x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Philippine prosecutors target nine over massacre

The governor of Maguindanao has been charged with mass murder after Monday's massacre of 57 people

Andal Ampatuan has been charged with the massacre of 57 people in the Philippines.
Andal Ampatuan has been charged with the massacre of 57 people in the Philippines.

MANILA // At least nine members of a powerful warlord's clan are now being investigated after Monday's bloody massacre of 57 people including women and journalists in the southern Philippines. The nine include the governor of Maguindanao, Andal Ampatuan, and members of his extended family who hold various positions from mayor to vice mayor in towns throughout the predominantly Muslim province. Ampatuan has been charged with mass murder by the country's Department of Justice. He has ruled the province like a feudal landlord with a mixture of fear and intimidation for most of the decade. He is also a close friend of the president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The justice secretary, Agnes Devanadera, said that while the nine were not in custody, a stop order had been placed at all sea and airports to prevent them fleeing the country. Speaking at a press conference in Manila she said the nine had "varying degrees of participation either before, during or after the carnage, based on witness accounts". She said the strongest evidence had come from the vice mayor of Buluan, Ismail Mangudadatu, who spoke to his wife just before the massacre. According to Mr Mangudadatu his wife told him Ampatuan Jr was leading the attack.

Her body and the bodies of the others were found in shallow graves on a hilly area just outside the provincial capital where they were heading to lodge Mr Mangudadatu's nomination papers for next year's national election where he was challenging Ampatuan Jr for provincial governor. According to Mrs Devanadera, most of the women had been shot and may have been raped before they were killed. Earlier in the day the army announced that it had relieved two commanders of their duty from the province and had flown them to Manila where they would be investigated for "possible lapses in judgement" following Monday's outrage.

The prime suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr, now under the protective custody of the department of justice in Manila, maintained his innocence yesterday, blaming renegade elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF) for the massacre. He claims he was inside the municipal hall of Datu Unsay town where he is mayor at the time of the massacre. Mrs Devanadera said she had at least 20 affidavits from witnesses who claim he was nowhere near the city hall.

Eid Kabalu, a MILF spokesman denied any involvement by members of his group, telling local media "this is a clear attempt to divert the issue". In a statement read out from his cell decorated with Christmas lights, Mr Ampatuan, who is a Muslim, said: "I did nothing wrong. I came here to show you that I am not in hiding and that I did nothing wrong and I don't have anything to do with the allegations being hurled against me."

The two army officers relieved of their commands were Col Medardo Geslani, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade and Major Gen Alfredo Cayton, chief of the 6th Infantry Division. "Their relief will give way to an impartial and transparent investigation. This is also being done to erase all the doubts of the public as to the professionalism of these two officials," military spokesman Lt Col Romeo Brawner said in an interview with GMA7 television news.

According to Mr Mangudadatu both the military and police refused to provide escorts for his wife and those travelling in the convoy. He had sent his wife to file his papers believing good Muslims would not attack women. Mr Mangudadatu filed his papers yesterday in the provincial capital which has been under military rule since Monday's massacre. He was accompanies by large numbers of armed military. The provincial capital is a stronghold of the Ampatuan clan.