REMEMBERING NOV. 23: MASSACRE PUZZLE PIECED TOGETHER
MASSACRE PUZZLE PIECED TOGETHER
|Seven of the 57 victims killed in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre, including 32 journalists, in Sitio Masalay, Bgy. Salman, town of Ampatuan, Province of Maguindanao|
(NOTE: THIS IS A RE-PUBLICATION OF THIS STORY WRITTEN ALMOST TWO YEARS AGO, IN REMEMBERING THE BLACKEST DAY OF THE WORLD PRESS.)
MASSACRE PUZZLE PIECED TOGETHER
By BERTENI "TOTO" CATALUÑA CAUSING
The rise of Mangudadatu
In March 2009, Congressman Pax Mangudadatu of Sultan Kudarat province expressed desire for his family to run for governor of Maguindanao province.
A retired chief of Land Transportation Office in South Cotabato, Pax has endeared himself among the Christians, Ilonggos and Ilocanos in the provinces of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.
|Toto Mangudadatu and wife Gigi during happier times.|
Pax has been known as a very helpful official and so approachable. It has been said that when he helps, he helps until the problem is solved.
Pax also pitched in financial aid for former world boxing champion Rolando Navarette when the latter was in 50-50 in the hospital after having been stabbed with a butcher’s knife that pierced even his heart.
After leaving the LTO, Pax became ran for mayor of Lutayan town and served for three straight for terms. He transformed the lowest-class municipality into one that is first-class. He did this by harnessing the potentials of Lake Buluan.
Knowing from Japanese researches that the lake can support fish for 50 years without any feeds, he embarked into a massive tilapia growing and breeding. In less than a year, harvests by the tons invited containers vans coming to Lutayan everyday to buy tilapia. This dramatically transformed Lutayan economically.
|Toto cries over the dead body of his wife.|
During his reign as mayor, he ruled with a heart to all Muslims and Christians of the town. It was only during his time that the town became organized and where you see Christians and Muslims living together as neighbors.
While he was graduating from the mayorship, Pax thought of running for governor of Sultan Kudarat province and pushed through with the plan despite knowing that the province’s Christian voters who may be alienated by his candidacy comprise 75% of all voters.
But Pax never wavered. Big hopes must have been in his eyes.
Armed with his performance, he campaigned in all barangays of the province and won by an uncomfortable province. He failed to win in the big places, Tacurong City and Isulan.
His governance showed better performance than all Ilonggo or Ilocano leaders who came before him. When he ran for the second term, he won in Tacurong for the next two elections.
During his third term as governor, his son Teng also won to become the province’s congressman after serving well as Lutayan mayor. In 2007 elections, Pax ran for congressman and Teng ran for governor. Both won.
Stirring the hornet’s nest
In March of 2009, Pax expressed desire for the Mangudadatu family to run for governor of Maguindanao. This stirred the hornet’s nest.
Since that announcement, the friendly relations between the Mangudadatu family and the Ampatuan clan turned sour.
|Gloria feasts on crabs beside Zaldy Ampatuan.|
The Ampatuans must have been alarmed by the announcement of Pax because they know that he has the capacity to meet them although they belittle his power if arms, goons and towns held were to be pitted against each other.
The Mangudadatus are second to Ampatuans in terms of the number of towns held. The former established forth in towns surrounding and near Lake Buluan.
With this, the Ampatuans got agitated and worried everyday. They then tried everything they could to discourage the Mangudadatu’s from running for governor.
Among those that have got Ampatuans worried are the facts that so many Muslim families whose relatives were killed and whose lands were grabbed would side the Mangudadatus and these would earn some capacity to take revenge.
It has been an open secret among Maguindanaoans that Ampatuans have ruled the province by the grip of extreme fear. In fact, plenty of natives there abandoned the area and found life in Metro Manila to escape the atrocities pointed to the Ampatuans as the perpetrators.
Among the stories that floated are the claims that many ordinary Muslims were executed in public plazas to send fear to the others that anybody who would cross the paths of Ampatuans will suffer the worst fate. Many of those executed were said to have been massacred using chainsaw, a machine used in cutting trees.
As written by Father Jun Mercado, an OMI missionary who has been in the place for more than three decades to learn first hand the feudal reigns of clans in Maguindanao, the clans there live on four Gs: guns, gold, goons and Gloria.
True enough, the Ampatuans were able to organize their virtual “private army” by masking it with the name “Civilian Volunteers Organization,” which, in the language of Gloria’s Executive Order No. 546, was organized to help fight the rebels.
The beginning of maneuvers
The Ampatuans tried all maneuvers, legally and clandestinely, to discourage the Mangudadatus from running for governor.
|Andal Ampatuan Sr.|
By this time, it was already known to them that the one to be fielded by the Mangudadatus for the governorship would be Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu, the vice-mayor of Buluan town.
Everybody in the province was actually excited to see how the Mangudadatu challenge the Ampatuans.
Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. left the office of governor to the care of his vice-governor son, Sajid. This plan had to alternative objectives. One was to enable him to run for governor again and the other was to prepare his sons, Sajid or Andal Jr., to the position. He was hoping that the three-term limit would not apply to him because he resigned, although this is legally infirm. And if this would not be possible, he would have a fallback position that it would still be one of his sons who would become governor, anyway.
Actually, before he left the office of governor, it was said that Andal Sr. went to Malacañang to seek advice from a close Arroyo aide as to what to do in order for him to continue reigning as governor of Maguindanao. He was advised that it was only through a martial rule that would prevent the elections from occurring for his family to continue reigning by the principle of holdover as appointee of the President.
|Andal Ampatuan Jr.|
Thus, when he went back to Maguindanao, called in his sons, siblings, nephews and grandson and brainwashed them that if the governorship will go other families, it would be a misery for the entire clan.
So they hatched their plots.
As such, warning were sent to the Mangudadatus that if they persist in running for governor, they would be killed once they set foot on Shariff Aguak, formerly Maganoy, the capital town of the province.
To ensure that they can control who would file candidacies for different provincial positions, they want the filing to be done in Shariff Aguak.
As Father Jun Mercado would put it in his blog, “Maguindanao Massacre 1,” three weeks before the November 23 massacre, the Commission on Elections came up with a resolution directing the transfer of its satellite office from Cotabato City to the Provincial Capitol in Shariff Aguak.
|Andal Sr. and son Zaldy, then ARMM governor|
Father Mercado wrote that another Comelec resolution was issued directing all provincial candidates to file their certificates of candidacies at the capitol.
The priest described that the twin resolutions looked innocent if it were done outside Maguindanao. But those in the know would show the logic why it was made so: to control the Comelec and the elections on the ground.
For these resolutions, Father Mercado faulted the Comelec for it cannot be said to be innocent, considering the occurrences in the 2004 elections where the extremely-popular presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. got zero votes in several municipalities and in the 2007 elections where all the senatorial candidates of Gloria won, paving the way for Miguel Zubiri to grab the 12th Senate spot from Koko Pimentel, son of Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
A day before the massacre
On November 22, a witness who surfaced to tell the truth said that Andal Ampatuan Sr. held a meeting on how to go about the news that Buluan Vice-Mayor Toto Mangudadatu would file his certificate of candidacy for governor on November 23.
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In his affidavit submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Kenny Dalandag, a member of the Ampatuans’ private army, narrated that on that day, Andal Sr. talked to Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, Acting Maguindanao Gov. Sajid Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan, Saudi Ampatuan Jr., Ban and Ulo Ampatuan inside his mansion in Shariff Aguak.
The conclusion of the meeting was that all of Mangudadatus would be killed.
“Kung dumaan ang mga Mangudadatu, ubusin sila lahat, pati mga bata, walang itirang buhay kahit isa (If the Mangudadatus pass through, wipe them out, including the children, don’t leave anyone alive),” Andal Sr. ordered as quoted by Dalandag.
Dalandag’s affidavit was reported by GMA News’ John Consulta over the “24 Oras" news program.
The day of massacre
About 9:00 am of November 23, the convoy tasked to file the certificate of candidacy of Toto Mangudadatu left Buluan town for Shariff Aguak, the provincial capital.
The convoy was made up of seven vehicles carrying journalists, lawyers, and relatives of Toto.
The convoy passed through Tacurong City, then Isulan town and the town of Esperanza. The town next to Esperanza is Datu Piang then Ampatuan.
The convoy was composed of two media vehicles as the lead vehicles—a Mitsubishi L-300 van owned by UNTV and a Pajero owned by dzRH broadcast journalist Henry Araneta, four Toyota Grandia vans (one grey, one green, and two white) owned by the Mangudadatu family; and a tailing Toyota vehicle driven by Sandamen Rajah Ali, and another Toyota van carrying supporters of the Mangudadatu family.
There were two vehicles that were not part of the convoy but happened to be traveling on the same highway. These vehicles are a red Toyota Vios and a light blue Toyota Tamaraw FX.
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The Vios had five passengers, namely: Eduardo Lechonsito, a government employee bound for a hospital in Cotabato City for a mild stroke, his wife Cecille, co-workers Mercy Palabrica and Daryll delos Reyes, and driver Wilhelm Palabrica.
The FX was driven by Anthony Ridao, an employee of the National Statistics Coordination Board. He was with his son of Cotabato City councilor Marino Ridao.
Ali said he purposely maintained a distance of 20 meters from the last car in the convoy. Little did he know that this would save him and his passengers.
Nevertheless, the wide distance between Ali and the last car in the convoy enabled one of the two vehicles not part of the convoy overtook and inserted itself between Ali’s car and the last car in the convoy.
Two of Ali’s passengers, Basit Laguia and Judge Mamasalanang, also testified they were separated only by a Toyota car from the main convoy.
By the time the convoy was in Tacurong, it was reported that Police Inspector Sukarno Dicay radioed Andal Jr. about its whereabouts.
By this time, the police checkpoint was already set up by Dicay on Ampatuan highway.
It was about 10:00 a.m. that the main convoy was stopped at the checkpoint on Sitio Malating in Ampatuan, which was yet about four kilometers from the provincial capitol.
In their separate affidavits, Dicay and Police Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon, both PNP officers assigned to man the checkpoint, they stopped the vehicles for a routine inspection.
As they were about to do the routine inspection, they said that a group of about 100 armed men appeared and commandeered the vehicles.
Both policemen identified Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. as among the armed men.
Kill ‘em all
Another witness, vice mayor Rasul Sangki, who claimed to have witnessed the killing, also came out to say his piece.
Sangki said in his affidavit that while beside Andal Jr., he said the son radioing his father after receiving information from Inspector Dicay, deputy chief of the Maguindanao provincial police office, that the convoy had already been intercepted in Sitio Malating.
|Andal Jr. inside the NBI jail|
Sangki said that Andal Jr. asked Dicay if any in the convoy was armed. She said that Dicay replied in the negative and said they were mostly women.
At that point, Sangki said that Andal Jr. then radioed his father, Andal Sr., as saying: “Father, they're already here.”
To this, Sangki said he heard the voice of Andal Sr. from the radio telling his son, Andal Jr.: “Son, you already know what you must do.”
Sangki said that Datu Unsay (Andal Jr.’s native name) then pulled out two women from the van.
Sangki identified the two women as Bai Eden and Bai Farina, sisters of the Buluan vice-mayor.
“(Andal Jr.) forcibly dragged them and loaded them in a black (Toyota) Revo owned by Datu Kanor Ampatuan,” Sangki said.
Witness Dalandag, for his part, said Andal Jr. also dragged Mangudadatu's wife, Bai Gigi, out of the car.
|Bodies covered with banana leaves litter.|
“She was holding a cellphone as if talking to somebody, Datu Unsay slapped her," Dalandag said, adding he witnessed the actual killing and how the victims were buried using a backhoe.
This story of Dalandag jibed with the much earlier claim of Toto that his wife called him to tell him the convoy was stopped and that he was slapped by Andal Jr.
Other witnesses said that Andal Jr., in maong jeans and black upper wear, approached the convoy while carrying a baby Armalite mounted with an M203 grenade launcher.
These witnesses said that Andal Jr. then looked for the wife of Toto Mangudadatu. As he found the vehicle, he ordered her to step down and ordered the rest to lie face down.
|Atty. Connie Jayme Brizuela|
Witnesses said that the three women were then boarded on two separate vehicles.
Thereafter, the drivers of the vans and other vehicles were replaced by the companions of Andal Jr.
And they began to drive the vehicles toward the massacre site, two kilometers away from the highway.
The last vehicle in the convoy escaped
Ali, Laguia, and Mamasalanang stated in their affidavits that when the convoy was accosted, they stepped out of their car “to urinate and at the same time observe the scenario.”
They claimed they saw Andal Jr. approach the vehicle where Genalyn Mangudadatu was boarded.
|Friends from Mindanao State University visit the grave of Atty. Cynthia Oquiendo and her father in Polomolok, South Cotabato.|
Thereafter, they claimed that they heard several gunshots. At that point, they said they rushed back to their car, made a u-turn and drove back to the town of Esperanza. They did not know now what happened next.
Driven to the massacre site
Commandeered by the armed men, the vehicles in the convoy, as well as the Vios and the FX, were driven to a hilly part of Sitio Magating in Brgy. Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
|Bodies being dug up by the backhoe used to bury them|
Almost no one was living in the said place.
Witnesses said it took 30 minutes to reach the area from the highway although it is only 2.5 kilometers from the highway checkpoint where the victims were abducted.
Witnesses saw a heavy-duty backhoe at the site and there were three open dumps, which turned out later to be the mass graves for the massacre victims and their vehicles.
About 11:00 a.m.
Nevertheless, the claim of Toto that his wife called him to tell that she was slapped by Andal Jr. jibed with the stories of other witnesses.
The escapees from the convoy helped convince an Army again.
The Philippine Army responded and sent foot soldiers to search for the convoy.
It was also reported that 25-year-old Noel Decena of the Koronadal-based weekly, Periodico Ini, who was among those who were massacred managed to send a text message to his brother, Joseph Decena, who was then in Midsayap.
|Mass mass for the victims|
The message read: “Lab, i-ampo ko diri kay naa na mi diri sa Ampatuan. I-pray mo kami dito. Kritikal amo sitwasyon diri. (Lab, we’re here already at Ampatuan. Pray for us here. Our situation is critical).”
This means that by this time, it was possible that the massacre had not yet occurred.
Andal Jr. started the fire
There at the massacre site, witnesses said that the women were separated from the men.
Thereafter, the men who were grouped were seen to be begging for their lives as they already sensed what would be done on them.
|Andal Jr. is smiling as if nothing happened|
Armed with the M-16 rifle with mounted M203, witnesses said that Andal Jr. opened fire at the male group, killing them instantly.
But his M-16 jammed. At that point, witnesses said that Andal Jr. took the K3, a Korean-made machine gun, to finish off the job.
It was also said that aside from Andal Jr., other Ampatuans also opened fire at the victims.
The women were said to have been killed later. The fact that they were finished off later gave a possible time for the rape to have occurred. Actually, forensic experts reported that traces of semen were found in at least five women victims.
In the testimonies of a child assassin who admitted to have killed more than 100 persons all upon the orders of the Ampatuans, particularly ARMM Gov. Zaldy, revealed that Datu Unsay or Andal Jr. has the habit of snatching somebody’s wife in front of the husband. Those husbands who resisted were killed instantly. This child assassin added that when the Ampatuans were giving orders, anybody who asked a question was killed right away. This child assassin revealed that in all the jobs tasked for him to do he never asked questions.
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A witness who is close to Andal Jr. said in the affidavit that systematically kill the hostages, shooting them at close range with rapid-fire weapons.
The killers start dumping the bodies and vehicles into the mass graves, and begin covering up the site using the backhoe.
The killings and subsequent burials take just over an hour, according to the masked witness interviewed on Al Jazeera, a news organization based in the Middle East.
This witness claimed to be one of the armed men ordered to do the killing but was bothered by his conscience.
|Dicay and Diongon, two police officers who abandoned duties.|
About 3:00 p.m.
According to the said Al Jazeera witness, Andal Jr. received a call warning them of approaching Army soldiers.
With this, the killers hurriedly fled the scene just before Army soldiers arrive, leaving behind two dozens of unburied victims and their vehicles and the backhoe used to dig the graves and burry the victims.
It was said that while the Army troops were still approaching about one kilometer from the crime scene, they heard the backhoe’s engine roar and saw the engine smoke.
But when they reached the site, not one killer was found in the area.
On their way to the massacre site, the Army soldiers intercepted two men armed with an M16 rifle and a Gauge 12 shotgun. This was according to lead investigator PNP Chief Supt Felecisimo Khu Jr.
But jurisdiction issues made the Army decide to turn over the two armed men to government authorities who subsequently released them.
|NPC president Jerry Yap, middle, leads rally for justice at NPC grounds during the remembering of the massacre on Nov. 23, 2011.|
The two, identified as Esmail Canapia and Takpan Dilon, later admitted to have gone to the massacre site and Dilon was even ordered to fire his M-16 rifle at the victims.
In their affidavits, Dilon said:
"Matapos yung putok na iyon, bumaba kami. Tapos nandoon si Datu Unsay. May hawak silang baril," Dilon said, adding Andal Jr., was accompanied by several armed men. (After that shot, we alighted from our vehicle. We saw Datu Unsay there. He was armed.)
Dilon and Canapia identified themselves as members of the CVO who were arrested in Maguindanao last week over their failure to produce permits to carry firearms.
Dilon admitted firing his gun at the victims, but argued that he did not kill anyone as the bodies were already lifeless when he was ordered to shoot them.
He said: “Tambak-tambak yung patay na pinagbabaril nila. Tapos yun ang pinababaril nila sa akin (They asked me to fire at the bodies of those they killed).
"Alanganin ako magpaputok, sir, sabi ko. Sabi nila, 'Eh patay na yung papuputukan mo. Bakit hindi mo ipaputok yung baril mo? (I was hesitant to shoot but they told me: ‘Why don’t you shoot them? They are already dead anyway’).”
Aside from Andal Jr. and Kanor, who were implicated by Dilon, Canapia confessed seeing in the area a certain “Datu Ban.”
Canapia insisted he did not fire his gun at the victims.
The graves and retrieval of bodies and vehicles
When the Army soldiers arrived in the crime scene, they saw 22 of the victims lying dead on the ground or in the vehicles. Soon after, they discovered the newly-covered graves.
From the three grave sites were recovered the following:
(1) In Grave 1 were recovered 24 of the victims, including three of the five Vios passengers, FX Tamaraw driver, Anthony Ridao, Genalyn Mangdadatu, Eden Mangudadatu, and Farina Mangudadatu;
(2) In Grave 2 were recovered six others along with three of vehicles, crushed by the backhoe before being buried: the Vios, L-300 and the Tamaraw-FX; and
(3) In Grave 3 were five people.
The first two graves were said to be 10 to 12 feet deep. The third was about five feet deep.
It was also said that the bodies were buried in alternate layers of soil alongside the vehicles, in a way which was “intended to make things difficult” for investigators, Khu said.
All in all, 35 victims were found buried in the three graves, while 22 were found on the ground or inside vehicles, for a total of 57 fatalities.
There were still three to four unidentified bodies, and at least four persons still missing, including a journalist of UNTV who has remained unaccounted for until this writing.
Of the 57 dead, 30 are journalists, making it as the deadliest single event for the press in the Philippines and in the world. It also made the Philippines as the world's worst place for the journalist, according to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The weapons used and the manner of killing
According to the investigators, at least six different M16 rifles were used in shooting but not necessarily used to kill.
Khu said that this is based on an analysis of the 126 empty 5.56mm shells, four spent bullets, one live bullet, and a metal fragment found at the site.
He said that at least one of the M16 rifles was belt-fed, possibly a Shrike mini-M16 rifle. This, he said, was indicated by the discovery at the site of 32 pieces of ammo link chains.
|Seal of Press Freedom|
He said that it appeared all the victims were killed by M16 bullets, except for Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, who was killed with a shotgun.
Khu said that Reblando was found hogtied in the driver’s seat of the Pajero owned by DzRH’s Henry Araneta.
Khu also said that at least one M14 rifle was used, based on the discovery of three empty 7.62mm shells.
He added that at least one AK47 rifle was used, based on the discovery of one 7.62mm empty shell.
The investigators, Khu said, were yet not clear whether bladed weapons were used in the massacre.
At least, one was certain. Khu said that none of the retrieved bodies were beheaded.
Khu said that most if not all of the female victims’ pants were unzipped. This was initially attributed either to the possibility that they were frisked for valuables or to the natural bloating that bodies undergo in the hours after death.
Subsequent post-mortem investigations revealed that five of the 21 female victims tested positive for traces of semen. However, it has yet to be determined if these resulted from rape by the perpetrators of the crime. Investigators have declared this as “presumptive” evidence of sexual abuse pending further tests.
So far, he said, only one of the female victims has been declared positive for sexual abuse.
Khu added that at least some of the victims were shot in the genital area. Others were mutilated. Many were shot in the face, rendering them virtually unrecognizable.
The backhoe and prime mover truck
The yellow-colored backhoe left at the scene was confirmed to have been stamped with the words “Property of the Province of Maguindanao - Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr.”
|The backhoe used to bury the victims and vehicles digging them up|
News footage clearly showed the model number of the backhoe as PC-300, manufactured under the Komatsu brand.
According to Khu, the backhoe was assigned to at least three drivers, namely: Hamid Dilayuden, Efren Macanas, and Albert Panganiban.
Investigators also identified the driver of a prime mover truck that was supposed to carry the backhoe to and from the burial site as one Pedro Sodolig.
Dilayuden and Sodolig remained at large at press time while Macanas and Panganiban were already in the custody of the NBI and PNP, respectively.
There was no official statement from the drivers as yet.