RIVERMAN’S VISTA: Layman’s guide to understanding the Ampatuan Massacre verdict (4): The Checkpoints and the Massacre

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 28 January) — As with the earlier installments in this series, this column is based in the evidence submitted to the Regional Trial Court in the Ampatuan Massacre case. This evidence became the basis of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes in the mixed verdict she promulgated last month where she found accused guilty and not guilty.

In my view, Judge Solis-Reyes followed the evidence scrupulously and was fair to everyone in her decision. We see this in how she meticulously reconstructed the events of the massacre.

Photo of the massacre site with the abandoned backhoe at Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao afternoon of 23 November 2009. Photo from the briefing of the 601st Infantry Brigade to Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales on 24 November 2009.

In the afternoon of November 19, 2009, Datu Unsay called through his cellphone Rasul Sangki, then vice mayor of Ampatuan municipality since 2007, who was then in Manila. Unsay instructed him to deploy his troops in the municipality of Ampatuan as the Mangudadatu convoy would be passing through the area. Rasul agreed. Upon his arrival from Manila, Rasul, following the instruction of Datu Unsay, went in the afternoon to Crossing Saniag. He dared not disobey the Ampatuan family as he was fearful what they could do to him and his family. While in a meeting, Datu Unsay told him about the plan to ambush the Mangudadatu convoy saying: “We will let them first enter the vicinity of Malating, and thereafter we will ambush them.” There were others in attendance, but Rasul could not identify them.

On November 23, 2009, at around 8 in the morning, Rasul and his companions went to Crossing Saniag on board a police car. At the crossing, they saw around 50 armed men of Datu Unsay. Thereafter, he heard one Major Dicay from a radio conversation, saying that the Mangudadatus had already passed the Tacurong Rotunda and later on radioed that the target were at the Isulan Rotunda. Then he saw Datu Unsay giving instructions to his people on how to block the convoy with the use of a Sangguko. Later, Rasul heard the message that the convoy had already been blocked. Thereafter, he, Datu Unsay and the group followed for two kilometers to Malating. Thereat, Rasul saw Major Dicay pointing a gun at the people from the convoy of Mangudadatu, who were lying prostrate on the ground.

Datu Unsay’s men hit the herded people and began to look for cellphones and video cameras. Among the people on the ground he recognized Jimmy Pal-Ak, a member of the media, who sometimes emceed in his anniversaries. Then he saw Datu Kanor, one of the trusted people of Datu Unsay Sr. The victims were now pleading for mercy. Then Rasul heard two gunshots.

Rasul was then invited by Datu Unsay inside his car where the former overheard Datu Unsay over the radio saying in the dialect which when translated means: “Ama, they are already here” which was replied by: “You know what to do.” Datu Unsay through the radio, instructed his men to proceed to Masalay. The convoy then arrived at a mountain. It was when the two women arrived at where Jimmy Pal-Ak was that Rasul saw Datu Unsay shoot the victims. Not long after he heard gunshots in succession. The rest of the gunmen did the “finishing” to ensure that nobody will survive. Datu Unsay then instructed him to go back to Sitio Malating to warn the people there that “they did not see or hear anything.” Before he left, he saw a backhoe with the markings: Province of Maguindanao, Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Norodin Mauyag, a farmer in Sitio Malating, recounted that while he and companions were walking on their way to the mosque, they observed three police cars with some 30 policemen scattered all around the vehicles. He also had the chance to observe the purok, a small house, where there were 20 armed men said to be those of Datu Kanor Ampatuan. As he was within five meters, he overheard Datu Kanor instructing his men to shoot as the Mangudadatu convoy passes by. And on November 23 at around 8 am, Mauyag observed a checkpoint was set up near the purok which was being manned by numerous policemen. Not long after, Datu Unsay arrived and when eight trucks, some with UNTV markings, the passengers on board were told to alight. They were then ordered by Datu Unsay to lay prostrate on the ground. One of the women in the group, cried – Datu, “we are not going to fight because we are women.” But the Datu slapped her. Moments later, Datu Unsay shot the lady between her legs. While this happened, the other armed men hit the others with the butt of their firearms, punched, knocked their heads, and kicked them. When the witness went back to the mountains to fetch his family, as they were earlier ordered to leave by Datu Kanor, he heard successive gunshots lasting for some 20 minutes.

Another famer, Akmad Abubakar Esmael, recalled that the killing incident started with 30 vehicles arriving at the site. At the killing ground he saw at least 100 armed men wearing military uniform. He heard Datu Unsay shouting to his men: “huminto na kayo dyan lahat,” and then again: “pababain nyo na sila lahat, pababain nyo na sila lahat.” When the herded people were already prostrate on the ground and were now begging for mercy, the witness heard Datu Unsay shouting: “fire.” At that moment, the armed men simultaneously shot around 50 people which lasted for more than an hour.

Other witnesses testified on what they heard and saw about the killings. (To be continued)

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Antonio “Tony” La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. He teaches Constitutional law in several schools in Manila and Mindanao)