MANILA, Philippines—In the aftermath of the massacre of 57 people, brother turned against brother in the Ampatuan clan as the family faced multiple murder charges and pondered whose head should roll, a court was told Wednesday.
Afraid that he would be jailed, Zaldy Ampatuan was prepared to tag his younger brother Andal Ampatuan Jr. as the man responsible for the worst political violence in the nation’s history, said former househelp Lakmudin Saliao.
Continuing his testimony before Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Saliao testified that lawyer Sigfrid Fortun advised Zaldy, then governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), not to admit anything and leave the matter to the lawyers.
Last week, Saliao testified that Ampatuan Jr., the mayor of Datu Unsay town nicknamed Unsay, carried out the family decision to waylay on Nov. 23, 2009, a convoy of a political rival contesting the gubernatorial seat in Maguindanao in the May elections.
Saliao said the family patriarch, former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., gave the order to kill relatives and supporters of Toto Mangudadatu, along with at least 30 media workers.
The group was en route to file the certificate of candidacy of Mangudadatu, who had sent his wife and sisters, thinking they would not be harmed. Mangudadatu subsequently won as Maguindanao governor.
“Father, I will accept that it is only Unsay who did this. I can’t afford to be inside the jail,” Saliao quoted Zaldy as saying.
The elder Ampatuan was then under military custody in Camp Panacan, Davao City, but Saliao was still attending to him.
‘Don’t be in a hurry’
The patriarch reportedly told his son “don’t be in a hurry” and assured him that he would talk to lawyer Philip Pantojan, a legal adviser of the family.
“I was then ordered by Andal Ampatuan Sr. ... if you remember Attorney Fortun,” said Saliao, surprising everyone by directly addressing Fortun in the courtroom.
Reyes had to intervene and ordered the witness not to address the defense lawyer directly.
Saliao said that the Ampatuan patriarch had ordered him to call Fortun, who arrived the following day at Camp Panacan. “I even fetched him at the gate,” Saliao said.
Inside the room, Ampatuan Sr. told the lawyer that Zaldy was already considering admitting that his brother was responsible, Saliao testified.
“Attorney Fortun said ‘Don’t ever admit to anything ... we lawyers will take care of it,’” Saliao said.
The witness said Ampatuan Sr. then told him to call Zaldy and then he relayed Fortun’s advice for the ARMM governor to shut up.
Saliao said Fortun visited the camp four more times, in some instances accompanied by a certain “fiscal” or government prosecutor named Thaddeus Sayson.
P386M for cover-up
In an interview with reporters later, Fortun dismissed Saliao’s testimony. “I am not the lawyer of Zaldy,” he said. “I cannot advise him what to do.”
Saliao, 33, said he turned against the Ampatuans because he feared for his life after he was accused of defecting to the other side.
He said that while inside Camp Panacan, the Ampatuan patriarch was able to receive and give away P386 million to his supporters to bribe government witnesses, tamper with evidence and commit perjury.
Saliao said that on March 11, Ampatuan Sr. ordered the release of at least P30 million in bribes, including P10 million for Jesus Dureza, who was then in charge of Mindanao development in the Arroyo administration.
Saliao said that the P10 million was supposed to be in exchange for the release of Ampatuan Sr. from custody.
He said it was Mastur Salendab, a “trusted” deputy of the Ampatuan patriarch on financial matters who was then running for mayor in Maguindanao, who suggested that the money be given to Dureza.
In a statement, Dureza denied the accusation. “It’s a clear fabrication, if not outright amusing since it’s on a matter which is totally not in my hands as the justice department and the courts were in full control,” he said.
Five Ampatuans are in jail and over 190 people have been charged in connection with the massacre in which 57 people were seized, sprayed with gunfire and then buried, along with their vehicles, in mass graves dug up by a backhoe.
The 30 journalists killed were the largest group of media people killed in one incident anywhere in the world.
Saliao said the patriarch also ordered the release of P20 million to a certain Mike Midtimbang for “taking care of us while inside Camp Panacan,” and P10 million each for police officer Sukarno Dicay and Ranier Ebus for them to retract their testimony linking Ampatuan Jr. to the massacre.
Saliao said four National Bureau Investigation agents from Davao even met Ampatuan Sr. inside the military camp. They were to accompany Amir Ampatuan, a cousin of the patriarch, to Manila to convince Ebus to retract.
“The NBI agents were there so that they could talk to their counterparts in Manila (so that Amir would be able to talk to Ebus),” Saliao said.
But when asked later on by defense lawyer Marlon Pagaduan if the money reached Dicay and Ebus, Saliao said he did not know.
The witness told the court that he personally counted P36 million in cash that Ampatuan Sr. had ordered him to get from Ustadz Farid Adas, the patriarch’s “spiritual adviser,” and Omar Sayadi, the husband of Cynthia Sayadi, the regional solicitor general.
The money was taken to a house of a grandson of the patriarch on March 20, he said.
P36M in cold cash
“I counted the money to see if it were true that it was P36 million. I counted each bundle and it did reach P36 million. Each bundle had P1 million,” Saliao said.
In another incident, around P90 million in cash was delivered by an Ampatuan follower inside Camp Panacan, he said.
“It was inside one big suitcase, a big traveling bag, a medium-sized bag and a small bag. I brought it to (Ampatuan Sr.) pretending it was his clothes,” Saliao added.
But the biggest amount was the P200 million that the patriarch on Feb. 28 ordered Adas to release to Ombra Sinsuat, whom Saliao said was the Ampatuan candidate for Maguindanao governor in the last elections.
Philip Tubeza, Phil. Daily Inquirer