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4 survivors tag Ampatuans in Maguindanao massacre

November 24, 2009 10:04am

Four survivors of an unparalleled, election-related mass killing in southern Philippines have tagged leaders of the powerful Ampatuan clan as the brains behind the atrocity that claimed at least 36 lives in Maguindanao province. The survivors overheard Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. say he was acting on the orders of his father and older brother.

Buluan, Maguindanao Vice Mayor Datu Ismail "Toto" Mangudadatu, whose family is the Ampatuans’ political rival, said the survivors claimed Ampatuan clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. and son Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan ordered the massacre.

As of posting time, GMANews.TV was still trying to reach the camp of the Ampatuans.

Mangudadatu declined to name the survivors, who he said are in his camp’s custody and would come out at the "proper time."

Mangudadatu also said the witnesses claimed Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. (Andal Sr.’s son, Zaldy’s brother) approached the convoy of his wife, Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu, and ordered her out of the vehicle.

"Order ng kanyang tatay (referring to Andal Sr.) at order ni Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, yan ang kanyang statement [na] narinig ng witness ... May basbas ng kanyang tatay at regional governor (The witness said Andal Jr. claimed this was on the order of his father and Governor Ampatuan. So this has the blessing of his father and the regional governor)," Mangudadatu said in an interview on dzBB radio.

Mangudadatu also said his camp would refuse to turn over the witnesses to local police. "Di pa namin binibigay sa authority, may pera ang Ampatuan (We are not giving them to local authorities. The Ampatuans are moneyed)," he said.

Buluan Mayor Ibrahim Mangudadatu, Ismail's brother, also said in a local television interview that the four survivors claimed that the Ampatuans were the brains behind the killings.

National Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said they have "so many names and personalities (as suspects) already and we have to substantiate these through evidence so we can file the necessary charges."

The Armed Forces of the Philippines have sent additional troops on the ground to go after the perpetrators. Philippine National Police chief Director General Jesus Verzosa has also flown to Maguindanao to oversee investigation and pursuit operations against the suspects.

Police officer sacked

At the same time, Espina said the PNP has relieved Chief Inspector Sukarno Dicay, Shariff Kabunsuan and concurrent assistant provincial director in Maguindanao, after initial investigation showed that he was among the suspects.

Citing initial investigation, Espina said Dicay was reportedly among the armed men and other government militiamen (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit or Cafgu members) who allegedly staged the abduction and killing of at least 36 people.

"He was spotted among those who blocked the convoy of Mangudadatu’s wife [Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu]," Espina said.

Espina said Dicay will "be restricted in his quarters pending result of investigation."

The convoy, which included Toto’s two sisters, two lawyers, and about a dozen journalists, were abducted and later brutally killed by heavily-armed men allegedly led by members of the Ampatuan political clan.

The convoy was on their way to the Maguindanao Comelec office in Shariff Aguak, the provincial capital, to file a certificate of candidacy (COC) on behalf of Toto, who intends to run for governor in the province. Shariff Aguak is widely known as the turf of the Ampatuan clan.

Toto himself confirmed that his wife was among those killed, but Espina told GMANews.TV that her body has not been recovered yet.

In a separate text message, Espina said 24 bodies were already found. Lt. Col. Rolando Nerona of the army's 64th Infantry Battalion said the bodies were recovered in sitio Masalay, Brgy Salman Ampatuan in Maguindanao province.

But Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., public information chief of the AFP, said that only 22 bodies were recovered from the massacre site. He added that around 40 to 46 people were part of the convoy, but it was not immediately clear how many survived or if any are still being held hostage.

Espina identified the following as among the fatalities: Bai Farina Mangudadatu and Bai Eden Mangudadatu, also the incumbent vice mayor in Mangudadatu town in Maguindanao. The two women are Toto's sisters.

Names of other victims are being withheld pending notification of their relatives.

The military's 64th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Rolando Nerona said that as of posting time, the police's Scene of the Crime Operatives are still digging for more bodies at the massacre site.

Condemned

The massacre was widely condemned by media groups like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the international organization, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres), saying the incident marked a sad day for journalists. [See: Worst loss of life in one day "in the history of journalism"]

"Never in the history of journalism have the news media suffered such a heavy loss of life in one day," Reporters Without Borders said. "We convey our condolences and sympathy to all journalists in the Philippines, who are in state of shock after this appalling massacre."

The press freedom organisation added: 'We have often condemned the culture of impunity and violence in the Philippines, especially Mindanao. This time, the frenzied violence of thugs working for corrupt politicians has resulted in an incomprehensible bloodbath. We call for a strong reaction from the local and national authorities."

In a separate statement, the Bishops-Ulama Conference in Mindanao also condemned the mass killing and offered prayers for the victims' families.

“On behalf of the Bishops-Ulama Conference, let it be known that Islamic and Christian faiths condemn in the strongest possible terms the abduction and killing of 36 relatives and supporters of (Toto Mangudadatu)," Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla said in the statement.

He called on government authorities to "squarely address this atrocity" and added, "This crime, unprecedented in the province, mocks our humble but painstaking efforts to build harmony and understanding in Mindanao." - Sophia Dedace/RSJ/YA, GMANews.TV