Ampatuans used backhoes in other killings, says witness
The Ampatuans had used backhoes to cover up a number of killings for several years, just like what they did during the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, a prosecution witness told a Quezon City regional trial court (RTC) Thursday.
Efren Macanas, a backhoe operator hired by the provincial government from 2002 to 2009, said he had been ordered to operate the heavy equipment to bury the alleged victims of the political family which ruled Maguindanao, even before the massacre took place.
Speaking before dozens of accused at the courtroom inside the Quezon City Jail Annex at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, Macanas admitted limited participation in the killing of 58 people, including over 30 media workers, on Nov. 23, 2009, in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.
Members of the Ampatuan clan, led by former Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son Andal Jr., are among the 195 people charged with the massacre at Quezon City RTC Branch 221.
“I heard gunshots as I drove the backhoe. That was when I turned over the backhoe to Bong Andal,” Macanas said, referring to the trusted person of the clan patriarch.
He said he had driven one of the province’s backhoes for one kilometer before giving it up.
Macanas testified that it was not the first time that backhoes of the provincial government had been used in burying victims of past killings.
He said that in 2005 and 2008, he saw people killed by the Ampatuans—Andal Sr., Andal Jr., Zaldy, Sajid, Anwar, Akmad, Dainga, Misuari, Yasser and others.
The prosecution then manifested that if allowed to identify the perpetrators of the killings in 2005 and 2008, the witness could identify the Ampatuans from among those accused in the 2009 massacre.
But Macanas was not allowed to pinpoint the Ampatuans in open court after Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes sustained an objection of defense counsel Sigfrid Fortun that the case being heard was not about the previous killings.
The prosecution tried to convince Judge Reyes to reverse her decision, saying it was important that the accused be positively identified to cement their claim that they had been engaged in similar conduct before, specifically in killing people and using backhoes to cover their tracks.
Reyes, however, was firm. “I don’t see any need to point out the accused. They have already been identified.”
In his testimony, Macanas said he was told to create pits with the backhoe for dumping the bodies of the victims and to cover these with soil and mud.
He said he did not know the identity of the victims but he saw how they were killed—“blindfolded, and with hands tied to the back.”
Macanas was released after direct examination as Fortun requested that the cross-examination be done next week, saying he had been informed of the scope of his testimony only a day before the hearing.
Earlier, the prosecution urged the court to immediately arraign Zaldy Ampatuan, a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and son of the former Maguindanao governor, following a Supreme Court ruling affirming the charges against him in connection with the 2009 massacre.
The panel led by Deputy State Prosecutor Peter Medalle said there was no longer a hindrance to the arraignment as it asked Judge Reyes to deny Zaldy’s pending appeal on a March 29 order setting the procedure.
“For the wheels of justice to start running, accused should now be arraigned so as to allow him as with the other accused who have long submitted themselves to the court’s jurisdiction to finally face the evidence against him head on during the trials on the merits,” it said.
Attached to the panel’s reiterative motion was a notice of the decision of the Supreme Court’s Third Division, affirming the reinstatement of murder charges against Zaldy by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
With the denial of the accused’s petition for review, Medalle said the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals, which recognized the DOJ’s finding of probable cause against Zaldy.
Last week, Judge Reyes directed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct its own probe on the death of a policeman who was among those charged with the massacre.
The independent investigation would “settle once and for all the doubts” clouding the death of Police Officer 2 Hernane Decipulo Jr. while in detention, she said in her July 6 order.
It was also meant “to assuage the feelings of the accused’s bereaved family and coaccused police officers,” the order said.
Decipulo, a member of the 1508th Provincial Mobile Group assigned to Maguindanao, died on Feb. 6 after allegedly jumping from the roof of the building where he and the Ampatuans were being detained at Camp Bagong Diwa.
Following his death, 14 other coaccused police officers sought their transfer to another facility.
The court order for an NBI probe stemmed from a request of the prosecution, which noted a previous appeal to transfer the policemen to the detention center of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
It noted that the “intimation for a stricter security measure” by the jail warden, Senior Inspector John Conrad Marcelino Basilio, appeared to be a “tacit admission that they have been lax in their sworn duty to secure the life and limbs of all detention prisoners under his authority.”
“The authorities claimed that depression was the apparent cause of Decipulo’s alleged ‘suicide,’ but the prosecution cannot just take their word for it and turn a blind eye on the real situation inside the jail facility as they cannot discount the possibility that some other reason may have triggered the tragic incident,” it said.
The NBI was given 15 days to carry out the investigation. With a report from Julie M. Aurelio
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