32 journalists. NUJP deputy secretary-general Raymund Villanueva said one reason behind the month-long commemoration is to once again bring the attention of the public and government to the case. One of NUJP’s activities Villanueva said is to make an appeal for radio and television stations to observe total silence for 58 seconds in honor of the victims on that day, November 23, 2019. (Jimmy Carbo/BCuaresma/IAMIGO/CNS)

Ten years after, “the pain is still in my heart,” Toto Mangudadatu, now a congressman, said at a recent news forum in Quezon City.  “It’s really hard for me to regain my life and I couldn’t say that I’m in a better state until we can get a conviction.”

That conviction is coming very soon. In less a month, particularly on December 20, 2019, that is, if the monthlong, 30-day extension would be followed to work on the verdict as requested with the Supreme Court by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

“Ten years is enough and I hope that after the one-month extension, the accused will finally be convicted,” said Mangudadatu adding “it had not been easy for him to forget the murder of his family and the 32 media workers,” believed to have been orchestrated by the powerful Ampatuan clan to target him because of their political rivalry.

Mangudadatu claims the Ampatuans actually tried to bribe him with P25 million just to drop the case but he refused the offer as lives including those of his wife, relatives, and the rest of the victims were non-negotiable.

Justice is what his family needs along with all victims “for a closure that will bring all perpetrators, especially the masterminds, to justice,” Mangudadatu said.

“Convictions of the perpetrators and full recompense of the victims’ families will be a first step in reversing the long and tragic injustice.”

Calls for the government to take effective steps against “political barbarism” and to stop all forms of attacks on and intimidation of journalists were also made by the group.

Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of the then Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, is currently confined at the intensive care unit of Makati Medical Center after suffering a stroke on Oct. 22.

Ampatuan, 52, also suffers from diabetes, hypertension and chronic atrial fibrillation, according to the letter.

His father, Andal Ampatuan Sr., died in detention in 2015 even as Zaldy and his brother, Andal Ampatuan Jr., are among those charged over the massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists in Maguindanao province on Nov. 23, 2009.

The Ampatuans allegedly ordered the ambush on the convoy to thwart the election challenge of Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, whose wife was among those killed.

Courtesy of several sources and in remembrance to those who perished and indignation to the horrendous murders, CNS would like to run a deeper look into the Maguindanao Massacre.

Thus:

Largest number of journalists slain in one day

On the morning of November 23, 2009, a group of people including 31 reporters accompanied the family of Esmael Mangudadatu, a rival of the Ampatuans, a powerful political clan, to witness the filing of his election papers for the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Maguindanao, a province on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. According to Reuters, “The convoy was attacked, leaving 57 dead in a massacre described by the International Crisis Group as “one of the worst acts of political violence in modern Philippine history, and the largest number of journalists slain on a single day ever, anywhere in the world.”

About 100 armed men ambushed the convoy of vehicles on a lonely stretch of highway and drove them to the top of a hill before killing them all.

Several women were raped before they were killed. Andal Ampatuan Sr., the patriarch whose family ruled poor and troubled southern Maguindanao for nearly a decade and has close ties to former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was charged with murder in February 2010, along with 196 others including his relatives, soldiers, police officers and members of a civilian militia. [Source: Thin Lei Win, Reuters, July 2, 2013]

The Maguindanao massacre is also known as the Ampatuan massacre after the town where the mass graves were found. While the 58 victims were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, they were kidnapped and brutally killed.

Mangudadatu was challenging Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., son of the incumbent Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr. and member of one of Mindanao’s leading Muslim political clans, in a gubernatorial election that was part of the national elections in 2010. The people killed included Mangudadatu’s wife, his two sisters, journalists, lawyers, aides, and motorists who were witnesses or were mistakenly identified as part of the convoy. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Jason Gutierrez of AFP wrote: “The powerful Ampatuan clan, which had governed Maguindanao since 2001, allegedly orchestrated the murders of 58 people in a futile bid to stop a member of a rival Muslim clan from running for the provincial governorship.

Those killed were relatives and supporters of the rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, who were to have filed his election nomination papers, as well as at least 32 local journalists who had travelled in the convoy. Their bodies were later found in shallow pits, and witnesses who have so far testified in the ongoing trial in Manila said the victims were gunned down mostly by Andal Ampatuan Jr., the clan patriarch’s son and namesake.

While the death toll is officially 57, a 33rd journalist, Humberto Mumay, was believed to have been killed as well. [Source: Jason Gutierrez, Agence France-Presse, November 23, 2010]

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called the Maguindanao massacre the single deadliest event for journalists in history.

At least 34 journalists are known to have died in the massacre. The CPJ said that, “Even as we tally the dead in this horrific massacre, our initial research indicates that this is the deadliest single attack on the press ever documented by CPJ.”

Even before the Maguindanao massacre, the CPJ had labeled the Philippines the second most dangerous country for journalists, second only to Iraq.

Background of the Maguindanao Massacre

The Ampatuans had been in control of Maguindanao since 2001. Andal Ampatuan, Sr. came first into prominence when President Corazon Aquino appointed him as Chief-of-Offices of Maganoy (now Shariff Aguak) in 1986 right after the People Power Revolution.

Aquino, having come into power via revolutionary means, replaced every locally elected official with officers-in-charge, although the town of Maganoy was approached differently; the aging mayor, Pinagayaw Ampatuan, was replaced by his vice mayor, Andal Sr.

He won the 1988 local elections, then served for ten years. In the 1998 elections, Andal Sr. was elected as governor.

Members of Lakas-Kampi-CMD, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo lists Andal Sr., as a major ally in Mindanao. Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) regional governor Zaldy Ampatuan was the party’s regional chairman. Andal Sr., the family patriarch, has been provincial governor since 1998; he has been elected three times, unopposed. Eighteen of the mayors in Maguindanao belong to the clan. The elder Ampatuan attributed his popularity to “popular support,” adding “Because I am so loved by the constituencies of the municipalities, they ask me to have my sons as representatives.”

In the 2004 presidential elections, Arroyo won 69 percent of Maguindanao’s vote; three years later, the party-backed coalition scored a 12–0 sweep of the senatorial elections in the province. Unable to run for a third term, he is currently grooming his son, Andal, Jr., to succeed him as governor.

Jason Gutierrez of AFP wrote: “The Ampatuans had ruled Maguindanao with the support of former president Gloria Arroyo, who supplied the family’s private militia of up to 5,000 men so they could be used as a proxy force against Muslim separatist rebels.

Rights groups have alleged she also ignored the Ampatuans’ reputation for violence because they helped deliver votes in national elections—charges she denies. [Source: Jason Gutierrez, Agence France-Presse, November 23, 2010]

With escalating tensions in the province, Arroyo, as head of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD, mediated between the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus (both are from the same party) to prevent election-related violence. Three meetings were held in mid-2009, with one meeting hosted by then Secretary of National Defense and current party chairman Gilberto Teodoro, who ran to succeed Arroyo as president but was defeated by current president, Noynoy Aquino.

Arroyo’s adviser for political affairs Gabriel Claudio, disclosed that there was an initial agreement “in principle” that no Mangudadatu would contest Ampatuan Sr.’s gubernatorial post.

Maguindanao Massacre Attack

Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu invited 37 journalists to cover the scheduled filing of his certificate of candidacy (COC) at the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak.

He said reports had reached him that his rivals had threatened to chop him into pieces once he filed his COC, and felt the presence of journalists would deter such an attack. [Source: Wikipedia +]

A local report stated that at about 9 a.m., a convoy of six vehicles carrying journalists, lawyers, and relatives of Vice Mayor Mangudadatu left Buluan to file his COC at the Comelec office in Shariff Aguak.

The convoy was composed of six vehicles: four Toyota Grandia vans (one grey, one green, and two white) owned by the Mangudadatu family; and two media vehicles – a Mitsubishi Pajero owned by DZRH broadcast journalist Henry Araneta, and a Mitsubishi L-300 van owned by UNTV. There was a seventh vehicle, a Grandia boarded by mediamen, but it lagged behind and decided to turn around once the passengers sensed what was happening.

There were two other vehicles that were not part of the convoy but happened to be traveling on the same highway: a red Toyota Vios and a light blue Toyota Tamaraw FX.

The Vios had five passengers: Eduardo Lechonsito, a government employee who was bound for a hospital in Cotabato City after suffering a mild stroke.

He was with his wife Cecille, co-workers Mercy Palabrica and Daryll delos Reyes, and driver Wilhelm Palabrica. The FX was driven by Anthony Ridao, employee of the National Statistics Coordination Board, and son of Cotabato City councilor Marino Ridao.

Before reaching its destination (about 10 kilometers from Shariff Aguak, four according to some versions), the convoy was stopped by 100 armed men, who abducted and later killed most or all of its members.

There is evidence that at least five of the female victims, four of them journalists, were raped before being killed, while “practically all” of the women had been shot in their genitals and beheaded. Mangudadatu’s youngest sister and aunt were both pregnant at the time of their murders.

In a text message sent by Mangudadatu’s wife to him, she identified the people that blocked their way as the men of Ampatuan Jr, and that he himself slapped her.

Alastair McIndoe wrote in Time, “On a highway cutting through a banana grove, a large force of gunmen intercepted the convoy of family members and supporters of Buluan vice-mayor Esmael Mangudadatu. The Mangudadatu group was herded to what appears to have been a prepared killing ground in a hilly area a few kilometers from the highway. Television footage showed bullet-ridden bodies sprawled around the vehicles; others had been thrown into a mass grave and covered with earth. There are signs that the killing was done at point-blank range, using high-powered firearms. It is presumed everyone in the group died. [Source: Alastair McIndoe, Time, November 27, 2009]

An excavator located in the immediate vicinity of the carnage at Ampatuan town was identified as the instrument that was used to dig the graves of the victims two days beforehand, and then to bury them, including the vehicles. The perpetrators were not able to complete the job when a helicopter was spotted in the area.

The excavator, emblazoned with the name of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., was later identified to belong to the Maguindanao provincial government. (IAMIGO/CNS)

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