New witness in Maguindanao massacre surfaces

New witness in Maguindanao massacre surfaces
By Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—They were pleading for their lives as they lay face down on the dusty feeder road.

Despite their cries for mercy, the leader of some 200 armed men just laughed as he brandished his “baby” M203 assault rifle.

In a snap, all the 57 people who had been taken at gunpoint from a checkpoint lay lifeless on the ground, under it, or in their vehicles in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

This was how “Jesse” recounted what transpired on Nov. 23, 2009, when the 57 victims, including 30 from the media, were massacred by armed men allegedly led by Andal Ampatuan Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay town and a scion of the most powerful political family in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In an interview with reporters somewhere in Metro Manila Tuesday, Jesse said he was one of seven “designated gunmen.”

The others were Andal Jr. himself, his cousins Kanor Ampatuan, Ban Ampatuan and Mama Ampatuan, PO1 Ando Masukat and one he knew only as Kudja.

The victims were members of the Mangudadatu clan—political rivals of the Ampatuans—their lawyers and the media workers. Some motorists who happened to be on the road at the time were also killed.

The Mangudadatu convoy was on its way to Shariff Aguak town to file the certificate of candidacy of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu who was planning to challenge Andal Jr. for the governorship of Maguindanao.

During the interview, Jesse said he decided to surface “to tell the truth.”

“I decided to come out because I want Datu Unsay (Andal Jr.) and Datu Kanor behind bars and to pay for the crime they committed,” he said.

Jesse said he was a member of a police auxiliary unit in Maguindanao assigned as a “special bodyguard” to Kanor.

Kanor, the vice mayor of Salibo, has been charged as a primary suspect in the massacre by the Department of Justice, along with clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., Andal Jr. and other family members.

A check by the Philippine Daily Inquirer with the Philippine National Police showed that Jesse was also charged in the multiple murder case.

Although state prosecutors have presented other witnesses in Andal Jr.’s ongoing bail hearing, Jesse was the first to admit direct participation in the carnage.

He is in the custody of a group helping the massacre victims’ families.

Sought for comment, Andal Jr.’s lawyer Philip Sigfrid Fortun questioned Jesse’s credibility, pointing out that he surfaced more than three months after the massacre.

In a mobile phone interview, Fortun said there were other witnesses who had claimed direct involvement in the massacre.

“This is but belated. Matters like this, which are supplied late, are not only suspicious but susceptible to accusations that he’s a contrived witness,” Fortun said.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.