Witnesses vs Ampatuans on way to lawyer ambushed; 1 is killed
COTABATO CITY, Philippines—One of the key witnesses in the mass murder of 58 people, 32 of them journalists, in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province was killed, while another witness was wounded after they were attacked by still unidentified gunmen in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.
The attacks came as Palace officials said the case against the accused in the murders is proceeding with the full weight of the government behind it.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, in an interview with a radio station here, said on Wednesday that Dennix Sakal, former driver of Andal Ampatuan Sr., and Sukarno Butch Saudagal, allegedly the former bagman of former Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., were traveling on a motorcycle to Buluan town when they were shot around 2 p.m. Tuesday.
The Ampatuan father and son are now in detention for allegedly leading the plot to kill supporters of Mangudadatu, including the incumbent governor’s wife, as they were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy on behalf of Mangudadatu on Nov. 23, 2009.
At least 32 journalists were with the convoy when they were attacked by policemen allegedly on instructions of the elder Ampatuan, former governor of Maguindanao.
Sakal, the governor said, died instantly while Saudagal was wounded in the arm. The second victim is receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital.
“They were our additional vital witnesses to the massacre,” Mangudadatu told Church-run radio station dxMS here.
He said the ambush was an attempt to derail the trial of the multiple murder case against the Ampatuans and other suspects in the Maguindanao massacre.
“They were to meet my lawyers to formalize their testimonies,” he said.
“I see no other reason why they would be ambushed aside from their desire to become state witnesses,” Mangudadatu said.
Senior Insp. Archie Fajaro, police chief of Shariff Aguak, said Saudagal was to testify in next week’s hearing of the cases against the Ampatuans.
He said based on initial investigation, six men were involved in the ambush.
“The victims knew the perpetrators because they waved their hands upon seeing the men,” Fajaro said, citing witnesses’ accounts.
He said police recovered bullet casings for M-16 rifles at the crime scene.
The ambush took place as the fifth year commemoration of the massacre—dubbed the worst politically-motivated attack in the country—drew near.
On the day the 58 people were killed allegedly on orders of the Ampatuans, at least 100 armed men were involved, many of them policemen and members of a militia believed to be the Ampatuan clan’s private army.
At least 15 Ampatuan clan members had been charged, along with 182 others, for the killings. Edwin Fernandez and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao with a report by Nikko Dizon
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