Five more suspects arraigned in massacre trial; backhoe operator included

Posted by ampatuan | Posted in Case Updates | Posted on 13-08-2013

CMFR/Philippines – Five suspects in the Ampatuan Massacre trial, including the confessed backhoe operator, were arraigned on 8 and 14 August 2013. But the arraignment of three more suspects also scheduled on August 8 was delayed. Meanwhile, the court trying the suspects in the Massacre deferred the transfer of the backhoe operator to the same jail where the primary suspects are detained. Media and other groups feared for his safety after he earlier spoke out against the Ampatuans and was dropped as a potential state witness by the state prosecution.

On 23 November 2009, 58 people, 32 of whom were journalists and media workers, were killed in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province in the island of Mindanao, some 1,600 kilometers south of Manila.

Sajid Ampatuan, Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Kasim Lingkong (alias Abdulkadir Saludin), and Mama Habid pled not guilty Thursday, August 8 to 58 counts of murder.

Sajid is a son of clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. while Datu Akmad is the latter’s nephew and son-in-law. The two others arraigned were supposed members of the clan’s private army.

The arraignment of Anwar Ampatuan Jr. (alias Datu Ipi) and Anwar Sajid Ampatuan, grandsons of Andal Sr., and of another private army member, Sahid Guiamadil (alias Jun Aliman), were deferred due to pending motions.

On August 14, confessed backhoe operator Bang Andal also pled not guilty to 58 counts of murder. His transfer to Camp Bagong Diwa, where the primary suspects are also detained, was also deferred until the resolution of a motion for reconsideration filed by the Witness Protection Program (WPP) and signed by program director Martin Meñez.

Andal earlier applied to become a state witness and was provisionally included in the WPP until February this year. In July this year, Andal came out in the national media narrating how the Ampatuans ordered him to bury the victims of the massacre.

On August 8, the court ordered the transfer of backhoe operator Bong Andal to Camp Bagong Diwa where the primary suspects are also detained. A local government owned backhoe was used to bury the bodies and vehicles of the massacre victims on 23 November, 2009.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on August 9 released a statement expressing concern for Andal’s safety.

“Putting him in the same detention facility as those who allegedly ordered him to cover up evidence of the slaughter would clearly put him in grave threat,” the NUJP statement said.

Nena Santos, lawyer of the Mangudadatus, the clan the Ampatuans opposed in the 2009 elections and some of whose members were victims in the massacre, also expressed her concern for Andal’s safety in an interview with the Mindanao news organization MindaNews.

“I feel strongly about (Andal’s) safety considering that one of his brothers, Rasul, who was formerly the driver of Andal, Sr. revealed to authorities the attempt to his life inside the jail in Bicutan while serving the Ampatuans in jail,” Santos was quoted as saying.

According to the same MindaNews report, Santos and another private prosecutor, Prima Quinsayas of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), who represents 17 families of the massacre victims, said that the prosecution panel did not inform them of the motion to drop Andal as a state witness, and only learned about it from the media.  (CMFR is a founding member of the FFFJ and serves as its secretariat.)