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The Ampatuan Massacre: a map and timeline

(Update 9 - Dec. 9 7:00 pm) GMANews.TV offers the following interactive map and timeline of the Ampatuan Massacre perpetrated on November 23, 2009 against more than 50 unarmed civilians - 57 at last count - many of them women, 30 of them journalists. The massacre site is located along an off-road hillside in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province. The information is being updated and verified as it comes in.

It is called the Ampatuan Massacre here because the crime was committed in Ampatuan town. Elsewhere on this news site, it is still referred to as the Maguindanao Massacre, which is the more common reference, but no other massacre in modern Philippine history has been publicly associated with an entire province.

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Detailed chronology of events

  • About 9:00 am

    • A convoy of seven vehicles carrying journalists, lawyers, and relatives of Maguindanao vice mayor Datu Ismael “Toto" Mangudadatu leaves Buluan to file Mangudadatu’s Certificate of Candidacy at the Comelec office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao's capital.

    • The convoy’s exact route is uncertain, but it is clear that at least the last stretch of the journey was along the Cotabato-Isulan national highway.

    • The convoy is composed of: two media vehicles – the lead vehicle, a Mitsubishi L-300 van owned by UNTV, and a Pajero owned by dzRH broadcast journalist Henry Araneta; four Toyota Grandia vans (one grey, one green, and two white) owned by the Mangudadatu family; and a tailing Toyota vehicle, driven by Sandamen Rajah Ali, of as-yet undetermined model (possibly also a Toyota Grandia) and apparently carrying supporters of the Mangudadatu family.

    • There are also two vehicles that are not part of the convoy but happen to be traveling on the same highway, a red Toyota Vios and a light blue Toyota Tamaraw FX. The Vios has five passengers: Eduardo Lechonsito, a government employee who is bound for a hospital in Cotabato City after suffering a mild stroke Monday morning; his wife Cecille; co-workers Mercy Palabrica and Daryll delos Reyes; and driver Wilhelm Palabrica. The FX is driven by Anthony Ridao, an employee of the National Statistics Coordination Board and son of Cotabato City councilor Marino Ridao.

    • Ali says that he purposely maintains a “reasonable distance" of about 20 meters from the main convoy. This enables at least one of the two vehicles that are not part of the convoy (it is still unclear whether it was Lechonsito’s Vios or Ridao’s Tamaraw FX) to get ahead of Ali’s car, thereby appearing to be part of the convoy.

    • In their sworn affidavits, Ali and two of his passengers, Basit Laguia and Judge Mamasalanang, testify to being "separated only by another Toyota car" from the main convoy. It is still unclear whether the Toyota car in question was Lechonsito’s or Ridao’s, nor is it clear at what point the other vehicle joined the convoy.

  • About 10:00 am

    • The main convoy and the two other vehicles nearby are accosted by a group of about 100 armed men at a checkpoint in Sitio Malating, Ampatuan town, some four to ten kilometers from their destination.

    • According to the sworn affidavits of PCI Sukarno Adil Dicay and PInsp Rex Ariel Diongon, both PNP officers assigned to the checkpoint, the convoy was ordered to stop for a routine inspection when armed men suddenly appeared and commandeered the vehicles. Both policemen identified Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. as being among the armed men.

    • Genalyn Mangudadatu, Toto's wife, manages to make a call to her husband to briefly tell him what was happening.

    • Ali, Laguia, and Mamasalanang testify that when the convoy was accosted, they stepped out of their car “to urinate and at the same time observe the scenario." All three witnesses claim to have seen Andal Jr. approach the vehicle where Genalyn Mangudadatu was boarded. The witnesses also claim to have heard several gunshots, at which point they boarded their car “in fear" and hurriedly drove back to safety in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat.

  • About 11:00 am

    • Philippine Army units in the area are alerted and launch a search for the hostages and their abductors.

  • About 12:00 noon

    • 25-year-old Noel Decena of the Koronadal-based weekly, Periodico Ini, sends an SMS to his brother, Joseph Decena, who is in Midsayap: "Lab, i-ampo ko diri kay naa na mi diri sa Ampatuan. I-pray mo kami dito. Kritikal amo sitwasyon diri. (Lab, we’re here already at Ampatuan. Pray for us here. Our situation is critical)."

  • Undetermined times between 10:30 am and 3 pm

    • Commandeered by the armed men, the remaining vehicles in the convoy, as well as the Vios and the FX, are driven to a hilly and sparsely-populated part of Sitio Magating in Brgy. Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. It takes them 30 minutes to reach the area, which is 2.5 kilometers from the highway checkpoint where the victims were abducted.

    • At the site, a heavy-duty backhoe had been used to dig three mass graves.

    • The armed men systematically kill the hostages, shooting them at close range with rapid-fire weapons.

    • The killers start dumping the bodies and vehicles into the mass graves, and begin covering up the site using the backhoe.

    • The killings and subsequent burials take just over an hour, if one is to believe a masked witness interviewed on Al Jazeera. He claimed to be one of the armed men ordered to do the killing but was bothered by his conscience.

  • About 3:00 pm

    • The same witness told Al Jazeera that the perpetrators received a call warning them of approaching Army soldiers, possibly from lookouts. The killers hurriedly flee just before Army soldiers arrive, leaving behind more than two dozen unburied victims and their vehicles, as well as the backhoe used to dig the graves.

    • When the Army troops are still approaching about one kilometer from the crime scene, they hear the backhoe's engine roar and see engine smoke coming from the heavy equipment. But when they reach the site, all the killers had already left the area.

    • Army soldiers manage to arrest two “government militias" armed with an M16 rifle and a Gauge 12 shotgun, according to lead investigator PNP Chief Supt Felecisimo Khu Jr. However, due to jurisdiction issues, the men had to be turned over to government authorities and were subsequently released. The two men have not been identified nor have they been found since then.


The graves and retrieval of the buried bodies and vehicles

When the Army soldiers arrive, they see 22 of the victims lying dead on the ground or in the vehicles, and soon after, discover the newly-covered graves.

There are three grave sites:

(1) In Grave 1 were 24 of the victims, including three of the five Vios passengers, FX Tamaraw driver, Anthony Ridao, Genalyn Mangdadatu, Eden Mangudadatu, and Farina Mangudadatu
(2) In Grave 2 were six others along with three of vehicles, crushed by the backhoe before being buried: the Vios, L-300 and the Tamaraw-FX.
(3) In Grave 3 were five people.

- The first two graves are 10 to 12 feet deep, while the third is about five feet deep.

- The bodies were buried in alternate layers of soil alongside the vehicles, in a way which was “intended to make things difficult" for investigators, Khu said.

- All in all, 35 victims are found buried in the three graves, while 22 are found lying on the ground or inside vehicles, for a total of 57 fatalities. There are still three to four unidentified bodies, and at least four missing.

-Of the 57 dead, 30 are journalists, making the massacre "one of the deadliest single events for the press in memory" and the Philippines the world's worst place to be a journalist, according to international press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY. Among the media casualties in the November 23 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. (From L-R) Victor Nuñez (UNTV); Mark Gilbert Arriola (UNTV); Jolito Evardo (from UNTV who is still missing); Daniel Tiamzon (UNTV);Alejandro Reblando (Manila Bulletin); Rey Merisco (Periodico Ini); Noel Decena (Periodico Ini); Bienvenido Legarta (Punto Periodico); Gina dela Cruz (Saksi News); Lea Dalmacio (Socsargen News); Napoleon Salaysay (Mindanao Gazette); Benjie Adolfo (Gold Star Daily); Ronie Perante (Gold Star Daily); Rubello Bataluna (Gold Star Daily); Santos Gatchalian (DXGO); Lindo Lupogan (Mindanao Daily Gazette)


The weapons used and the manner of killing

- At least six different M16 rifles were used (i.e., shot but not necessarily used to kill), based on analysis of the 126 empty 5.56mm shells, four spent bullets, one live bullet, and a metal fragment found at the site, according to Khu.

- At least one of the M16s was belt-fed, possibly a Shrike mini-M16 rifle, as indicated by the discovery at the site of 32 pieces of ammo link chains.

- It appears that all the victims were killed by M16 bullets, except for Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro “Bong" Reblando, who was killed with a shotgun. Reblando was found hogtied in the driver’s seat of the Pajero owned by DzRH's Henry Araneta.

- Public police reports have not yet made clear whether the fatal shots emanated from a single gun or from several different weapons.

- At least one M14 rifle was used, based on the discovery of three empty 7.62mm shells.

- At least one AK47 rifle was used, based on the discovery of one 7.62mm empty shell.

- It is unclear if bladed weapons were also used.

- Contrary to the initial reports released by the Mangudadatu family, none of the retrieved bodies were beheaded.

- According to Khu, most if not all of the female victims' pants were unzipped. This was initially attributed either to the possibility that they were frisked for valuables or to the natural bloating that bodies undergo in the hours after death.

- Subsequent post-mortem investigations revealed that five of the 21 female victims tested positive for traces of semen, but it has yet to be determined if these resulted from rape by the perpetrators of the crime. Investigators have declared this as "presumptive" evidence of sexual abuse pending further tests.

- So far, only one of the female victims has been declared positive for sexual abuse.

- At least some of the victims were shot in the genital area. Others were mutilated. Many were shot in the face, rendering them virtually unrecognizable.


The backhoe and prime mover truck

- The yellow-colored backhoe left at the scene is stamped with the words “Property of the province of Maguindanao - Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr." in black letters on the engine casing at the back of the operator’s booth. News footage clearly shows the model number PC-300, apparently manufactured under the Komatsu brand. (Andal Ampatuan Sr., Maguindanao governor, is father and namesake of prime suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay town in the same province. The younger Ampatuan was allegedly seen at the scene of the abduction.)

- According to Khu, the backhoe was assigned to at least three drivers: Hamid Dilayuden, Efren Macanas, and Albert Panganiban. Investigators also identified the driver of a prime mover truck that was supposed to carry the backhoe to and from the burial site, one Pedro Sodolig.

- Dilayuden and Sodolig remain at large, while Macanas and Panganiban are in the custody of the NBI and PNP, respectively. There is no official statement from the drivers as yet.


The ensuing public outcry and government actions

Three days after the carnage, amid worldwide condemnation, Presidential Adviser Jesus Dureza convinces the Ampatuan family to give up Andal Jr. He is taken, without handcuffs, from Shariff Aguak to General Santos City where he underwent inquest proceedings conducted by Acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera.

From his detention cell at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila on Nov. 26, suspected mastermind Andal Jr. accused the MILF of committing the atrocity.

On Saturday, November 28, the government filed multiple murder charges against Andal Ampatuan Jr.

On Thursday, December 3, joint military and police personnel acted on a tip and discovered a big weapons cache consisting of light artillery and heavy infantry weapons (including commando weapons, explosives, and ammunition) as well as military uniforms from a vacant lot near the Ampatuan clan mansion in Shariff Aguak. Some of the ammo boxes were stamped, “Department of Defense Arsenal."

Early the next day, Friday, December 4, combined elements of the Philippine National Police's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines searched the inside of the Ampatuan mansion itself. Around noon, the search uncovered a hidden armory behind a concrete wall, with ammo cases for M-16, M-14, and possibly M-203 rifles also bearing the mark of the Department of Defense Arsenal.

A parallel search was also conducted in the home of Andal Sr. by a PNP Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) team, but has so far yielded negative results.

In the early morning of December 5, President Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 1959, placing Maguindanao in a state of martial law. Deterioration of peace and order, and failure of the local judicial system were cited as reasons for the declaration.

The PNP and AFP conduct a press conference in Camp Crame on the morning of December 9, Wednesday, with a detailed recounting of the events leading up to and succeeding the massacre. The details will be appended to this timeline as soon as they become available.

At 7pm on December 9, the Senate and the Lower House convened to deliberate the resolution to revoke Proclamation No. 1959.

We will provide more details on this page as police, media, and researchers gather more pieces of the puzzle to reconstruct the whole chain of events.

- GMANews.TV stories on the Maguindanao massacre, Nov. 23-present
- Nov. 25, 2009 phone interviews with AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr.
- Nov. 26, 2009 and subsequent interviews with Chief Supt. Felicisimo Villamor Khu Jr., deputy director general for administration of the Police Regional Office 12 and head of the Task Force formed by the Department of Justice to investigate the Ampatuan massacre.
- Al Jazeera
- Sworn affidavits of PCI Sukarno Adil Dicay and PInsp Rex Ariel Tabao Diongon, as witnessed by Atty. Alfredo L. Villamayor Jr. on Nov. 29 in Camp Crame, Quezon City
- Sworn affidavits of Sandamen Raja Ali, Basit T. Laguia, and Judge Mamasalanang, as witnessed by Prosecutor Elmer D. Lastimosa, General Santos City Prosecution Office on Nov. 26
- Nov. 25, 2009 report from Bantay Ceasefire Volunteer Romy Elusfa
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) website

- JV, GMANews.TV