Filtered By: News

From backhoe to chainsaw: Probe set for 200 more murders in Maguindanao

(Updated) Various “hints" have alleged that hundreds more have been murdered in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, the site of a massacre last November which saw victims being shot dead and later buried by a backhoe. These “hints" and “whispers" alleged that 200 more were murdered, some of whom were reportedly even chainsawed to death, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said. "There were at least 200 killings in this ‘chainsaw massacre’... as to who they were we don't know yet," CHR chairperson Leila de Lima said. "We only learned about this through word of mouth... through whispers," de Lima told reporters in a press conference organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines in Makati City on Wednesday. Verifying these pieces of information would be the next goal of the human rights body, she added. The agency is currently investigating the bloodbath that shocked the world, which included the murder of 30 journalists, on November 23. De Lima said that when they went to Maguindanao to conduct a parallel investigation of the carnage, residents started coming up to her, telling stories of people being allegedly killed and buried in "mass graves" by the Ampatuan family. These incidents reportedly happened after 2001, when the clan’s political power began to take hold on the province.
Local and foreign journalists march to Mendiola Bridge in Manila Wednesday to demand justice for the victims of the Ampatuan town massacre. LeAnne Jazul
Although further investigation has yet to be undertaken to verify the claims, initial information reaching the CHR identified the towns of Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan as the areas where these graves could be found. Besides personally speaking with residents, De Lima said she also conferred with "around four to five" police investigators who confirmed these reports. Although the commission remains focused on the November 23 massacre, its next goal is to look into the "chainsaw massacre" in about "two weeks' time." "We have no evidence yet [regarding the presence of such mass graves]," de Lima said. “But given the right evidence, people we talked to claimed they can pinpoint those graves." Even the Office of the Ombudsman – the body created to investigate erring public officials –received a letter about the supposed "chainsaw killings being blamed to the Ampatuans," fueling suspicions that such graves existed, de Lima said. The letter was then referred to the CHR by the Ombudsman "for information and appropriate action." The CHR first sought comments from the Ampatuans but no response was received, de Lima said. But Ampatuan town residents insisted that the incidents took place with the clan’s approval. "These are victims of the same clan and private armies," de Lima said, quoting residents’ claims. The Ampatuans have repeatedly denied the accusations. CHR identifies one of the victims While de Lima refused to identify any of the residents she spoke with, she identified one of the alleged victims whose murder was reportedly blamed on the Ampatuans. The powerful clan was being linked to the murder of Arnel Datukon, social fund manager of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, in October 2006. "He [Datukon] was working on something na hindi nagustuhan ng Ampatuan," de Lima said. [See: ARMM dev't project chief killed in Maguindanao] The CHR would be spearheading the investigation on the "chainsaw massacres" but it will still coordinate with concerned agencies like the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The November 23 massacre gripped the world partly because of the manner the victims were killed: a convoy of more than 50 people were stopped at a checkpoint, brought to a hilly area some three kilometers from the highway, shot to death, and buried using backhoes. Observers claimed the killing was politically motivated, even election-related, with hints of clan rivalry. The convoy's task was to assist Ampatuan rival and Buluan vice mayor Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu in filing his certificate of candidacy. Toto was eyeing the gubernatorial post, a spot for which current Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. is grooming one of his sons. Other groups also condemned the incident the casualties included journalists who just happened to join what was considered as major news coverage. Rivals of the Ampatuan clan such as the Mangudadatus maintained that the November 23 massacre were carried out by about 100 militiamen, known to be composed of the Ampatuans' private army. For the past few months, CHR's de Lima has been flying in and out of Mindanao to investigate heaps of cases of unsolved killings in southern Philippines. Earlier this year, she went to Davao City to investigate the proliferation of vigilante-style killings blamed on Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Known as the Davao Death Squad, the group of assassins – reportedly controlled by the local chief executive – is tasked to rid the city of criminal by killing them. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the killing style had already been copied and become a staple in neighboring municipalities of Digos, Tagum, and General Santos City. [See: Squad killers' cleansing spree spreads out of Davao - HRW] Most of the victims, some embroiled in petty criminal acts, are shot in broad daylight by usual suspects: masked and motorcycle-riding armed men. - RJAB Jr./GMANews.TV