DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 21 December) — I had my own share of challenging times myself in the so-called “Maguindanao massacre”.
Getting Datu Unsay to peacefully surrender to prevent more carnage and loss of lives was the most unforgettable and yes, scary part.
Although I wrote about my own personal experiences in the many articles and columns I wrote about the incident as they occurred 10 years ago, let me share with you some challenging episodes perhaps unknown to many ( although I wrote about them some 10 years ago).
While I was negotiating for Datu Unsay’s surrender while in Maguindanao, I had also to “negotiate” with Malacanang that I be given leeway to prevent more loss of lives. The public was becoming angry and had demanded for an immediate armed assault. Fortunately President GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) approved my plan when I finally assured Her Excellency that if anything went wrong, I would take full responsibility. (In fact, I already drafted in my mind my letter of resignation just in case.)
The dangers of being in unsafe territory with armed groups swarming all around was scary but we all pretended to look brave.
Then I had to deal with many relatives of those murdered who were in grief and angry at what had happened. I had to visit funeral parlors after retrieval of bodies from the mass graves.
The long wait for Unsay to arrive at the designated site where the Hueys with engines still on in case an abort scenario would take place was also agonizing , to say the least.
Then there was also this scenario where upon landing in Manila, media asked why Datu Unsay was not restrained by handcuffs. Someone from the media even shouted: “Bakit may special treatment?”
Many did not know that the two PNP (Philippine National Police) arresting officers were in fact from the admin staff and typists and while they had handcuffs on their waists, there were no keys . I even tried grabbing a nearby fighting cock’s string to use on Datu Unsay to restrain him but to no avail.
And there’s also this episode about a witness’ story early on at the start of the trial many years ago, that a certain Datu Mastur was allegedly instructed by the Andal Ampatuan Sr. to deliver to me P10 million as bribe in consideration for dropping the rebellion case against the Ampatuans and to “take care” of Datu Unsay. I forthwith confronted Datu Mastur about it. He denied this totally.
I even went later to see Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. in his detention cell at the AFP HQ (Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters) Panacan, Davao City and asked him in a joking manner :”Bapa, saan na yung pera na pinabigay mo daw sa akin.”
His reply: “Huwag kang maniwala dyan Secretary”.
I could only speculate that there was no actual “delivery” to me, assuming there was indeed that instruction, because I brought Datu Unsay to Manila but not to be billeted at some hotel or to Malacanang to meet the President (as they probably thought I would ). Instead, I brought him directly to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) detention cell for investigation. Of course, I was not also in a position to dismiss the criminal cases.
I cannot forget this not-so-funny episode while on board the Huey helicopter with Datu Unsay after he surrendered to me.
Unsay: “Secretary, saang hotel mo ako e check-in sa Manila para makahabol ang aking pamilya?” I pretended I did not hear him. Yes, funny but true!!
The 10-year and arduous trial covering hundreds of accused and witnesses is done.
Now, my fellow mediamen, most of them my personal friends who were murdered, can finally rest in peace and their relatives vindicated with the verdict.
As that usual cliche goes, the rest is history. (Jesus Dureza posted this on his FB page on December 20, 2019, a day after the verdict on the Ampatuans and other accused was handed down. Dureza was President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Chief Legal Counsel and was named crisis manager following the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre).