MANILA, Philippines—The prime suspect in the infamous massacre of 57 people last year threatened his chief accuser, Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, early into the lunch break during Wednesday’s trial, according to the latter’s lawyer.
“Baka gusto mo isunod kita (Maybe you want to be next),” lawyer Nena Santos said Andal Ampatuan Jr. told her client. She said Andal Jr., who was seated at the far side of the opposite bench, also made a hand gesture signifying a gun pointed at Mangudadatu.
Santos said Andal Jr. was responding to what the governor had earlier told him: “Bakit mo nagawa iyon sa mga babae (Why did you do that to the women)?”
She said it was at that point that Andal Jr. sneered at Mangudadatu and made the threat. She added that the exchange of words was made in the Maguindanao tongue, which she claimed she could speak.
Per Santos’ account to the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the phone yesterday afternoon, jail guards immediately intervened and isolated Andal Jr. She said she advised her infuriated client to calm down and step outside the courtroom and, later, to call it a day.
“I told him not to come back anymore for the resumption of the proceedings because he needed to rest as his blood pressure shot up,” the lawyer said. “It was the first time he had heard from a witness what happened to his wife.”
Emotions ran high on Wednesday among the observers and kin of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre on Nov. 23, 2009, after hearing farmer Norodin Mauyag testify that he saw armed men stopping a convoy of vehicles carrying the Mangudadatu party and accompanying media workers.
Shortly before the lunch break, Mauyag told the court of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes that he saw Andal Jr. drag a “beautiful” woman from among the victims and slap her when she appeared to be defiant.
While it was only during the continuation of Mauyag’s testimony that he identified the woman through a photograph, Santos said the governor knew the witness was referring to his wife, Bai Genalyn Mangudadatu.
In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Santos also identified the woman from among the six photographs Mauyag had taken from an album as the governor’s wife.
During the cross-examination, defense lawyer Sigfrid Fortun suggested that Mauyag’s testimony was rehearsed because the witness was marking areas in the hand-drawn map without taking instructions from state prosecutor Alexander Suarez.
“I was not taught [what to say]. This is all my own,” Mauyag replied, adding that the sketch he made of the area where he was in the time preceding the massacre was his idea of helping the court understand his testimony better.
When he began his testimony two weeks ago, Mauyag drew a map of where he lived, and this was shown by projector to the court in the course of the questioning by the prosecution.
He labeled some of the areas by numbers, which represented the structures that he saw, including the checkpoints.
On why he decided to stay behind after moving his family to a hut in the mountains, Mauyag said he heard Kanor Ampatuan, Andal Jr.’s first cousin and “best friend,” talking over a two-way radio and saying that his group was only after “the women whom they were to shoot even if there were soldiers” acting as security escorts.
“We weren’t the ones who were threatened,” Mauyag told Fortun when the lawyer asked why he did not leave despite seeing imminent danger in the form of men carrying high-powered guns and ammunition.
Mauyag said he was more worried about his family’s safety and decided to relocate them two days before Nov. 23.
The witness testified in Maguindanaoan with the aid of an interpreter from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.
But Fortun said Mauyag seemed to be only feigning ignorance of Tagalog because he did not stop talking even if the interpreter had yet to process a question.
Another suspect was arraigned before the court adjourned Wednesday’s proceedings. Mohades Ampatuan, a purported close aide of Andal Jr. and distant relative of the powerful clan implicated in the massacre, pleaded not guilty to 57 counts of murder.
Mohades’ arraignment brings to 20 the number of accused who have entered pleas before the court.
Only 19 of them, including Andal Jr., are being tried. The clan patriarch, former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Sr., and his other sons have requests for review pending at the Department of Justice.
A total of 197 persons stand accused of slaughtering 57 civilians including at least 30 media workers en route to the Maguindanao capitol to formalize the gubernatorial candidacy of then Buluan Vice Mayor Mangudadatu.
The next hearing is scheduled on Oct. 20.
Mikko Morales, Phil. Daily Inquirer