The so-called Maguindanao massacre four years ago last Saturday is the most brutal murder of innocents in our history. Some 58 unarmed men and women were mercilessly killed in broad daylight—just because they were thought to be with the candidate who challenged for the gubernatorial post the son of the province’s warlord Andal Ampatuan, Sr.
The international Committee to Protect Journalists called the massacre the “single deadliest event for journalists in history,” as 32 of those shot dead were journalists with the convoy. Challenger Esmael Mangudadatu’s wife and his two sisters were brutally killed, their bodies even mutilated. Five victims just happened to be motoring behind the convoys and were murdered so that there wouldn’t be eyewitnesses.
Some 101 of the suspects—including Ampatuan and his sons—have been arrested and are being tried in court, with another 88 remaining at large.
But justice seems so far from reach that the victims’ relatives have gone on a tack of filing a suit at the United Nations Human Rights Committee to demand for each victim’s family P2 million in compensation. The victims’ relatives—nearly all ordinary, powerless people—claim that they have been approached by purported representatives of the Ampatuan clan asking them to stop pursuing the case in exchange for as low as P50,000.
The Philippine defective justice system is certainly to blame for the delay in convicting the accused. But President Aquino and his cabal of conspirators share much of the blame.
Aquino plucks massacre plotter
How can this government really go after the perpetrators when Aquino plucked one of the massacre’s main plotters to make him the sole accuser against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the electoral sabotage case brought against her that had put her in detention?
That sole “witness” is one Norie Unas, who was then governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.’s long-time provincial administrator. Unas had been so much of Ampatuan’s right-hand man that the warlord was very seldom in his office. The factotum for two decades had been known in the area as running the provincial government, with his boss almost always at his mansion.
It has been common knowledge in Maguindanao and even in Justice Department circles that Unas would never, ever rat on Ampatuan, which he did in his accusation that his boss followed Arroyo’s order to massively cheat in the 2004 elections.
Never that is, unless the 70-year old bureaucrat has been in terror of spending even a day in jail, which he would have if he was charged along with the 189 other suspects.
And what exactly was Unas’ testimony, which the Court claimed, was enough arrest a former president, a seriously ill 65-year old grandmother to jail?
Aquino’s justice department is asking us to believe that, already accused of cheating in the 2004 elections, Arroyo would order within hearing distance of others, a politician, who owed his rise to power in 1986 to Corazon Aquino, to commit a crime, and not even for her candidacy but for her senatorial candidates.
After a dinner of over a hundred people in Malacañang in 2007, Unas claimed he “overheard” Arroyo order his boss Ampatuan Sr. to cheat for her senatorial candidates in the elections that year. He overheard her, despite the deafening din of a hundred people talking in an enclosed hall.
Sole witness in electoral sabotage case
The entire electoral sabotage case against Arroyo, for which she was barred in 2011 from leaving the country to seek medical help for her rare disease and ordered jailed, depends solely on Unas’ unrealistic claims. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima even defied a Supreme Court green light and stopped Arroyo from leaving for that medical urgency, a deed I think Aquino’s official would regret all her life.
Aquino and his officials obviously gave Unas an offer he could not refuse: Lie that Arroyo ordered cheating in the 2007 elections or spend your twilight years in jail, like your bosses, or even executed.
How morally depraved can a president be to let free a plotter responsible for the brutal murder of 58 men and women, so that his predecessor whom he has demonized would be put be jailed, so that he could project an image of an anti-graft crusader?
Was Unas really involved in the massacre?
In 2011, the target of the massacre, now Maguindanao Governor Mangudadatu vehemently protested why Unas wasn’t among the 189 charged for the massacre, and was even put by the Justice Department under its Witness Protection Program for his “testimony” in the case against Arroyo.
Mangudadatu even claimed that it was Unas who thought of, and ordered, the use of a tractor backhoe so that the victims’ mass graves could be dug up quickly and hidden. Strangely though, he had become subsequently silent in his protests against Unas. I was told he was prevailed to stop his denunciation of Unas by well-known Palace emissaries if he wanted to enjoy the administration’s patronage.
But truth often has a way of insisting itself.
In February, and strangely largely ignored by print media, the Quezon City court trying the case dropped as one of the accused in the massacre case former Barongis town vice- mayor Zukarno Badal, after he was taken in as witness against the accused. A breakthrough for the prosecution, private counsel Nena Santos called it.
Badal’s testimony vs. Unas
His testimony? Unas, it seems, was not only the clean-up man, who deployed the tractor backhoe. Badal in his affidavit claimed that the Ampatuans planned the killing of Mangudadatu in three locations where he might file his candidacy: Manila, Cotabato City, and Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao.
Ampatuan, Sr. ordered his son Zaldy to kill Mangudadatu if he filed his candidacy in Manila, and Unas together with one Atty. Cynthia Sayadi if it were in Cotabato City. Ampatuan, Sr. himself would do the deed if the candidacy were filed in Shariff Aguak.
And as it turned out, it was in Datu Unsay Ampatuan town, just four kilometers from Shariff Aguak where the 58 people in a six-car convoy—which the killers wrongly thought would included Mangudadatu on his way to file his candidacy—were intercepted, and taken to a nearby field to be shot dead.
But that raises the possibility, since he was the right-hand man of the aging Ampatuan, Sr., of Unas himself on the ground undertaking his boss’ dirty work, as a trusted underboss would.
Eight months after Badal identified Unas as one of the top conspirators in the Maguindanao massacre, he hasn’t been included among the 189 charged, which even included drivers of those who actually did the shooting.
As long as he is Aquino and de Lima’s sole “witness” against Arroyo, I don’t think he’d be ever charged for the most horrible murder in our history.
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