Thursday, December 10, 2009

IN VAIN? (Setting up the case against the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre)

By Siesta-friendly

It is not surprising that the evidence-gathering against the perpetrators of the Massacre in Maguindanao is poised to set up nightmarish situations for forensics experts, prosecutors and whatever neutral law enforcement personnel (i.e, not one of the possibly 200 suspects in the massacre nor in the Ampatuan payroll) may still exist in the province.

Just read the excerpt below from the Report of the Humanitarian and Fact-Finding Mission to Maguindanao and you’ll now what we mean.

The Fact-Finding team comprised members of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, MindaNews and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. The 28-page report may be found at the PCIJ website.


  1. Poor handling and contamination of the massacre site

Five days after the massacre, when the Fact-Finding Team visited on November 28, the scene of the crime remained heavily littered with rubbish, and possibly the personal effects and the remains of the victims. There was even what appeared to be a tuft of long hair on the ground that could have been a piece of scalp. The police scene of crime operatives (SOCO) had placed yellow police line tape only around the immediate perimeter of the massacre site, but not on the road leading to it. The site did not look like a protected scene at all. The Team even saw used SIM cards – from the suspects or from responding police and soldiers- on the ground.

The retrieval team from the military and police was clearly assigned to achieve only one task: get the bodies out. There was little or no consideration given to preserving the evidence. There was little or no consideration given to avoid the contamination of the crime scene.

  1. Poor handling of the remains

The use of a backhoe (not the one allegedly used by the accused) compromised the site and the remains. In addition, the backhoe may have ended up adding to the physical trauma on the bodies. An indication of the carelessness shown in handling the bodies was the fluctuating body count that the authorities gave. For a while, the authorities could not agree on how many bodies there were. Report of the Fact-Finding Team to Maguindanao of the FFFJ, NUJP, MindaNews, CMFR, PCIJ 8

In interviews, members of the retrieval team from the military and police admitted that they had to rush their work and pull out of the site before dark set in because the situation on the first four days was still tenuous, and they had wanted to avoid possible retaliation from the suspects. The retrieval team had chosen to use a backhoe, instead of shovels, to retrieve the bodies precisely to rush the effort.

  1. The apparent preference for testimonial rather than physical evidence

The authorities have been gathering a lot of testimonies, but showed less emphasis to securing physical evidence. Three affidavits submitted by prosecutors against the Ampatuans were allegedly from the passengers of the last vehicle that got separated from the convoy. Their affidavits had too many phrases in common, such as “I and my companions went out of the car to urinate” and “We were threatened to see Datu Unsay approaching the first vehicle.”

Some affidavits submitted to the prosecutors stated that the diggings and pit where the bodies were buried had been prepared a week earlier, or days before the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre.

According to ground command C/Supt Khu, only one cell phone was recovered from the massacre site, and no other equipment or gadget that the media workers and the other fatalities might have carried with them.

  1. CAFGU Detachment, “MNLF Camp” near the site

The victims’ convoy was stopped by the suspects just about 300 meters from a detachment of the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units that are under the command of the military). During the initial military search, the CAFGUs claimed that no such convoy had passed by, even though the blockade occurred in a dip in the road clearly visible to the CAFGU detachment. The army cadre in charge of the detachment discreetly signaled to searchers that the convoy had turned into the side road. The CAFGUs are under interrogation.

While both are militia forces, CAFGUs and CVOs (civilian volunteer organization) have different command structures. CVOs, including barangay tanods, are under the command of local government officials.

Just 50 meters down the road leading to the massacre site there is an area marked as “MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) camp.” It was empty when the Fact-Finding Team arrived but the adjacent houses looked well kept.

  1. Vehicle/s allegedly used by suspects still unaccounted for

Investigators said the suspects also used a Nissan Frontier pickup with police markings. One such police vehicle issued to the Maguindanao police is still unaccounted for. This jibes with claims by the Mangudadatus’ witnesses that police vehicles were involved in the blockade. Report of the Fact-Finding Team to Maguindanao of the FFFJ, NUJP, MindaNews, CMFR, PCIJ 9

  1. Fear grips residents near the site, and seems to prevent them from speaking out

There are many houses, even a mosque, located around the massacre site. Because the site is on a hilltop, anyone in those houses would have seen the massacre, assuming that they were there at the time. Whether or not they would be willing to talk about what they could have seen is another question.

  1. Enormous weapons arsenal of the Ampatuans not fully confiscated

The Ampatuans had surrendered a lot of old firearms such as Garands and Carbines but are known to have large arsenals of modern weapons. The initial police investigation showed that the victims were shot by six Armalite rifles, an M-14 rifle, an AK-47, and a shotgun. The police reports made no mention of injuries caused by a Garand or a Carbine.

The police had seized two heavy armored cars owned by the Ampatuans that were armed with multiple 50-caliber machine guns. The vehicles look like World War 2-type half-tracks [except they have wheels] that have half-inch armor plates. These armored cars were painted in camouflage and stamped with the words Pulisya and Shariff Aguak or Maguindanao police, even though they are not official police vehicles. In fact they do not even have any attachment points for license plates. It is not clear if appropriate charges were filed against the Ampatuans for these armored cars. The police also say that the 50-caliber machine guns had tampered serial numbers.

  1. Road leads to nowhere?

The road to the massacre site is a road for four-wheel vehicles. Yet the road leads to nowhere, and ends at the massacre site. Also, no one in the area clearly owns any vehicle. The pit where the bodies were buried might have been dug up days before the massacre occurred, according to the retrieval team members.

  1. Imperative to disarm all clans, political families in the area

Apart from the Ampatuans, the Mangudadatus are widely held to be in command of their own private army. The two families were, until last year, close allies. One journalist quotes some residents as saying, “Walang pinagkaiba ang mga iyan.” Toto Mangudadatu filed his certificate of candidacy escorted by scores of armed escorts, according to television news reports of the event. In a visit to his family house in Buluan City, the Team saw civilians carrying high-powered firearms, some of them of unknown make and caliber, indicating that these could not possibly be government-issue firearms.

  1. Missing or still undisclosed documents

More than a week after the massacre, and days after the Department of Justice had reportedly filed seven counts of murder charges against Andal Ampatuan Jr., the authorities have yet to publicly release vital documents, including the police case Report of the Fact-Finding Team to Maguindanao of the FFFJ, NUJP, MindaNews, CMFR, PCIJ 10 referral report (which should contain a summary of the evidence and findings of the investigator, and serve as basis for the prosecution of the case/s).

As important, there are no publicly available copies of any other presidential issuances covering the grant of so-called “blanket authority” for Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno to deal with the “state of emergency” in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City. What has been uploaded on the website of the Office of the Press Secretary is just a six-paragraph Presidential Proclamation No. 1946 dated November 24, 2009, which does not spell out the broad powers supposedly vested in Puno by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, according to her Press Secretary Cerge Remonde. [Presidential Proclamation No. 1946 may be read on the website of the Office of the Press Secretary.]

The “blanket authority” granted to Puno is not contained in any presidential issuances on record. It was just discussed in a press release of the Office of the Press Secretary and in press statements of Remonde.

  1. Government resources used to fly Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his lawyer Sigfried Fortun

The WPP’s Team said government used an Air Force aircraft to fly in Ampatuan’s lawyer Sigfried Fortun from Cotabato City to General Santos City, after Ampatuan refused to avail himself of the services of a public attorney. What this means is that the government spent government resources to fly in the private lawyer of the man it is charging with multiple counts of murder.

  1. Government response to the situation has not fully eased the anxiety and fear of the residents and media workers in the affected areas; the threats to the safety and security of the communities linger, especially with the forthcoming elections likely to fire up the tension between partisan rivals and political clans

National media coverage of the situation has inordinately focused on the rivalry for political power between the clans, inchoate images of the tragedy, and disjointed statements from the investigators, Malacanang officials, and political partisans. Little attention has been given to the gaps in the work of the police, investigators, and prosecutors.

The massacre claimed nearly an entire generation of journalists from the small print and broadcast communities of General Santos, Koronadal City, and nearby areas. At least 22 of the 31 fatalities were married and had children, indicating an enormous need for continuing humanitarian assistance.”

Massacre, private armies, political alliances, election fraud, press freedom, and now, martial law. Will our easily forgetful and forgiving people lead to the eventual (and widely suspected) exoneration of the perpetrators, especially, the masterminds of the massacre?


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