News Feature MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE REMEMBERED

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Last of Two Parts

MANILA, Philippines — Today, 23rd of November, the whole nation and even the entire world commemorates and commiserates with all the victims’ relatives whose emotional wounds still linger inflicted by that horrendous single-day slaughter of 58 individuals including 32 mediamen.

It has come to be known as the Maguindanao Massacre.

But justice is now within reach, that is, after ten long years.

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

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The following is the last part of a two-part series.

Journalist Describes Events Before the Maguindanao Massacre

Aquiles Zonio wrote in the Inquirer Mindanao, “A few hours before the victims were abducted and slaughtered, we were enjoying a breakfast of “pastel”—a kind of stew served to us by our host. An intense yet cordial exchange of ideas ensued as this reporter, Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, a Manila Bulletin reporter, and two other journalists discussed with ARMM Assemblyman Khadafy Mangudadatu the security concerns and the scenarios that may arise later that day.

Ian Subang, a long-time friend and former colleague in the now defunct Gensan Media Cooperative, Subang and his group, including several other reporters, were gathered outside the living room of Mangudadatu’s mansion in Buluan town, Maguindanao. [Source: Aquiles Zonio, Inquirer Mindanaom November 24, 2009 <*>]

“They were waiting for the result of our brainstorming inside. There were just six of us in that discussion—Mangudadatu legal counsel Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon, Khadafy, Reblando, Joseph Jubelag, Paul Bernaldez and myself. We were insisting that reporters covering the scheduled filing of certificate of candidacy of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu must be assured of their safety. Toto is eyeing the gubernatorial seat in Maguindanao. Toto had requested for security escorts from Chief Superintendent Paisal Umpa, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) police regional director, but his request was turned down.

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He turned to the Philippine Army for help but his request was also denied. Had the police or military provided security escorts, the mass slaughter of defenseless women and journalists might have been prevented.

“According to the Mangudadatus, a week before the massacre, there were massive movements of the Ampatuan’s armed followers—police, civilian volunteers and Cafgu members—in the area.

Believing in the power of the media, Mangudadatu, who felt helpless then, asked help from the media. He requested several journalists— through Henry Araneta of DZRH—to cover the scheduled filing of his certificate of candidacy at the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

Araneta managed to invite 37 journalists from the cities of General Santos, Tacurong and Koronadal.

“Maybe, they will not harm us if journalists are watching them,” Mangudadatu said.

“Mangudadatu disclosed that he organized a group of women led by his wife, Genalyn, elder sister Vice Mayor Eden Mangudadatu of Mangudadatu town, Bai Farinna Mangudadatu, the youngest of the Mangudadatu siblings, and lawyers Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon and Connie Brizuela.

The gubernatorial aspirant claimed reports had reached him that the Ampatuans had threatened to chop him into pieces once he filed his COC with the Comelec.

“Under our tradition, Muslim women are being respected. They should not be harmed just like innocent children and the elders,” Mangudadatu stressed.

Mangudadatu claimed that the Ampatuans were considered above the law, warlords and political demigods in Maguindanao. But, he said, someone must come to the fore to bring about change and improve the lives of the Bangsamoro people.

He said that women from Buluan should be the ones to file his COC, no security escorts, only journalists to avoid creating tension. Eden, along with his sister-in-law and younger sister, was in a jovial mood before the departure.

She was saying that Muslim women should play a more active role in Maguindanao politics to attain genuine social change and economic progress.

“This is women’s power in action. Let’s help our men chart a better future for the province,” she was heard as saying. We were confident nothing bad would happen as some of us in the convoy had been frequent visitors to the Maguindanao provincial Capitol.

Even while inside the vehicles, the group enjoyed each other’s company. There was no hint of the heartbreaking and vicious fate awaiting them.”

Survivor of the Maguindanao Massacre

Aquiles Zonio wrote in the Inquirer Mindanao, “All in all, there were 58 persons—37 journalists, 16 Muslim women who hand-carried Mangudadatu’s COC and five drivers—in the convoy.

After several attempts, I was able to contact Major General Alfredo Cayton, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, through a mobile phone.

He gave an assurance that the national highway going to Shariff Aguak had already been cleared and was safe for travel. He even added that police checkpoints littered the long route from Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat to Shariff Aguak. [Source: Aquiles Zonio, Inquirer Mindanao November 24, 2009]

“Five convoy vehicles left Buluan around 9:30 a.m. Monday. The lead vehicle was an L-300 van of UNTv. Aside from UNTv reporter Victor Nuñez, his cameraman and driver, Paul Bernaldez and myself joined in. However, while the convoy was refuelling in Buluan, I decided to transfer to Joseph Jubelag’s vehicle to accompany him. Bernaldez followed suit. The five-vehicle convoy went ahead and we just told them we will follow right away. We decided to drop by BF Lodge in Tacurong City where we stayed the night before to get some valuables and meet some personal necessities. I didn’t expect that such digression would save our lives. I should have been there. I should have been killed together with them.

“Two hotel attendants approached me and revealed that two unidentified men riding on separate motorcycles had left barely three minutes earlier. The hotel personnel claimed the two men were asking for the names of journalists covering Mangudadatu’s filing of COC. Luckily, the hotel management did not give any name. This made us change our minds and we decided not to go to Shariff Aguak.

On our way back to Buluan, we tried several times but failed to establish contact with our media colleagues in the convoy.

“Upon arrival in Buluan, the vice mayor told us that all the five vehicles had been seized by the Ampatuans’ armed followers. Not only journalists, family members, but relatives and supporters of Mangudadatus were also abducted and killed. Military sources disclosed that several other innocent motorists from Buluan and Tacurong City were seized and summarily executed on mere suspicion that they, too, were followers of the Mangudadatus.

“Out of the 34 journalists abducted and brutally killed, only 25 were identified. They were Ian Subang, Leah Dalmacio, Gina Dela Cruz and Maritess Cablitas, all of Mindanao Focus, a General Santos City-based weekly community newspaper; Bart Maravilla of Bombo Radyo-Koronadal City; Jhoy Duhay of Mindanao Goldstar Daily; Henry Araneta of DZRH and Andy Teodoro of Central Mindanao Inquirer. Neneng Montano of Saksi weekly newspaper; Alejandro “Bong” Reblando of Manila Bulletin; Victor Nuñez of UnTv; Macmac Arriola, UnTV cameraman; and Jimmy Cabillo, a radioman based in Koronadal City. Rey Merisco, Ronnie Perante, Jun Legarta, Val Cachuela and Humberto Mumay, all Koronadal City-based journalists. Joel Parcon, Noel Decena, John Caniba, Art Belia, Ranie Razon and Nap Salaysay.

“On Monday evening, gory scenes of slain media colleagues kept flashing in my mind. I didn’t have a decent sleep, for the very first time in my life. Once again, several working journalists shed their blood in the name of press freedom. This, however, will not deter us or discourage us from doing our job as journalists. Underpaid and under threat, be that as it may, we will continue answering the call of our beloved profession.

Maguindanao Massacre Witness Details Mass Burial

In July 2013, the man who operated the excavator that buried the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre disclosed how the politically powerful Ampatuan clan ordered him to carry out the act in an exclusive interview with the Philippines’ GMA News.

Thin Lei Win of Reuters wrote: “Bong Andal, arrested in November 2012, told GMA News he arrived with his excavator after the killings to find a crime scene littered with bodies and a son of Ampatuan Sr. at the scene. According to GMA, he described using “his machine’s large steel hand to drag bloodied bodies into freshly dug pits and crush vehicles with some of the dead still inside”. [Source: Thin Lei Win, Reuters, July 2, 2013]

“Andal said the Ampatuans threatened to kill his family if he got caught and in a written affidavit, he said Ampatuan Sr. called him prior to the massacre to ask if the backhoe was in good condition, GMA added. Andal, who fled the site after he heard a helicopter approaching, has asked the government to put him under the witness protection program.

Behind the Philippines’ Maguindanao Massacre

Alastair McIndoe wrote in Time, “Even for a country long hardened to election violence, the massacre of at least 57 defenseless civilians sets a new low.

This troubled corner of the Philippines usually makes headlines for its long-running Muslim separatist rebellion. But the killings starkly exposed a nationwide malaise: the fierce competition for regional power among the country’s small élite of a few hundred families and clans that control an inordinate amount of the national wealth — and the desperate lengths some will go to protect their hold on power. [Source: Alastair McIndoe, Time, November 27, 2009]

“The Ampatuans are close allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration in Manila and rule Maguindanao, a hardscrabble province in an autonomous area for Muslims. In interviews with local media, Mangudadatu told of death threats over his challenge for the governorship, and has publicly accused Ampatuan. He did not join the convoy, but filled it with female relatives, including his wife and two sisters, and supporters, as well as a large group of journalists to cover his candidacy.

“Among the conventions that govern clan and political-related violence in the region is that women, children and the elderly are off-limits as targets,” wrote Manuel Quezon III, a prominent political commentator, on his website. Besides those connected to the Mangudadatus, 27 local journalists were among the dead. The victims also included two lawyers and 15 people entirely unconnected with Mangudadatu: they were in two vehicles a short distance from the convoy and taken along with the others for execution.

“Murder has long been the ultimate political tool for eliminating rivals here. Those in the firing line are mainly at the level of local politics, such as governors, mayors and elected posts in community units called barangays. And, crucially, local government power can be a considerable source of wealth generation. “Many regards these posts as personal entitlements and their enemies are rival political families,” says Benito Lim, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

“If they cannot come to an arrangement, then eliminating a rival is an option.”

The authorities are now desperately trying to prevent a revenge-driven clan war — or “rido” as it is called in Mindanao — between the two families.

A day after the killings, Arroyo put two southern provinces and a city under a state of emergency and deployed more troops to the area. All permits to carry firearms there have been canceled.

“Retaliatory violence can be expected although a small chink of hope remains that Mangudadatu may rise above rido and avert further bloodshed,” says Ian Bryson, a regional analyst at Singapore-based Control Risks.

Both families have blood ties and were allies until the Mangudadatu’s in 2009 announced their challenge to governorship.

The Ampatuans are not a family to be crossed: the clan is known to run its own private army; some estimates put its strength at between 200 and 500 men.

To be sure, warlordism is not unique to Mindanao; it afflicts other parts of the archipelago and the northern province of Abra is practically a byword for political vendettas.

But it is highly prevalent in Mindanao’s conflict-affected areas where there is a large array of armed groups that include separatist rebels, civilian militias, and well-established crime syndicates. Not surprisingly, the massacre has intensified calls on the authorities to disband these private armed groups.

“Two days after the massacre “the military began disbanding a 350-strong paramilitary force called Cafgu (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit) in Maguindanao while investigating allegations that members were among the gunmen who waylaid the convoy.

Cafgu and a clutch of other civilian outfits armed by the security forces have long been used in counter-insurgency operations against Muslim rebels — and were at the disposal of the Ampatuans as part of their armed group.

Indeed, another disturbing thread in this tragic episode is the control exercised by local governments generally over the police, especially in deciding key appointments. Four police officers are under investigation for their possible involvement in the Maguindanao killings.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno told a news conference that there appeared to be a “total misuse of our law enforcement in the area.” Until the central government gets a grip on Maguindanao and the wider south, such misuse and the concomitant lawlessness will tragically persist.”

After the Maguindanao Massacre

On November 24, then Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo responded to the news of the massacre by declaring a state of emergency in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City.

Speaker of the House Prospero Nograles called on the police to quickly identify the perpetrators of the massacre and disarm private armies.

The Philippine Department of Justice created a panel of special prosecutors to handle cases arising from the massacre. Nueva Ecija Rep. Eduardo Nonato N. Joson said the massacre might affect, or even lead to the cancellation of, the scheduled 2010 presidential elections. Candidates in the election condemned the massacre. [Source: Wikipedia +]

On November 25, 2009, the executive committee of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD political party unanimously voted to expel three members of the Ampatuan family – Maguindanao Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his two sons, Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. – from the party for their alleged role in the Maguindanao massacre.

An emergency meeting of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD was held in Pasig, during which the Ampatuans were stripped of their membership.

On November 26, 2009, Ampatuan Jr. surrendered to his brother Zaldy, was delivered to adviser to the peace process Jesus Dureza, then was flown to General Santos on his way to Manila, where he was taken to the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters.

Police in the Philippines charged Andal Ampatuan Jr. with murder. Ampatuan denied the charges, claiming that he was at the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak when the massacre took place. He instead blamed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), specifically Ombra Kato, as the mastermind, a charge the MILF dismissed as “absurd.”

On December 4, 2009, through Proclamation No. 1959, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo officially placed Maguindanao province under a state of martial law.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the step was taken in order to avert the escalation of “lawless” violence in the province and pave the way for the swift arrest of the suspects in the massacre.

Following the declaration, authorities carried out a raid on a warehouse owned by Andal Ampatuan Jr. The raid resulted in the confiscation of more than 330,000 rounds of 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition, a Humvee, and an improvised armored vehicle.

Twenty militiamen were arrested on the premises. Captain James Nicolas of Special Forces was able to retrieve more high-powered firearms and ammo after the incident.

The state of martial law in Maguindanao was lifted on December 13, 2009.

According to The Guardian” “Arroyo has appointed a retired judge to head an independent commission tasked to dismantle private armies controlled by dozens of political warlords across the country and reduce election violence.

Arroyo gave the commission authority to use the military, police and other agencies to disarm and disband an estimated 132 private armed groups.

Troops have seized more than 1,100 assault rifles, mortars, machine guns, bazookas, armored vehicles and more than half a million rounds of bullets from the Ampatuan clan in the government crackdown on the family’s private army. [Source: Mark Tran and agencies, theguardian.com, January 5, 2010]

In 2010, Jason Gutierrez of AFP wrote: “A year after the massacre, Ampatuan Sr. and Jr. and four other clan leaders have been charged and are behind bars. But Ampatuan Jr. is the only clan leader whose trial has already begun and there are fears the court proceedings could last for years.

Meanwhile, many members of the Ampatuans’ private army remain on the loose, and at least one key prosecution witness has been killed. More than 100 of the 196 people accused in the crime are at large and allegedly can receive calls from their leaders to stage attacks.

“They remain very dangerous and can receive instructions any time (from the Ampatuan leaders) through mobile phones,” Mangudadatu, the rival politician and now provincial governor, told AFP. [Source: Jason Gutierrez, Agence France-Presse, November 23, 2010 ***]

“Rights watchdogs say then President Benigno Aquino III, who took office on June 30 this year, must also address the bigger picture of abolishing all private armies run by politicians across the country. The government still funds and arms some of these militias to supplement the under-resourced military, and critics say Aquino has either been unwilling or unable to disband the militias.

“The fact that private armies continue to operate a year after the Maguindanao massacre is an affront to the victims and an invitation to further disasters,” said Amnesty International’s Asia director, Sam Zafiri.”

As of July, 2013, Reuters reported: “Rights groups say about 100 of the 196 people charged are still at large, and bail proceedings have dominated the trial for the past two years, frustrating the family members of victims.

Meanwhile, at least three witnesses have been murdered and others talk of intimidation and threats by the still powerful Ampatuan clan.” [Source: Thin Lei Win, Reuters, July 2, 2013 <->]

Mayor and Prime Suspect Denies Philippines Massacre Charges

In January 2010, Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr.—the prime suspect in the Maguindanao massacre— pleaded not guilty to murder charges over the massacre of 57 people in November 2009. Mark Tran wrote in The Guardian: “Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr sat quietly and looked bored as a court employee read 41 murder charges against him at a clubhouse-turned-courtroom inside Manila’s main police camp.

Prosecutors said they had witnesses who would testify that Ampatuan, a mayor in southern Maguindanao province, led more than 100 government-armed militiamen and police as they stopped a group at a security checkpoint outside Ampatuan township, forced them to a hilltop where they were shot and buried in mass graves.[Source: Mark Tran and agencies, theguardian.com, January 5, 2010]

Ampatuan’s father, the former provincial governor, and several other close relatives have been accused of involvement in the killings but have yet to be indicted. They too have denied any role in the massacre. Handcuffed and flanked by armed guards, Ampatuan yawned and appeared tired during the hearing, said Dante Jimenez, head of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, a citizens’ group. “It seems he was very insensitive to the proceedings,” Jimenez said.

The Ampatuans helped Arroyo win crucial votes during the 2004 elections, but critics say the group has been allowed to flourish dangerously for years in Maguindanao, a predominantly Muslim province about 560 miles south of Manila.

Arroyo’s aides have acknowledged her close alliance with the Ampatuans but said that did not authorize them to commit crimes. The Ampatuans were expelled from Arroyo’s ruling party after the killings, which have raised fears of violence in the forthcoming national elections, particularly the contest for provincial posts.

Trial of the Maguindanao Massacre

At least 198 suspects, including Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Andal Ampatuan Sr. and several other members of the Ampatuan clan, were charged with murder. In April 2010, the government dropped murder charges against Zaldy Ampatuan and Akhmad Ampatuan, who had presented alibis.

This led to protests by family members of the victims. Senator Joker Arroyo remarked that with nearly 200 defendants and 300 witnesses, the trial could take 200 years. Prosecution lawyer Harry Roque computed that it would last more than 100 years.

In a statement commemorating the massacre, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility remarked that the trial was “ongoing, but is rather moving slowly.” [Source: Wikipedia +]

Andal Ampatuan Sr. was arraigned in a special court inside a Manila maximum-security prison on June 1, 2011, 18 months after he and a dozen family members were arrested over the killings. After a court clerk read the names of the 57 victims, he was asked to enter a plea and responded in English, “Not guilty.”

As of November 23, 2011, two years after the massacre, only Andal Sr. and his son Andal Jr. had been charged, and some 100 of the 197 persons listed on the charge sheet were still unaccounted for.

On June 28, 2012, the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition of Anwar Ampatuan to have the murder charges against him quashed. Anwar Ampatuan is the grandson of former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., and is charged with 57 counts of murder.

He was arrested in August 2012. In September 2012, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court deferred his arraignment pending resolution of a pending motion to determine if there is probable cause to prosecute him for the charged 57 counts of murder.

In November 2012, acting on a motion filed by Andal Ampatuan Jr., the Supreme Court set guidelines disallowing the live media broadcast of the trial but allowing the filming of the proceedings for real-time transmissions to specified viewing areas and for documentation.

This ruling was in reconsideration of an earlier ruling which had allowed live media coverage.

On March 4, 2014, the prosecution rested its case against 28 of the suspects.

But now, justice for the Mangudadatus, families and relatives of slain victims and mediamen who perished in the massacre, is within reach.

Reading of the final verdict is set on December 20, 2019.

And it would surely be in their favor. (IAMIGO/CNS)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

 

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