DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 August) – Maguindanao Govenor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu fears for the life of the backhoe driver who buried the victims of the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao and who is reportedly being ordered transferred to the Quezon City Jail Annex in Bicutan after government prosecutors dropped him as a state witness in the mass murder of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers.
“Dapat dili ibalhin” (he shouldn’t be transferred), Mangudadatu told MindaNews in an interview after attending a luncheon meeting with President Aquino on Thursday. Aquino was keynote speaker at the 22nd Mindanao Business Conference at the SMX Convention Center in SM Lanang Premier.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in a statement on August 9 said it is “seriously concerned” over backhoe driver Bong Andal’s transfer to Bicutan because his testimony is “crucial to the prosecution” of the perpetrators.
The NUJP said it finds it “puzzling and utterly disturbing that the panel of prosecutors has withdrawn the petition to admit Bong Andal as a state witness, thus paving the way for his transfer to Bicutan.
“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” and “any threat or actual harm to Bong Andal might lead to a perversion of justice through the loss of such vital testimony.”
Convoy flagged down
Mangudadatu’s first wife Genalyn, his two sisters and relatives, were among those killed in the 2009 massacre. They were in a convoy en route to submit his certificate of candidacy for governor when flagged down by about a hundred armed men believed led by Andal Ampatuan, Jr., then mayor of Datu Unsay town.
Ampatuan, Jr. was planning to run for governor in the May 2010 elections, unopposed like his father was in 2007. Mangudadatu, then vice mayor of Buluan town in Maguindanao, was a former ally until he decided to challenge the Ampatuans for the top post.
The six-vehicle convoy of Mangudadatu’s wife, other relatives and media workers from his Buluan residence, along with the passengers of two other vehicles that happened to pass at the wrong time, were herded off to Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao where they were massacred and buried using a backhoe by Andal, then the caretaker of the motorpool of the provincial government.
Mary Grace Morales, whose husband Rosell, a reporter for News Focus, and her sister Marites Cablitas, a reporter of radio DxBX, were among those massacred, told MindaNews Friday that this is the first time she learned the backhoe driver, Bong Andal, has been dropped as state witness.
Bring the backhoe
The backhoe driver had claimed he was ordered by Andal Ampatuan, Sr., then the acting governor of Maguindanao, to bring the backhoe to Barangay Salman, that Andal Ampatuan Jr., ordered him to hurry up and bury the vehicles as well, and that then ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan ordered him to dig the grave deep enough.
In his affidavit, Andal described how he buried the victims and that before the 2009 massacre, he had been ordered twice to bring the backhoe and bury the dead: the first involving four victims, the second another four victims.
From Midsayap, North Cotabato where he was arrested on November 24, 2012, Andal was brought to Cotabato City and flown to Manila a few days later.
On November 28, Atty. Martin Menez, Director of the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Program (WPP) wrote him that his application for admission into the WPP was “provisionally approved effective November 28, 2012” for a period of 90 days or until February 28, 2013, subject to reevaluation.
In an exclusive video interview aired on GMA News’ “24 Oras” on July 1, Andal narrated how he use the backhoe to bury the bodies and crush the vehicles and who ordered him to bury the bodies.
But the Ampatuans’ lead defense counsel, Sigfrid Fortun, told GMA News Online on July 2 that Andal just wants to catch Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s attention to reconsider his bid to become state witness and be set free.
Fortun was quoted as saying Andal “will say anything to catch Secretary Leila de Lima’s attention.”
When Andal’s provisional approval as state witness lapsed on February 28, the prosecution panel led by prosecutor Archimedes Manabat filed on the same day an urgent motion before the court that they had “reached a decision not to present Bong Andal anymore as a state witness” because what he would testify on had been covered by the testimony of other witnesses.
The defense panel had earlier opposed Andal’s bid to turn state witness, saying there is “no absolute necessity” for his testimony since the prosecution already presented four eyewitnesses “who had completely testified on the planning and implementation of the massacre.”
The court acted on the motion of the prosecution and scheduled Andal for arraignment on March 13. But this did not push through pending the resolution of Andal’s motion for reconsideration filed on March 6 by his state-provided lawyer, Romarico Ayson who said the prosecutors have not fully evaluated Andal’s testimony and are not fully aware of its intricacies.
Only through media
Nena Santos, laywer for the Mangudatus and Prima Quinsayas of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists and lawyer for the relatives of 17 victims said the prosecution panel and the private prosecutors met to decide on getting Andal as state witness in November but they were not informed by the prosecution panel about the February 28 motion to drop Andal as state witness.
Quinsayas told MindaNews they learned about Andal’s discharge as state witness only through the media.
Qinsayas said she was surprised after Andal’s TV appearance when she heard Justice Secretary Leila de Lima say in a TV interview that the Department of Justice was still studying the materiality of Bong Andal’s testimony in the massacre case.
“Court records will show that as early as March this year, the public prosecutors filed a motion to withdraw to discharge Bong Andal. I don’t know what she means by ‘still considering’ unless she means DOJ might consider withdrawing the motion to withdraw?” Quinsayas asked.
Santos told MindaNews that dropping Andal as state witness is a major loss. She told MindaNews Andal could point to the other conspirators aside from those already mentioned by other witnesses.
She said there are two state witnesses in Camp Crame who have not been presented in the last three years. “Di ko malaman ang rason bakit sa kay Bong Andal na mga major suspects ang binanggit ay minadali ng i-withdraw ang coverage by the very same prosecutors na nagpa-cover sa kanya. Covered na binawi agad-agad. Walang sinabi na rason bakit” (I don’t know why Andal who could point to the major suspects was immediately withdrawn as witness by the very same prosecutors who asked that he be covered under the WPP. He was covered already and they dropped him immediately. No reason cited).
“I feel strongly about his 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 said.
Santos said Andal’s father is the overseer of all the vehicles of the Ampatuans who “has the information as to who really owns the fleet, in whose names they were registered, the names of drivers, maids and other workers.
Mangudadatu said transferring the backhoe driver to Bicutan is dangerous, adding that if, indeed the backhoe driver is transferred to Bicutan, he should not be mixed with other suspects. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)