Witness in Ampatuan Massacre shot dead

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/24 June) — A vital witness to the November 23 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao that claimed the lives of 58 persons, including 32 journalists, was shot dead, a lawyer for several of the victims’ families said.

Lawyer Romel Bagares, of Centerlaw, said Suwaid Upham, known publicly as “Jessie,” was gunned down in Parang town, Maguindanao last June 14 as he was about to fly back to Manila and return to their custody.

Bagares said Upham left their protection after a deal with the Department of Justice to make him a star prosecution witness fell through last year.

“Upham is the most important witness to have come forward so far. His death is a major setback,” Bagares told MindaNews in an email.

Upham was the masked person who appeared in an interview with television network Al Jazeera claiming that he was one of the gunmen who shot and killed the 58 victims of the Ampatuan massacre.

Bagares said it was Upham who testified that it was Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. who carried out the executions on a hilltop in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.

Six members of the Ampatuan family — including its patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr., and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan — are in jail and awaiting trial for the massacre. All have denied any involvement.

Bagares said Upham decided to testify against the Ampatuans fearing he would be liquidated for his knowledge of the crime.

The news of Upham’s death came as a new witness came forward to testify against the Ampatuans.

Maguindanao Governor Esmael G. Mangudadatu said the testimony of the new suspect will be “explosive” since most of it are not yet known to the public. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)