COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/23 January) – Members of prominent political clans here and in Maguindanao province have joined forces to condemn what they claimed as “political harassment” after they were included as among the 50 new suspects in the infamous Ampatuan Massacre case.
Thousands of their supporters staged an indignation rally here on Thursday, marching along Sinsuat Avenue, which was temporarily closed to traffic, to decry their inclusion to the brutal manslaughter.
Former Talayan, Maguindanao mayor Datu Ali Midtimbang blamed Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu for allegedly being behind their inclusion to the massacre case.
Midtimbang is the father-in-law of Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), who along with his father Andal Sr., brother Andal Jr. and several other clan members allegedly masterminded the carnage that killed 58 people, including 32 media workers, in Ampatuan town on November 23, 2009.
“Just because I am the father-in-law of Zaldy Ampatuan I am involved in the massacre? I am innocent, I am a victim of political harassment,” he said.
In a press briefing, lawyer Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, Cotabato City administrator and former ARMM solicitor general in the Ampatuan administration, lambasted former Datu Salibo mayor Akmad Ampatuan, now a key prosecution witness, for tagging her in the new batch of suspects.
Guiani-Sayadi earlier challenged those who implicated her to the Ampatuan Massacre case to swear before the Quran to show who is telling the truth.
Apparently trying to destroy Akmad Ampatuan’s credibility, she stressed that he is facing robbery and murder charges, the latter a non-bailable offense.
She distributed to the media copies of warrants of arrest against Akmad Ampatuan, who could not be reached for comment.
Guiani-Sayadi stressed she was included in the new batch of suspects because she expressed desire to seek an elective post in Maguindanao in next year’s elections, as district representative.
The political rivals of Mangudadatu who joined the indignation rally include former Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Tocao Mastura, Rajah Buayan Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan, his brother Jack who is included in the list, Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan, former Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Nano Ampatuan and several others included in the latest charge sheet.
They attended the event to denounce what they believed “was the unjust use of the Ampatuan Massacre case for the political gains of Mangudadatu.”
Along a highway in Maguindanao, from Talayan to Guindulungan where the Midtimbangs dominate, streamers and posters condemning Mangudadatu were visible.
The same streamers were carried by the rally participants at the city plaza.
In his speech, Datu Midpantao Midtimbang, the town mayor of Guindulungan and brother of Datu Ali, stressed the latest move of the Mangudadatu camp has created a bigger gap in the aim of promoting unity and reconciliation among the Moro people in the province.
The protesting group is urging the national government to look into the issue and called on the justice department to fast track the case so that it will not be used in politics.
Governor Mangudadatu earlier denied he orchestrated the filing of charges against 50 individuals.
“We are the victims here seeking justice. The witnesses named them and it was backed by evidences. It’s up to them to clear their names at the court,” he said.
Mangudadatu lost his wife Genalyn and several female family members in the Ampatuan Massacre.
Meanwhile, the governor accepted Guiani-Sayadi’s challenge to test who is telling the truth in a higher form of “truth telling.”
He even elevated Guiani-Sayadi’s challenge for them to swear before the Quran, saying it is best if the swearing is done in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Mangudadatu offered to shoulder the expenses in going there.
“I dare them to perform with me the “yamin” (swearing before the Quran) right at the black stone of Kaaba. I will swear at Baitullah (House of Allah) that I did not accuse any of the 50 new suspects and that if I am guilty of falsehood, I would implore that all my good deeds, including my 13 hajj performances, be eroded and that I die right there,” he said.