Justice Secretary de Lima visits Maguindanao to look into “chainsaw killings”

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao (MindaNews/20 February) —  Justice Secretary Leila de Lima arrived here Saturday following the exhumation of skeletal remains of  suspected victims of alleged “chainsaw killings” reportedly committed while the  Ampatuans were still in power in Maguindanao.

De Lima said two burial sites exhumed on Thursday and Friday yielded skeletal remains.

One of the burial sites exhumed was in Barangay Bagong in Shariff Aguak town, where the victim’s body was believed to have been wrapped in packing tape before it was buried reportedly four years ago.

The second site, allegedly on the land owned by the Ampatuans in Datu Hoffer town, yielded skeletal remains and a handcuff.  The victim was reportedly buried here in 2009.

De Lima said the remains are likely from among the victims of “chainsaw killings,” based on testimonies of witnesses who pointed to the burial sites.

De Lima said they have an idea as to the identities of the victims but will withhold the information pending confirmation from the victims’ family and the results of forensic examination.

What is clear, she said, is that the victims belong to the list of persons believed killed during the Ampatuan administration.

“What I want the SOCO (Scene Of the Crime Operatives) to do, aside from identifying who they are through DNA tests and other moves, and the identification of the family, is to determined from the bones if they were subjected to torture before they were killed and what is the cause of the death? Were they shot or where they stabbed or, worse, if they were chainsawed, especially the second because there were reports the victim was a victim of the ‘chainsaw killings’ but that has yet to be confirmed,” De Lima said.

Arroyo administration knew

In December 2009, De Lima, then chair of the Commission on Human Rights, said the Arroyo administration knew about the chainsaw killings and other alleged atrocities committed by the Ampatuan clan even before the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, on November 23, 2009.

She said the “chainsaw killings” were revealed in an anonymous letter signed by a group calling itself the Concerned People’s Organization, which reportedly revealed alleged inhumane acts of the Ampatuans.  She said the letter was first received by the office of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on August 11, 2008 which then referred the letter to the Office of the Ombudsman which then passed it on to the CHR.

She said she immediately sent a memorandum to its regional office in Mindanao to look into the allegations in the letter. She said the regional office tried to look for witnesses but failed.

De Lima had earlier told reporters the Ampatuans have been linked to at least 200 murders in Maguindanao, an allegation the Ampatuans denied.

The Ampatuans were loyal supporters of President Arroyo who were credited for having helped her win in the 2004 elections.

Exhumations

Skeletal remains of alleged victims of summary execution when the Ampatuans were in power in
Maguindanao were exhumed on Thursday and Friday following a tip-off from witnesses and search warrants.

Security was tight in the area of exhumation, with troops backed up by armored personnel carriers.

The exhumations were done by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Military Mechanized Battalion based in Maguindanao.

In Barangay Bagong in Shariff Aguak town, skeletal remains were exhumed on Thursday while in a property known to be owned by the Ampatuans in Datu Hoffer town, the skeletal remains and a handcuff were exhumed using a backhoe.

Also unearthed were the clothes of the victim, slippers, bracelet and other items that could help authorities identify the victim.

Shariff Aguak is the hometown of the Ampatuans and has been ruled by the Ampatuans for decades. The Ampatuan patriarch, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr. served as vice mayor and later mayor of the town, succeeded by his son, Datu Zaldy, who was succeed by his brother Datu Anwar. The latter served as mayor until shortly after the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, ended their political careers.

The patriarch, who served as governor of Maguindanao from 2001 to 2009 and his sons Zaldy and Anwar, are presently detained in Taguig City, Metro Manila, along with the principal suspect, his namesake, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., and youngest son Datu Sajid, and son-in-law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan .

Because of information that firearms were also buried, authorities also dug up within the vicinity of the house of Bapa Cambong along the highway of Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

The alleged owner of the house, however, no longer lived there.

But even before the team could find anything, Rebecca, the eldest daughter of  Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his first wife Laila Uy, arrived, complaining the operatives did not coordinate wtih barangay officials.

“Bakit wala man lang mga barangay officials? Mahirap na baka lagyan nila ng ebidensya dyan,” (Why are there no barangay officials here? They might plant evidences here,” she asked.

Rebecca’s husband is Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, former mayor of Mamasapano town who was appointed Maguindanao vice governor in January 2009. His son Bahnarin, then his vice mayor, assumed the mayoralty and is among the suspects behind the massacre. The son remains at large. The incumbent mayor is another son.

The search in the premises, aided by metal detectors, yielded negative results .

The camp of Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu recently applied for search warrants allegedly in response to the cases of mysterious disappearances of persons deemed enemies of the Ampatuans and believed to have been killed and buried.   (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)

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