Considered by Reporters Without Boarders, an international press freedom organization that tracks violent deaths of journalists worldwide, as the bloodiest day in the history of journalism around the world.
Incident. On 23 November 2009 (Monday) in Ampatuan town, about a hundred armed men blocked a convoy, led by Genalyn Mangudadatu, wife of Buluan town Vice Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu, while on their way to Shariff Aguak town to file Ismael’s certificate of candidacy for the gubernatorial post, opposite reigning mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr, in the 2010 polls. The attackers abducted the Mangudadatu women and their companions.
The bloodbath occurred on a remote hill several kilometers from the highway, with some women sexually molested before they were shot and others beheaded. The many civilians were then buried, in a mass grave, including the vehicles.
The members of the convoy numbered between 40 and 46 people. From these people, only four surved. Over 30 journalists from various parts of South Cotabato province joined the convoy. They based mostly in General Santos City and Koronadal.
Twenty-four people were confirmed killed (body recovered). Other reports pegged the casualty at 36.
Background. The journalists in the convoy intended to cover the event, considered a major news in the province as the Ampatuan family has not been challenged politically in the province. The vice mayor sent his female relatives in the belief that his political rivals would not hurt them in Shariff Aguak, renowned Ampatuan turf, and considering the Islamic tradition to respect women.
Victims. Civilians (at least 12)–Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu, two Mangungudatu sisters, and two lawyers (National Union of People’s Lawyers). Journalists (13) [National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and Reporters Sans Frontieres reported 26 journalists died]–Alejandro Reblando (Manila Bulletin), Henry Araneta (DZRH), Bart Maravilla (Bombo Radyo Koronadal), Nap Salaysay (DZRO), Ian Subang (Pilipino Star Ngayon and Dadiangas Times) and freelance reporters Humberto Mumay, Ranie Razon, Noel Decena, John Caniba, Joel Parcon, Marife Montano, Art Belia and Jun Legarta. Unaccounted for–Joy Duhay (UNTV), Victor Nunez (UNTV), Macario Ariola (UNTV), Jimmy Cabillo (UNTV), Leah Dalmacio (Mindanao Focus), Gina de la Cruz (Today), Marites Cablitas (Today), Andy Teodoro (Mindanao Inquirer), Bienvenido Lagarte (Sierra News), Neneng Montano (Saksi), and Rey Merescon (MindaNews).
Andal Ampatuan Sr., Maguindanao’s present governor, has ruled the province with the backing of a private army since 2001.
Suspects. Mastermind: (1) Andal Ampatuan Jr.: Datu Unsay town mayor | He turned himself, before noon on 26 November 2009, to the Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Affairs, Jesus Dureza, (at Shariff Aguak) after PNP tagged him as suspect. Justice Secretary (in General Santos City) received him and flew him for inquest proceedings at Camp Crame. (2) Andal Ampatuan Sr: the Ampatuan patriarch, governor of Maguindanao; arrested by the military Task Force Alpha on Dec 5 | Survivors overheard him mentioned by Ampatuan Jr as the one who ordered the massacre. (3) Zaldy Ampatuan: the governor of ARMM | Survivors also overheard him mentioned by Ampatuan Jr as the one who also ordered the massacre. Operational: (1) Local PNP officers: [Relieved] Provincial director Abusana Maguid, provincial deputy director Chief Inspector Sukarno Adil Dicay, SPO2 Bakal, and a certail Inspector Diongon. Dicay, Bakal and Diongon were identified by eyewitnesses to have joined the attack. (2) Civilian Volunteers’ Organization (CVO): Esmael Canapia and Takpan Dilon, so far reported | ballistic tests proved their firearms used in the massacre. (3) Citizens’ Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU): No member specifically identified yet. (4) Private Militia: PNP arrested 20 miliatiamen on Dec 6 hiding inside the warehouse of Ampatuan Jr.
The Palace instructed the Philippine Army, Philippine National Police (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group), the Commission on Human Rights, and the National Bureau of Investigation to jointly investigate the massacre.
Vice Mayor Mangudadatu recalled his last phone conversation with Genalyn that Mayor Ampatuan was among the men who waylaid them. Genalyn said Ampatuan Jr slapped her shortly before his men killed the victims. DOE undersecretary Zamzamin Ampatuan, second cousin of Mayor Ampatuan, said the mayor maintained his innocence in the killings.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner believed that the killings were jointly done by the Maguindanao PNP and police auxiliary forces (particularly the Civilian Volunteers’ Organization, which is under the PNP). No CAFGU (Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit) members has been involved in the incident.
The four survivors overheard Andal Ampatuan Jr, who led the armed men, saying that he acted on the orders of his father, Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his older brother, Zaldy Ampatuan (governor of the ARMM). It was Ampatuan Jr who approached the convoy and ordered Genalyn out of the vehicle.
A group of journalists from Cotabato City who were supposed to cover the event decided to head straight to Shariff Aguak that same morening, but were stopped by amilitary checkpoint before they could reach their destination because of what happened earlier that morning.
Raids on the houses of four members of teh Ampatuan family (on Dec 3, Thursday) yielded a cache of high-powered firearms and ammunition enough to arm a battalion of security forces, including a 60mm mortar, which (according to PNP Director General Jesus Versoza) is only issued to special police and military units, and civilians are not allowed to possess. More guns are found buried, and the military and PNP SOCO had to use a bulldozer to recovered those buried deep, indicating the same equipments were used to bury the armory.
A forensic expert and a weapons expert who work on the massacre site flew back to Manila after noticing unidentified men shadowing them in the hotel they stayed in Cotabato City.
Deactivation of CAFGU: The Armed Forces of the Philippines deactivated the Cafgu in Ampatuan town.
Martial rule declared in the province of Maguindanao: The Office of the President placed Maguindanao under the state of martial law effective Friday night (Dec 4) in order to effect arrest on the accused. Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, AFP Eastern Mindanao commander, takes over as the provincial military governor.
Motive and eyewitnesses. The eyewitness clearly placed Andal Ampatuan Jr at the scene of the crime to have led the killings. The size of the people involved in the actual killings and the diggings, pegged at around 100 persons, cannot be easily gathered and manned by local PNP officers. Only the mayor has the clout to make happen the movement of this huge number of people for the purpose of killing people. And the motive is also there–competition for the gubernatorial slot in 2010 election. If the Ampatuans have historically held the area in dominion practically without competition for many years, that tells something on how far they can control the competition. And losing the province leadership next year would be a blow to their political ego to be let passed. The motive of Andal Sr. and Zaldy to order the hit can be reflected from their intent to dominate the province politically.
Order to Kill. The order to kill the people in the convoy may not originate from the younger Andal Jr because of his rank in such a clearly authoritarian family. His move to governorship may just be a family decision if Andal Sr. can no longer run for the same position next year. While Andal Jr. may have personally led the heinous act, it will be unlike that he will involve himself directly if he was the mastermind. Most likely he was only “ordered” to do it, and in a no questions asked manner. The final authority to perform the act may come from either Andal Sr. or Zaldy. If Zaldy has grown to be more bloodthirsty in the way he do politics, Andal Sr. may have a weak role in the order or even may have opposed it. But if Zaldy have not gone that far, the stronger order will only come from the elder Andal.
CAFGU disbandment. Brawner categorically said that no CAFGU was involved in the incident. But why was it disbanded? And not instead the CVO?
Number-crunching arrests: The PNP made 20 arrests of supposedly “miliamen” hiding inside the warehouse of Ampatuan Jr. As of Sunday, Dec 6, at least 47 men have been rounded up into the police provincial headquarters. Even their families and relatives were allowed to accompany them inside the camp. Technically these are not arrests with prosecution in mind. One of these people, Warib Jusay (18), was riding a tricycle on his way to the public market when “arrested” at a checkpoint on Saturday. An apparent side effect of the imposition of martial rule in the province. These innocent people also will provide an impression of voluminous arrests (operational results) without actually reflecting the exact arrests of criminals involved in the massacre.
GMA News, Manila Bulletin, Inquirer.net