MANILA - Several eyewitnesses have placed Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. at the scene of last Monday's brutal massacre of 57 people in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, documents submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed Friday.
The witnesses said they were 25 meters away from the last vehicle on the convoy carrying Genalyn Mangudadatu, wife of Buluan town Vice Mayor Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu, when they saw the first vehicle of the convoy being stopped by armed men blocking the road.
The witnesses said they thought that the convoy had reached a police checkpoint since there were several police cars blocking the road. At least one of the witnesses said he saw Ampatuan Jr. go to the lead vehicle of the convoy and talk to its passengers.
They said the armed men then started firing their guns while forcing open the windows of the vehicles carrying the Mangudadatu convoy.
Panicked, the witnesses sped off and headed back to Sultan Kudarat. All of the witnesses have submitted sworn affidavits to the DOJ panel investigating the massacre, and are now in hiding.
Another witness interviewed by ABS-CBN said the Ampatuan clan is hiding their firearms from authorities, including those used by in the massacre last Monday. This, despite the military's announcement that they had disarmed all 347 militiamen under the control of the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao.
The witness, a government employee, said he would be willing to testify in the government investigation in exchange for protection for himself and his family.
"All of the firearms are in their mansion. The guns that were confiscated were not the ones used [in the massacre]. Those guns are already old. What's worse is that the guns and ammunition were purchased from the Armed Forces. The issued firearms are long firearms coming from the Philippine National Police provincial command. Those people were killed using guns and ammo from the government," he said.
He added that police cars used in Monday's massacre were also hidden in the Ampatuans' mansion.
Where are the new firearms?
ABS-CBN's Jorge Cariño, who covered the turnover of firearms to the military, noted in his TV Patrol report on Thursday that the the confiscated firearms were rusty.
An abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak source in the military said, "that's (observation) highly probable."
The source said 88 firearms were given to each of the 2 Special CAFGU Active Auxillary (SCAA) units assigned to the Ampatuans.
The source added that the media should cover the firearms turnover because "servicable lahat ang mga iyon ng ibinigay sa mga SCAAs numbering to 176 (firearms)."
The same source earlier told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak that military leaders assigned to the area should also be held accountable for failing to prevent the recent massacre.
The military insider, who is familiar with local political dynamics in Maguindanao, said the military should have been on guard already from the beginning when para-military groups controlled by the Ampatuans, which consisted of armed Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) and SCAAs, started setting up checkpoints along the road leading to Shariff Aguak.
The military earlier denied that SCAAs were among those involved in the kidnapping and gruesome murders of the Mangudadatu clan members, their lawyers and supporters, and the journalists who accompanied them.
The military insider, however, said that where the CVOs are, the CAFGUs cannot be far behind. In the first place, the source said, in the field, it is very difficult to distinguish between the two.
The witness interviewed by ABS-CBN News also said the mass grave used to bury some of Monday's massacre victims was already dug up as early as Thursday, November 19. The witness said he received the information from one of the gunmen who participated in the slaughter.
"They planned it that way so that when the Mangudadatus or whoever was with them, whether they were media or not, they would be killed," he said.
The witness said he is willing to testify in the DOJ investigation to help bring justice to the victims.
Cops, not MILF, involved in massacre
Secretary Ronaldo Puno of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), meanwhile, said policemen were most likely involved in Monday's massacre in Maguindanao, based on the affidavits submitted by eyewitnesses.
Puno said a corporal stationed in Maguindanao revealed that he saw more than 100 policemen and CVOs staying on the national highway of Ampatuan town from November 19 to 22. He said the armed men were led by a police inspector from the local regional mobile group.
In his statement, the corporal said more than 100 armed men conducted checkpoints near Sitio Malating, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town during that time.
He said that at around 11 a.m. of November 23, he saw a convoy passing near their detachment in Crossing Salman. Ten minutes later, shots were fired in the area.
The corporal said he immediately informed his commanding officer about the incident via text message. He said his commander told him to be on guard and remain at the detachment.
"Based on the reports that we have received, there really were police involved in the massacre," Puno told ABS-CBN.
At least four police officers from Maguindanao were brought to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group office in Manila on Thursday while undergoing investigation for the Maguindanao massacre. They are Senior Superintendent Agusana Maguid, officer-in-charge and provincial director of the Maguindanao PNP; Chief Inspector Sukarno Dicay, Senior Inspector Ariel Diongon and SPO2 Badawi Bakal.
Two military commanders stationed in Maguindanao were also suspended Friday for alleged inefficiency and lapses in judgement in relation to the massacre. They were identified as Major General Alfredo Cayton, commander of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, and Col. Medardo Geslani, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade.
Puno rejected Ampatuan Jr.'s claim that Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas perpetrated Monday's massacre.
"For now, we see no evidence or indication or kuwento man lang that the MILF is involved. We are not even looking at that angle because all the evidence points to the suspect, Datu Unsay," the DILG chief told reporters.
9 Ampatuans suspects in massacre
Nine members of the powerful Ampatuan clan are considered suspects in the brutal murders of 57 people in Maguindanao province last Monday, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said Friday.
Devanadera said that aside from Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the other suspects on the justice department's surveillance list are Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, Nords Ampatuan, Maguindanao Acting Vice-Gov. Akmad Ampatuan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Saudi Ampatuan Jr., Bahnarian Ampatuan, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, and Akmad Tato Ampatuan Sr.
"They are under investigation and under surveillance," Devanadera said of the eight suspected Ampatuans not in custody. She said immigration authorities had been alerted to prevent them from fleeing the country.
The justice chief said the 9 had varying degrees of participation either before, during or after the canage, based on witness accounts. She said her strongest evidence is the testimony of Buluan Vice-Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu who spoke to his wife before the massacre.
Mangudadatu earlier said his wife told him that it was Andal Jr. who stopped their convoy in Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao last Monday. The wife also said she was slapped by Andal Jr..
Her body and the bodies of 56 other people, including women and journalists, were found in shallow graves on a hilly area in Ampatuan town hours later. The justice chief said most of the women were shot in the genitals and may have been raped before they were killed.
Devanadera said the DOJ has witness accounts that Andal Jr. was at the crime scene and not in the city hall as he claimed during the time of the massacre. She said the DOJ has more than 20 affidavit against the suspects.
Devanadera said the Datu Unsay mayor will face more murder charges, which will be filed on Tuesday. She said her department was unable to file the case on Friday because of a Muslim holiday while Monday is a public holiday.
She said criminal charges will be filed against other suspects in the coming days. -- with reports from Ces Drilon, ABS-CBN News; Gemma B. Mendoza, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak; Timi Nubla, ABS-CBN News; ANC