Backhoe operator testifies in Ampatuan massacre trial

By Aie Balagtas See, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 13 2012 02:29 AM | Updated as of Jul 13 2012 06:13 PM

MANILA, Philippines - It had been a “practice” of the Ampatuan clan to “kill people” and bury their bodies in pits dug by a backhoe, a witness said Thursday.

Testifying in court, Efren Macanas, a former heavy equipment driver for the Maguindanao provincial government, said he had witnessed at least two similar incidents in 2005 and 2008.

He had personally dug pits in Datu Hoffer, Maguindanao on orders of Bong Andal, provincial equipment detachment chief, he added.

Macanas told Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 the four people killed in 2005 were alive – blindfolded and hogtied – when the Ampatuans and their men brought them out of their cars in Datu Hoffer.

“They were brought near the pits before they were shot to death,” he said. “After the killings, they were thrown in the pits.”

Ampatuans Andal Jr., Kanor, Anwar (all accused in the Maguindanao massacre), Dinga, and Kali Akmad shot the four, Macanas said.

It was not clear how many people were killed in 2008 because of confused statements of witnesses and the objection of defense lawyers in yesterday’s trial.

Macanas was presented in court for the prosecution to establish the pattern of killings that the Ampatuans had perpetrated.

Macanas told the court that Bong Andal had asked him to drive the backhoe to the massacre site on the morning of Nov. 23, 2009.

He backed out after hearing successive gunshots coming from the hilly portion of the crime site, he added.

Macanas said he went home afterwards and learned later that the backhoe had been driven to the massacre site.

“There were bodies to the side of the backhoe,” he said.

Yesterday’s hearing was held in the makeshift courtroom in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, where members of the Ampatuan clan accused in the Maguindanao massacre are detained.

They watched Macanas testify.

Arrraign Zaldy

Prosecutors have asked the Quezon City RTC to set the arraignment of former governor Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Deputy State Prosecutor Peter Medalle said the Court of Appeals (CA) and the Supreme Court (SC) have ruled that no legal impediment exists to stop the arraignment of Zaldy.

“For the wheels of justice to start running, accused should now be arraigned so as to allow him as with the other co-accused who have long submitted themselves to the court’s jurisdiction, to finally face the evidence against him head on during the trial,” he said.

The prosecution has received the resolution of the SC dated June 25, 2012 denying Ampatuan’s petition to review the CA decision affirming the Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution to reinstate the criminal information for murder against Zaldy.

The SC agreed with the DOJ’s finding of probable cause to charge Zaldy and has affirmed the CA decision. – With Rhodina Villanueva