November 26, 2009

Ampatuan Massacre Story

The Maguindanao massacre, also known as the Ampatuan massacre (after the town where the mass graves were found), occurred on the morning of November 23, 2009, in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. The victims were about to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town. Mangudadatu was challenging Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., son of the incumbent Maguindanao governor Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr., in the forthcoming Maguindanao gubernatorial election,[1] part of the national elections in 2010. Those killed included Mangudadatu's wife, his two sisters, lawyers, aides, and motorists who were witnesses or were mistakenly identified as part of the convoy.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called the Maguindanao massacre the single deadliest event for journalists in history. At least 34 journalists are known to have died in the massacre.In a statement, CPJ executive director Joel Simon noted that the killings, "appears to be single deadliest event for the press since 1992, when CPJ began keeping detailed records on journalist deaths." The CPJ further noted that, "Even as we tally the dead in this horrific massacre, our initial research indicates that this is the deadliest single attack on the press ever documented by CPJ."

Even before the Maguindanao massacre, the CPJ had labeled the Philippines the second most dangerous country for journalists, second only to Iraq.


The Ampatuans had been in control of Maguindanao since 2001. Andal Ampatuan, Sr. came first into prominence when President Corazon Aquino appointed him as officer-in-charge of Maganoy (now Shariff Aquak) in 1986 right after the People Power Revolution. Aquino, having come into power via revolutionary means, replaced every locally-elected official with officers-in-charge, although the town of Maganoy was approached differently; the ageing mayor, Pinagayaw Ampatuan, was replaced by his vice mayor, Andal Sr. He won the 1988 local elections, then served for ten years. In the 1998 elections, Andal Sr. was elected as governor.

Members of Lakas-Kampi-CMD, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo lists Andal Sr., as a major ally in Mindanao. Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) regional governor Zaldy Ampatuan was the party's regional chairman. Andal Sr., the family patriarch, has been provincial governor since 1998; he has been elected thrice, unopposed. Eighteen of the mayors in Maguindanao belong to the clan. The elder Ampatuan attributed his popularity to "popular support," adding "Because I am so loved by the constituencies of the municipalities, they ask me to have my sons as representatives." In the 2004 presidential elections, Arroyo won 69% of Maguindanao's vote; three years later, the party-backed coalition scored a 12-0 sweep of the senatorial elections in the province. Unable to run for a third term, he is currently grooming his son, Andal, Jr., to succeed him as governor.

With escalating tensions in the province, Arroyo, as head of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD, mediated between the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus (both are from the same party) to prevent election-related violence. Three meetings were held in mid-2009, with one meeting hosted by then Secretary of National Defense and current party chairman Gilberto Teodoro, who is running to succeed Arroyo as president. Arroyo's adviser for political affairs Gabriel Claudio, disclosed that there was an initial agreement "in principle" that no Mangudadatu would contest Ampatuan Sr.'s gubernatorial post.

Two days before the incident, the mass grave was prepared using a backhoe emblazoned with the name of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., and apparently owned by the Ampatuan family.


Location of Buluan, the origin of the convoy, in Maguindanao.
Location of Shariff Aguak, the destination of the convoy, in Maguindanao.
Location of Ampatuan, the location where the massacre took place, in Maguindanao.

Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu invited 37 journalists to cover the scheduled filing of his certificate of candidacy (COC) at the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak. He said reports had reached him that his rivals had threatened to chop him into pieces once he filed his COC, and felt the presence of journalists would deter such an attack.

A local report states that at about 9:00 AM, a convoy of six vehicles carrying journalists, lawyers, and relatives of Vice Mayor Mangudadatu leaves Buluan to file his COC at the Comelec office in Shariff Aguak. The convoy is composed of six vehicles: four Toyota Grandia vans (one grey, one green, and two white) owned by the Mangudadatu family; and two media vehicles – a Pajero owned by DZRH broadcast journalist Henry Araneta and a Mitsubishi L-300 van owned by UNTV. There is a seventh vehicle, a Grandia boarded by mediamen. But it lags behind and decides to turn around once the passengers sense what is happening. There are two other vehicles that are not part of the convoy but happen to be traveling on the same highway: a red Toyota Vios and a light blue Toyota Tamaraw FX. The Vios has five passengers: Eduardo Lechonsito, a government employee who is bound for a hospital in Cotabato City after suffering a mild stroke Monday morning. He is with his wife Cecille, co-workers Mercy Palabrica and Daryll delos Reyes, and driver Wilhelm Palabrica. The FX is driven by Anthony Ridao, employee of the National Statistics Coordination Board, and son of Cotabato City councilor Marino Ridao.

Before reaching its destination (about 10 km from Shariff Aguak, four on other versions), the convoy was stopped by 100 armed men, who abducted and later killed most or all of its members. There is evidence that some female victims were tortured and beheaded.

In a text message sent by Mangudadatu's wife to him, she identified the people that blocked their way as the men of Ampatuan Jr, and that he himself slapped her. The female victims were shot in their genitals, according to Secretary of Justice Agnes Devanadera. According to Mangudadatu, his wife's "private parts were slashed four times, after which they fired a bullet into it." In addition, he said that "They speared both of her eyes, shot both her breasts, cut off her feet, fired into her mouth."

A backhoe located in the immediate vicinity of the carnage at Ampatuan town was identified as the instrument that was used to expediently dig the graves of the victims, including the vehicles. The perpetrators weren't able to complete the job when a helicopter was spotted in the area. The backhoe, emblazoned with the name of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., was later identified to belong to the Maguindanao provincial government.

As of November 25, the death toll had risen to 57, as confirmed by Chief Superintendent Josefino Cataluna of the Philippine National Police. Reporters Without Borders announced that at least 12 of the victims were journalists, making this the deadliest such incident in the history of news media. The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines originally estimated that a total of 20 journalists were killed, including an undisclosed number of NUJP members. The Philippine Daily Inquirer later updated the number of journalists killed to 34.

On November 24, Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo responded to the news of the massacre by declaring a state of emergency in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City. Speaker of the House Prospero Nograles called on the police to quickly identify the perpetrators of the massacre and disarm private armies.The Philippine Department of Justice created a panel of special prosecutors to handle cases arising from the massacre.

more photos here.

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