Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Policeman says he was paid for Maguindanao massacre

MANILA, Philippines – A police officer on Wednesday testified in court that he was paid about 350 dollars by a powerful Muslim clan scion to help carry out the country's worst political massacre.

Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon said he received the money from prime suspect Andal Ampatuan Junior to set up the police checkpoint that stopped the convoy of a rival politician in the southern province of Maguindanao November 23 last year.

The convoy carried relatives of Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu who were going to file his candidacy to run against Ampatuan Jr. for provincial governor.

"Do you know who our enemies are? Are you capable of killing them?" Diongon quoted Ampatuan as saying.

He recalled answering "yes,” but said he only did so out of fear.

He said Ampatuan paid him P15,000 (about US$350) for the job, adding that he saw at least three other police officials receive pay-offs as well.

When the convoy, carrying Mangudadatu's wife and other relatives, their lawyers and 32 journalists arrived, Diongon said his men stopped their vehicles, allowing Ampatuan and his gunmen to take the passengers away.

Other witnesses in the trial have said that Ampatuan and his armed followers forced 57 people out of their vehicles, beat them up despite pleas for mercy before taking them to a hilly area where they were gunned down.

One witness, a former servant of the clan, said the Ampatuan family planned the massacre days in advance.

Diongon said he saw Ampatuan poking a gun at the passengers and hitting them but he did not say he witnessed the actual shooting.

The policeman was testifying for the prosecution in the trial of Ampatuan Jr. and several of his relatives and bodyguards as well as for several policemen accused of helping in the massacre.

Apart from Ampatuan Jr., his father and namesake, three brothers and an uncle as well as police officers loyal to the clan and members of the family's private army are among 196 people accused in the crime.

Police on Tuesday said 119 of the accused remained at large.

The Ampatuans ruled Maguindanao for over a decade under the patronage of former president Gloria Arroyo, who had used the clan as a proxy force against Muslim separatist rebels.

But popular disgust at the massacre forced her to cut her ties to the clan.

Prosecutors have voiced fears that the trial could last for months in the country's notoriously slow court system. (Agence France-Presse)

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