RIVERMAN’S VISTA: Layman’s guide to understanding the Ampatuan Massacre verdict (5): A pattern of killings and hasty burials

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5th of a series: A pattern of killings and hasty burials

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 03 February) — When presented on the witness stand Datu Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu testified that he knew Datu Unsay for 10 years since their families were close. The circumstances changed, however, when Datu Andal Sr. told his followers in 2008 to kill Datu Itao. Thus, on that year, Datu Toto broke away from the group. Soon after, news came out that he was running for governor of Maguindanao. His relatives discouraged him, knowing the decision was fraught with danger. Datu Toto believed that the Ampatuans were afraid that they would lose should he run in Maguindanao.

The backhoe used to bury the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre is parked inside the Police Regional Office 12 in General Santos City. Photo taken Thursday (19 December 2019) by MANMAN DEJETO / MindaNews

He recalled that in November 2007, Datu Andal Sr. went to meet him, with his uncles Congressman Pax Mangudadatu and Sultan Mangudadatu, as well as Datu Andal’s sons attending the meeting. In that meeting, his uncles forbade him from running for governor. He agreed resulting in reconciliation between the two families. However, the harmony did not last long because his constituents persuaded him to run. It was then that in 2008, in the aftermath of his expressed intention to run for governor, that the PNP (Philippine National Police) provincial director of Maguindanao disarmed the police officers of Buluan, Maguindanao allegedly for inventory purposes. In addition, a grenade launcher was thrown at Buluan resulting in mass evacuations in the old and new public market. They also fired howitzer rounds in Pandag Municipality under the directive of Andal Sr. supposedly to search for Ameril Umbra Kato.

On November 23, 2009, Toto and his children were set to return to Buluan from Davao. At 9 a.m., his wife Bai Genalin went to Shariff Aguak to file his Certificate of Candidacy for governor in the 2010 elections. His sister Bai Eden, his aunt, cousins and other friends from the media accompanied her. They accompanied his wife because the PNP had refused his request for security escort. At 9 a.m., he received a call from his wife who said to him: “Hinarang kami ng napakaraming lalaki dito.” Those were the last words of his wife. After receiving text messages that his wife was beheaded, he went to the radio station to inform the public that men led by Unsay abducted his wife.

Meanwhile, Efren Macanas was assigned at the Maguindanao Capitol as a heavy equipment operator. In the morning of November 23, he proceeded on a motorcycle to report for work. On his way he noticed several checkpoints along the way, manned by uniformed armed men, who he claimed to be members of Civilian Voluntary Organizations of the Ampatuans – in short, their private armies.

At that time Efren drove a PC 300 backhoe and parked the same at Petron Gasoline Station owned by Datu Unsay. However, when he reported for work, the backhoe was no longer there. When he asked around, he was told that a certain Bong Andal had taken the backhoe. So, he proceeded to the project site of Datu Zaldy where riffraff was being constructed to see the engineer. Thereat, he met Bong Andal who instructed him to follow in Salman, Ampatuan. At the site, Efren saw the backhoe whereupon he was instructed by Bong Andal to drive the backhoe upwards to the location of the tall coconut trees together with Bong Andal and his bodyguard. Upon reaching the place, Efren heard gunshots. He became afraid that he might get involved, and worse that he might get killed especially since it has been the practice of the Ampatuans to kill people.

The witness recalled that in 2005 he was asked to dig a hole in Limpongo, Datu Hoffer by Bong Andal. Shortly thereafter, 10 vehicles arrived, and four people were brought down. The four were blindfolded and their hands tied at the back. The Ampatuans – Datu Andal Sr., Datu Andal, Datu Zaldy and companions – brought them near the excavation and shot them. The victims fell into the excavation. With the backhoe, Efren then proceeded to cover the hole. The same happened in 2008, when he was also instructed to cover an excavation to bury four individuals killed by the Ampatuans.

The pattern was to be repeated on November 23, 2009. When Efren heard the gunfire, he told Bong that he was afraid. Bong asked him why, and at that point Efren stopped the backhoe, alighted and told Bong that he would go home already. In the afternoon of that day, the news about the killings flashed on the television, with the cadavers sighted beside the backhoe. He got scared because the backhoe’s memorandum receipt was issued under his name. (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)

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