The members of a political family in the Philippines have reportedly been found to have orchestrated killings in the worst political massacre to rock the Southeast Asian nation. Brothers Andal Ampatuan Jr and Zaldy Ampatuan were convicted of leading the killing of 58 people – 32 of them journalists – on November 23, 2009 in Maguindanao.
Facts and figures of the case
Filipino politician Ismael Toto Mangudadatu’s wife and sister, along with several lawyers and journalists, were among those who were killed. They were reportedly kidnapped and murdered on their way to file Mangudadatu’s candidacy for the gubernatorial elections (relating to a governor), which had formed part of the national elections, a decade ago. Their bodies were found buried in three shallow graves on a hilltop.
A total of 197 people, including seven from the Ampatuan family, were found to be principals or accessories to 57 murders. Dozens of other accused gunmen were acquitted and as many as 80 suspects are still at large. A third Ampatuan brother, Sajid Islam, is out on bail. The Quezon City Regional Trial Court received testimonies from 357 witnesses.
Amnesty International has called the verdict a “delayed but critical step for justice” and has called for greater protection for journalists in the country. “The Philippines is one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists, with at least 15 journalists killed just this year in attacks believed to be related to their work. The government must ensure the security and safety of journalists in the country and prosecute those behind the killings. They must also dismantle private armies that underpin the power of political clans,” stated Amnesty following the verdict.
The Ampatuans are expected to appeal the decision before the Supreme Court.
Who are the Ampatuan family and their rivals?
According to a Human Rights Watch study, the Ampatuan clan are considered “warlords” in the Maguindanao province. They were closely connected to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during both the 2004 and 2007 national elections.
The clan had been recognized as the rulers in the former municipality of Maganoy, which is now subdivided into four municipalities – Aguak, Unsay, Mamasapano and Hofer. The patriarch of the clan, Andal Ampatuan Sr, had been elected mayor of Maganoy (now Shariff Aguak). He was charged for assassinating his rival Surab Abutazil, who is also his cousin. He then went on to become a three-term governor of Maguindanao. The murder charges against him have been dismissed due to lack of witnesses.
His son, Andal Ampatuan Jr is the former mayor of Datu Unsay, a municipality in the province of Maguindanao. His other son, Zaldy, became the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) at 38 years old – the youngest politician to lead a regional government in the Philippines.