For Villar on Thursday, Aquino on Tuesday
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Is sporting orange baller IDs (rubber bracelets) or wearing a yellow T-shirt and flashing the Laban sign an indication of one’s choice of a presidential candidate?
It usually is.
But Andal Ampatuan Jr., accused of carrying out the country’s worst election-related killings, did both in a span of five days.
Orange is the campaign color of Manuel Villar, Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer, while yellow is the color of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, presidential candidate of the Liberal Party (LP).
On Thursday, the principal suspect in the slaughter of 57 people in Maguindanao, wore two NP ballers at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City where he was transferred from a cell at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.
One bore the name of Villar in white letters and the other the name of NP senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla in orange letters on a purple background. (Remulla is a brother-in-law of Andal’s lawyer, Sigfrid Fortun.)
That image of Andal Jr. shown on ABS-CBN News coupled with reports that Remulla visited Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., the clan patriarch, in his hospital room in Camp Panacan in Davao City last month, fueled speculation that the Ampatuans were for Villar.
But in a strange twist, the younger Andal called a press conference Tuesday at the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa where he announced that the Ampatuans were supporting Aquino.
“Our whole family is endorsing Noynoy Aquino because we believe in him,” said Andal Jr., who was wearing a yellow baller ID and was not handcuffed.
He then smiled as he flashed an “L” hand signal (Laban sign) that is used by Aquino.
“Noynoy tayo, ha?” Andal Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, kept reiterating.
Asked if he had talks with the camp of Villar, he said: “We had no communication with them. As I have said, (the rumors) are part of politics. ”
In a message to Aquino, Andal Jr. said in Filipino, “Don’t let the administration rig the election. I want you to win.”
Aquino treated as a joke a report that the Ampatuan clan had declared its support for his candidacy.
“No, thank you” was Aquino’s reply to reporters seeking his reaction to Andal Jr.’s press conference.
Aquino said he had not talked to Andal Jr. “I am not running after their endorsement.”
The LP standard-bearer said that he was a victim of cheating in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2007 when he ran for a Senate seat. Andal Jr.’s brother, Zaldy, is the suspended ARMM governor and one of the accused in the massacre, who along with Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan, was cleared last week by acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.
“Sen. (Francis) Escudero and I were laughing about it. He told me not to look at the (Maguindanao election returns) because I’d just feel bad. But I told him at least I got 13 votes and he (Escudero) only got 12,” Aquino said.
Andal Jr. said that when his father and brothers arrived in the same jail with him on Thursday, they talked about the candidates they would endorse.
He, his father, brothers Zaldy, Sajid and Anwar, and nephew Akmad are detained in a 64-square-meter cell in the headquarters of the National Capital Regional Police Office in Bicutan, Taguig.
He said someone from Aquino’s camp had talked to him.
“We are supporting Noynoy because we believe he is the one who can expose the truth about what happened in the massacre,” Andal Jr. said.
He said that if he were to make a choice it would be Villar.
But Andal Jr. said he was praising Aquino because the latter’s family had defeated the strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.
“Noynoy would be our instrument to achieve justice,” he said.
He was relaxed and smiled as he gave his most expansive comments to the media since being arrested last year for the slaughter of 57 people.
“I had no role in what happened,” he told the reporters.
He gave a variety of scenarios as to who may have been behind the Nov. 23 massacre in Maguindanao, where his family had dominated politics for over a decade.
The family is accused of orchestrating the killings to stop a rival politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against Andal Jr. for the post of Maguindanao governor in the May 10 national elections.
Andal Sr. was grooming his namesake to succeed him and the son is accused of leading 100 gunmen in carrying out the murders.
Among the victims were the wife and two sisters of Mangudadatu, along with 32 journalists traveling with them in a convoy to register his candidacy for the Maguindanao governorship.
Roxas, senatorial candidates
Andal Jr. said the Ampatuans had already told all their supporters in Maguindanao to support Aquino.
Apart from Aquino, the Ampatuans are also endorsing his running mate Mar Roxas, senatorial candidates Juan Ponce Enrile, Tito Sotto, Miriam Santiago, Adel Tamano, Risa Hontiveros, Pia Cayetano, Sergio Osmeña III and Ralph Recto.
On their choices for party-list groups, Ampatuan mentioned Anakpawis, Gabriela and TUCP.
LP campaign manager Florencio “Butch” Abad assailed the police for allowing the younger Andal to hold the press conference.
“How can a dangerous prisoner like (Andal Jr.) be allowed to hold a press conference inside a high security prison without the Arroyo regime being complicit in it? And who is expected to be the prime beneficiary of this stunt other than the candidate originally endorsed by Andal Jr.?” Abad said.
Arroyo allowed private army
Until the massacre, the Ampatuans had been close political allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and were used by her to contain Muslim fighters waging a decades-long insurgency in Mindanao.
As part of this containment strategy, the President had allowed the Ampatuans to maintain a private army numbering thousands, as well as massive amounts of weapons and ammunition.
“If this was a way for the Ampatuans to instantly repay the Arroyo regime for the legally questionable and undue haste by which two of their kin had been set free, it is a crude and reprehensible stunt,” Abad said.
He added that the stunt showed how low the Arroyo regime regarded “the people to expect them to believe such a cruel joke.”
Senior Insp. Lloyd Gonzaga, jail warden at the facility considered a Quezon City jail extension, said the press conference was requested by one of the Ampatuan lawyers on the phone. Reports from Niña Calleja, Gil Cabacungan, Philip C. Tubeza and Agence France-Presse