A former close ally of Philippine president Gloria Arroyo and 196 other people were today charged with murder over an election-linked massacre, a prosecutor said. Andal Ampatuan Snr, the head of a Muslim clan and the former governor of Maguindanao province where the slaughter of 57 people occurred last year, was among those charged with murder, according to papers filed to a Manila court. In total, 197 people were charged, including men alleged to have been the gunmen who abducted and shot the victims.
"Considering such positive identifications of these respondents as direct participants in the commission of the crime of murder, they should be indicted," prosecutor Leo Dacera wrote in documents released by the department of justice. Those charged today were in addition to Ampatuan Snr's son and namesake, who is already standing trial for murder after being accused of orchestrating the killings. Prosecutors alleged in Ampatuan Jnr's trial that he and about 100 of his gunmen abducted and killed the victims to stop a rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against him for the post of Maguindanao governor in May elections.
Mr Mangudadatu's wife and pregnant sister, as well as at least 30 journalists travelling with them, were among the 57 killed. Mr Mangudadatu had sent his relatives to an election office to register his candidacy. Ampatuan Snr had been the governor of Maguindanao for most of the past decade, and was a close ally of Ms Arroyo. Ampatuan Snr and Jnr had been members of Ms Arroyo's ruling coalition until being expelled over the massacre.
Ms Arroyo's government had supplied the Ampatuans with weapons and allowed them to run their own private armies in Maguindanao as part of a controversial strategy to contain a Muslim separatist rebellion in the southern Philippines. * AFP