GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/24 January) — They want to see the Ampatuans in jail, to check if, indeed, they are kept in a cell like other prisoners or given preferential treatment like VIPs.
Relatives of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre on Sunday passed a resolution to ask authorities to be allowed to see the Ampatuans in jail as they also agreed to issue a statement declaring “we are not for sale; justice is not for sale.”
The resolutions were passed during the meeting of Justice Now!, an organization of relatives of the 32 journalists and media workers who very among the 58 massacred in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, on November 23, 2009 by armed men led, according to witnesses, by then Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr.
“We do not know if they (the Ampatuans) are inside (Bicutan jail). If money talks, everybody listens; anywhere they have connections. It is only Unsay (nickname of Andal Jr.,) we see behind bars and the ordinary policemen. We have a right to see, if, indeed the other Ampatuans are behind bars,” Elliber Cablitas, husband of the slain Maritess Cablitas of News Focus, said in Pilipino.
Ric Cachuela, brother of the slain Hannibal of Punto News in Koronadal City, said they should have an “eyeball to eyeball” with the accused.
Cachuela said they were advised to write authorities to allow the relatives to see for themselves if, indeed, the Ampatuans are locked up in cells.
Cachuela was reelected chair of Justice Now. Myrna, widow of Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, was also reelected vice chair. The other officials are Grace Morales (who lost her husband Russel of News Focus and her sister Maritess Cablitas), as secretary; Reynafe Momay-Castillo (daughter of Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay of Midland Courier, whose remains are missing but for his dentures), as treasurer; and Emily Lopez (who lost a cousin, Arturo Betia of Periodico Ini, General Santos City) as auditor.
The relatives of the victims also appealed for support to attend hearings. They agreed to the proposed construction of a memorial shrine for the slain journalists and media workers, and for press freedom, at the massacre site in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.
Fifty three of the massacre victims were on a convoy en route to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, when stopped at the highway along with five others in two vehicles that happened to pass the highway when the convoy was stopped along the highway of Ampatuan by about a hundred armed men reportedly led by Andal Jr. who wanted to run for governor, unopposed like his father was in 2007.
Six members of the Ampatuan clan are presently detained in connection with the massacre while six other clan members are at large.
Ampatuan, Jr. was turned over to then Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Jesus Dureza by then ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan on November 26, three days after the massacre, at the grounds of the capitol in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, and was flown by helicopter to General Santos City for inquest proceedings before he was flown to Manila that same day.
Five other Ampatuans were arrested in the early hours of December 5, 2009, a few hours after martial law was declared over Maguindanao and neighboring Cotabato City and Sultan Kudarat: the patriarch, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., three-term Maguindanao governor; his sons Datu Zaldy, then governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Datu Anwar, then mayor of Shariff Aguak; and Datu Sajid, elected vice governor in 2007, appointed OIC governor in January 2009 when his father resigned, until the father re-assumed the post a few weeks before the massacre; and son-in law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, elected mayor of Mamasapano in 2007; appointed Maguindanao Vice Governor in early 2009.
Ampatuan, Sr. was brought to Davao City but was not placed behind bars. On his arrival in Davao City from Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao, he was supposed to have been brought to the camp hospital in Eastern Mindanao Command in Panacan, Davao City, but en route to the camp, he complained of chest pains and was brought to the Davao Doctors’ Hospital, the premier private hospital in the city, instead of the camp hospital 12 kilometers away. After several tests, however, he was given a cardio clearance for transfer to the camp hospital and was fetched by military operatives from Davao Doctors nearly midnight December 6 and brought to the camp hospital in the early hours of December 7.
Smoking in no-smoking area
Until he was flown to Manila on April 16, 2010, Ampatuan, Sr., was detained at the military hospital in Davao City for various manageable ailments that, based on the medical bulletin released in January 2010, did not necessarily require hospital confinement, among them tension headache, obesity and hemorrhoids.
Ampatuan Sr., stayed in a two-bed airconditioned room in the usually overpopulated 38-bed primary hospital whose mission, clearly stated and framed on the hospital wall, is “to provide quality health care services to military personnel, military dependents and authorized civilians under AOR (area of responsibility) of EastMinCom in support of the Command’s mandated mission.”
On December 8, Ampatuan’s second hospital day in camp, the medical bulletin stated that “standby oxygen was placed outside the patient’s room as safety precaution because patient cannot quit smoking.”
Ampatuan Sr. was discovered on several occasions to have been smoking inside his airconditioned room in the supposedly no-smoking hospital. The camp itself had, just shortly before the November 23 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, become a “no-smoking camp.”
The patriarch reportedly argued he would die if he can’t smoke.
“Does the room still smell of cigarettes?” MindaNews asked Lt. Mario Angelo Tejano, the attending physician when MindaNews visited the hospital late afternoon of January 7, 2010.
Tejano acknowledged having smelled cigarette smoke in Ampatuan’s room within the period of his confinement. “Medyo amoy” (Somehow smelled) but said “lately wala na” (lately no more).
He said they continue to monitor the patient’s blood sugar and blood pressure.
While the Ampatuan patriarch was detained in an airconditioned hospital room in a military camp in Davao City, his son, Zaldy was brought to the General Santos office of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group. His two other sons, Anwar and Sajid and son-in-law Akmad or Tato, were brought to the 6th Infantry Division in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao but were later transferred to where Zaldy was a day or two later.
Days after their confinement, news about their having been given special or VIP treatment, broke out. The reports, aired on television and radio and published in newspapers, indicated the detainees enjoyed catered meals, had helpers to clean up their detention area and had access to mobile phones.
Datu Sajid Ampatuan spoke to reporters waiting outside the CIDG compound, from behind the iron bars of the CIDG detention area, but this was covered with tarpaulin.
The four detainees in General Santos were flown to Manila on board a C-130 cargo aircraft, stopping over in Davao City to pick up Ampatuan, Sr. and his lawyer, on April 16, 2010.
After four months, the five Ampatuans were reunited inside the cargo aircraft and were later reunited with the sixth detained Ampatuan, Andal, Jr., at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig.
In early February last year, the panel of investigating prosecutors filed an amended information recommending the indictment of 197 persons, 62 of them policemen and four Army sergeants.
The number of Ampatuans implicated in the murder reached 28 although only about a dozen are prominent, six of them already detained in Bicutan while six others are still at large: grandsons Saudi Jr., Bahnarin and Datu Anwar “Ipi” Ampatuan, Jr.; Kanor Datumanong Ampatuan , Datu Mama Ampatuan and Datu Norodin Ampatuan. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)