Ampatuan massacre ‘star witness’ escapes second slay try

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 3 June) – A vital witness in the grisly Ampatuan massacre escaped Wednesday a second slay try in a span of less than three months, prompting a main protagonist in the case to call on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to release the resolution involving the second set of suspects in the carnage that took the lives of 58 persons, including 32 media workers.

Children of the media victims in the infamous Ampatuan massacre cry for justice. MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Mohammad Sangki, who is under the protection of the DOJ’s Witness Protection Program (WPP), survived the attack, along with his security escort, but not their driver in Barangay Bukaypait in nearby Tantangan, South Cotabato before Wednesday noon.

Col. Jemuel Siason, South Cotabato police director, identified the slain victim as Richard Escovilla, a DOJ driver detailed to the WPP.

He said a pursuit operation was launched against the suspects who reportedly used a black sports utility vehicle and fled towards the direction of this city after firing on the victim’s Toyota Innova car.

Siason said Sangki and the security escort, who was able to fire back, were not hit by bullets.

Former Maguindanao governor and now Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu condemned the attack on Sangki, whom he described as an important witness in the Ampatuan Massacre case.

“Mohammad Sangki was among those who gave vital testimonies against Unsay and the other suspects,” Mangudadatu told MindaNews in a phone interview.

Mangudadatu was referring to Andal Ampatuan Jr., one of the principal suspects in the gruesome massacre, the worst election-related violence in the country and the single deadliest attack against media workers in the world.

Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn and several female family members were among the victims of the bloodbath on November 23, 2009 in a hilly portion of Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

Last December, more than 10 years after the massacre, the court found Andal Jr. and his brother Zaldy, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, guilty for 57 counts of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison without parole.

At least 198 individuals were charged, including former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., who died from sickness in 2015 while in custody, for the massacre.

Based on the December court ruling, 43 suspects were found guilty while 56 others were acquitted. Of the 43, 28 were given a sentence of reclusion perpetua (40 years) without parole and 15 others sentenced to 6 to 10 years as accessories to the crime.

Mangudadatu said the second wave of suspects has yet to be promulgated, and with the second attempt to kill Sangki, the DOJ must release its resolution on the case urgently.

“He is a vital witness and some of the suspects in the second wave are still at large. The life of this witness is in grave danger [while awaiting the total closure of the case],” Mangudadatu said.

For those convicted, Andal Jr. and Zaldy, among others, have appealed their verdicts.

On March 17, unidentified armed men also fired on Sangki and his companions who were on board a van traversing near the provincial police headquarters of Maguindanao in Shariff Aguak town.

On today’s attack, Nena Santos, a lawyer for Mangudadatu and several of the media victims, said Sangki’s group came from Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat en route to the airport in General Santos City for his flight to Metro Manila.

She urged the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct a deeper probe on the slay attempt on Sangki and those of the other witnesses who were ambushed or killed while the trial is ongoing.

Sangki is an uncle of Rasul Sangki, who was the vice mayor of Ampatuan town in 2009 and also a prosecution star witness.

Santos called for justice and prayer for Escovilla, the slain driver, saying he has been serving as driver for prosecution witnesses since 2009.

Sangki and the unidentified security escort were brought to a hospital in this city to treat their bruises. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)