MANILA, Philippines – Last November 23, 2019, the 10th year anniversary of the gruesome Maguindanao Massacre, Current News Service (CNS) already published online the chronology of events leading to what could be the world’s most brutal mass killing in one single day involving not only that of political rivals but scores of media practitioners as well.
As it was a historic day yesterday, Thursday, 19 December 2019, for victims and relatives, and the public at large, for they finally obtained the justice they waited for 10 long years with a guilty verdict against the Ampatuans.
Here is a walkthrough anew what happened on that fateful day, the darkest spot in modern Philippine political history.
Chronology of events
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.
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 Mindanao 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.
Security request turned down
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.
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 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, relatives and supporters of Mangudadatus were 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 programme.
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 Acquino 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 December 20, 2019.
And it would surely be on 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.