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Backhoe operator finally speaks, links Ampatuans to Maguindanao massacre

The backhoe operator described in grisly detail how he used his machine's large steel hand to drag bloodied bodies into freshly dug pits and crush vehicles with some of the dead still inside.

These and other abominable acts were purportedly ordered by men from the Ampatuan family, the suspected masterminds in the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre, according to an exclusive video interview of Bong Andal, who had arrived in his backhoe to find the crime scene littered with bodies. He also alleged that Andal Ampatuan Jr., already a principal suspect, was at the scene.

In the video, Bong Andal narrated how he followed the supposed order of the Ampatuan family to bury the victims – 58 in total, including 32 journalists, all gunned down in cold blood on November 23, 2009 in what is considered the worst case of election-related violence in the country.

"Ako po si Bong Andal, katiwala po ng mga Ampatuan (sa) heavy equipment. Ako po 'yung inutusan nilang maglibing sa nangyaring masaker na 'yun," Andal said in the video as shown on GMA News' “24 Oras” Monday night.

The victims were part of a convoy that was supposed to register the candidacy of Esmael Mangudadatu, the incumbent Maguindanao governor who was then challenging an Ampatuan family member for the position in the 2010 elections.

In his written affidavit, Andal said he would close his eyes every time the backhoe would crush vehicles with bodies inside them. He also narrated how he dragged the bloodied bodies toward a freshly dug hole using the backhoe.

"Inuna kong dalhin sa hukay ang mga sasakyan na malapit dito... at gamit ng kamay ng backhoe, ito ay aking tinutulak at dinadala sa hukay... 'Pag nasa hukay na ito ay aking pinipitpit gamit ulit ang bakal na kamay ng backhoe," he said.

"Inilagay ko ang kamay ng backhoe sa madaming nakahilerang bangkay... Kinaladkad ko ito gamit ang kamay ng backhoe at dinala sa hukay at saka ko ito tinakpan," Andal added.

He said he fled the site after he heard an approaching helicopter. Army soldiers would arrive moments later to behold the killing field without a perpetrator in sight.

Calls and orders from the Ampatuans

In his affidavit, Andal said former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., the clan's patriarch and one of the prime suspects in the massacre, called him prior to the massacre to ask if the backhoe was in good condition.

"Inutusan ako ni Datu Andal na dalhin ko 'yung backhole sa crossing," he said, noting that Ampatuan, in their local language, asked him, 'Yung backhoe, kondisyon ba? Dapat puno ng krudo."

Meanwhile, another prime suspect in the case, former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., son of Andal Sr., allegedly ordered Andal to bury the victims together with the vehicles.

"Maya-maya tumawag din sa akin si Datu Unsay at nagkasalubong kami 'dun sa pinangyarihan ng massacre. Pagdating ko 'dun nakita ko na 'yung mga patay. Nandoon din si Datu Unsay," Andal said, placing his namesake at the site of the crime.

Andal said Ampatuan Jr. told him: "Ilibing mo na lahat 'yan, kasama ang mga sasakyan."

Andal said another Ampatuan scion, Zaldy Ampatuan, a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, also called and asked him to make sure that the hole where the victims would be buried was deep.

"Maya-maya naman, tinawagan ako ni Datu Puti (Zaldy), na palalimin ko 'yung kanal, 'yung hukay," Andal said.

He said the Ampatuans threatened to kill his family if he got caught.

"Sinabi rin ng mga Ampatuan sa akin, pati mga magulang ko, 'pag mahuhuli ako, ipapapatay nila mga magulang ko, pati mga kapatid ko, pati mga anak ko," Andal said.

Witness protection

Andal, who was arrested in Cotabato City in November last year, has asked the government to place him under its Witness Protection Program (WPP), but the Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to act on the request.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said they are still studying Andal's testimony.

"Hindi lahat ng gustong maging state witness ay pwedeng pagbigyan as a state witness. He or she should not appear to be the most guilty. But the law, remember, does not say 'the least guilty'," De Lima said in the “24 Oras” report.

She added that the testimony must be "essential" in the prosecution of the case and must not be merely "corroborative."

Andal, however, is still "provisionally" covered by the WPP as of November 2012, according to the DOJ as mentioned in the report. — Marc Jayson Cayabyab/KBK/HS, GMA News