Witness testifies clan chief, son planned Philippine massacre, hired militiamen for killings

By Teresa Cerojano, AP
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Witness links clan chief to Philippine massacre

MANILA, Philippines — A powerful clan chief and his son plotted a massacre in the southern Philippines that killed 57 rivals and journalists, ordering local officials to hire gunmen and recruiting militiamen for the slayings, a court heard Wednesday.

Muhammad Sangki, a local town councilor, testified that the son of the Ampatuan clan’s patriarch led dozens of men in blocking the victims’ convoy as they traveled to register the gubernatorial candidacy of a clan rival then tried to identify each of them before they were shot Nov. 23.

The massacre was the worst election-related violence in Philippines history. It came in the run-up to national polls due in May, highlighting the violent sway of warlords in the Southeast Asian nation’s volatile democracy. More than 30 journalists and their staff were among those killed, the deadliest single attack on media workers in the world.

It drew international condemnation and prompted President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to declare martial law for a week in southern Maguindanao province and crack down on the powerful Ampatuan clan — once her key political ally — and its private army.

Sangki told the heavily guarded court at the national police headquarters that a town official told him that Andal Ampatuan Jr.’s father, a former Maguindanao governor, ordered several mayors to hire gunmen. Another town official told him the plan was to block the a convoy of supporters of a rival clan to stop Esmael Mangudadatu from registering as a candidate for governor in the provincial capital.

At a Nov. 20 meeting, Sangki said he was given 15,000 pesos ($326) by Ampatuan Jr. to buy food for 20 gunmen he hired for the attack. He said the province’s police chief and about 15 to 20 armed men were present at the meeting.

Investigators have said the Mangudadatus were targeted as they were planning to challenge the Ampatuans’ long-standing political dominance in Maguindanao, a predominantly Muslim region coveted for its prime farmlands and rumored natural gas deposits.

Mangudadatu, 41, testified Wednesday said he had been warned by the Ampatuan clan not to run for governor. He said he sent his wife and two sisters to lead the convoy to register his candidacy because under Islam women are to be respected and not hurt.

He recounted the last call his wife Genalyn made to him.

“We were blocked by many armed men led by Datu Unsay, and I was slapped,” he quoted Genalyn as telling him in a phone call at 10 a.m. on Nov. 23, using Andal Ampatuan Jr.’s nickname.

Mangudadatu broke down in court as he described later seeing the mangled body of his wife, which bore 17 gunshot wounds and lacerations on her genitals.

Sangki said that before the killings, Ampatuan Jr. had tried to identify each of the victims, holding up the heads of those who were lying with their faces to the ground. The victims were herded aboard their vans and taken to a hilly area of Ampatuan township where the convoy had been stopped.

Sangki said Ampatuan ordered him to stay at the highway. He heard gunshots 20 to 30 minutes later. Sangki said his nephew, who was with Ampatuan Jr., later told him the all the victims were shot. His nephew went to nearby houses, telling people: “You did not see anything, you did not hear anything.”

Ampatuan Jr. surrendered after the massacre but has pleaded not guilty. He occasionally yawned and showed no emotion during Wednesday’s proceedings, about three weeks into the trial.

Ampatuan’s father and several other close relatives have been implicated but not formally charged in the killings. They face separate charges of rebellion.

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