Wednesday, October 27, 2010

57 lives cost 350 dollars

A former officer of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Wednesday testified in court that he was paid about $350 by a scion of a powerful Muslim family to help carry out the country’s worst political massacre.
Ex-Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon said that he received the money from Andal Ampatuan Jr. to set up the police checkpoint that stopped the convoy of a rival politician in the southern province of Maguindanao last year.

The convoy carried relatives of Esmael Mangudadatu who were going to file his candidacy to run against Ampatuan Jr. for provincial governor.

“Do you know who our enemies are? Are you capable of killing them?” Diongon quoted Ampatuan Jr. as asking him.

The police officer said that he recalled answering, “Yes,” but added that he only did so out of fear.

Diongon said that Ampatuan paid him P15,000 (about $350) for the job, adding that he saw at least three police officials receive payoffs as well.

When the convoy, carrying Mangudadatu’s wife and other relatives, their lawyers and 31 journalists arrived, the PNP inspector said that his men stopped their vehicles, allowing Ampatuan Jr. and his gunmen to take the passengers away.

Other witnesses in the trial have said that Ampatuan Jr. and his armed followers forced 57 people out of their vehicles, beat them up despite pleas for mercy before taking them to a hilly area where they were gunned down.

At the time of the wholesale killing on November 23, 2009, now main accused Ampatuan Jr. was mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, an impoverished province in southern Mindanao.

Mangudadatu eventually won the race for governor of the province during the May 10 elections this year.

One witness, a former servant of the clan, said that the Ampatuan family planned the massacre days in advance.

Diongon said that he saw Ampatuan Jr. poking a gun at the passengers and hitting them but he did not say that he witnessed the actual shooting.
The policeman was testifying for the prosecution in the trial of Ampatuan Jr. and several of his relatives and bodyguards as well as against several other policemen accused of helping in the mass murder.

Apart from Ampatuan Jr, his father and namesake, three brothers and an uncle as well as police officers loyal to the clan and members of the family’s private army are among 196 people accused in the crime.

Police also on Tuesday said that 119 of the accused remained at large.

The Ampatuans ruled Maguindanao for over a decade under the patronage of then President Gloria Arroyo, who had used the clan as a proxy force against Muslim separatist rebels.

But popular disgust at the massacre forced Mrs. Arroyo to cut her ties to the clan.

Prosecutors have voiced fears that the trial could last for months in the country’s notoriously slow court system.

Diongon then the head of the Regional Mobile Group of the local police, told the court that he had received instructions from Ampatuan Jr. on November 19, 2009.

From then on until the day of the massacre, he said that he and other policemen who also received money from the then Datu Unsay mayor manned the checkpoint and waited for Mangudadatu or his representatives who will file the gubernatorial aspirant’s certificate of candidacy.
Diongon’s testimony on Tuesday was similar to that of the second prosecution witness, Nurrudin Mauyag.

Mauyag earlier testified that he saw the victims being beaten up by Ampatuan Jr. moments before they were believed to have been killed.

Diongon was the first among the co-accused to testify against the Ampatuans, who were charged for the murder of the 57 unarmed civilians.

Last week, the prosecution presented Akmad Abubakar Ismael, a farmer who once lived near the scene of the crime.
Ismael testified that he saw Ampatuan Jr. order the killing of the civilians.

The first witness, Lakmudin Saliao, a househelper of the Ampatuans, also earlier told the court that the Ampatuans gathered over dinner on November 17, 2009, six days before the massacre, and then planned the killing of their political rivals.

He said that Ampatuan Jr., at the time the governor of Maguindanao, tried to bribe government officials and police authorities to escape prosecution in the Maguindanao massacre case.

The case is being heard at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City (Metro Manila) by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Branch 221 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City. Manila Times

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