Main suspect jeered as he faces prosecutors investigating massacre of 57 people in Philippines

By Oliver Teves, AP
Friday, December 18, 2009

Suspect faces prosecutors for Philippine massacre

MANILA, Philippines — The main suspect in the Philippines’ worst political massacre, wearing a bulletproof vest and handcuffs, was pushed by guards through an angry crowd Friday to appear at a preliminary investigation hearing.

Dozens of Filipino journalists, whose 30 colleagues were among 57 people killed in southern Maguindanao province on Nov. 23, jeered Andal Ampatuan Jr. outside the Justice Department building in Manila and shoved pictures of the victims’ mutilated bodies in his face. At the hearing, he sat between two security officers, one of whom was armed with an assault rifle.

Ampatuan was slightly injured as photographers and cameramen surged toward him as he was led to a security vehicle after the 45-minute hearing.

ABS-CBN television showed a camera being jabbed at his face, the lens hitting his forehead moments before he was shoved into the car. Footage of his arrival at his detention cell showed a small bump and a bloody cut where he was hit.

Ampatuan, the only suspect indicted in the attack so far, has been charged with 40 counts of murder. He has denied involvement.

State prosecutors called the hearing to receive additional complaints and evidence from investigators and victims’ relatives against Ampatuan and 160 other people, including his father — clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. — as well as several brothers, police officers and government-armed militiamen who allegedly took part in the massacre.

The victims were traveling in a convoy led by the family and supporters of the Ampatuans’ election rival when they were stopped, led to a grassy hilltop several miles (kilometers) away and killed.

The massacre prompted President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to crack down on the Ampatuans, her political allies who have ruled the impoverished province for years. They were expelled from the ruling party days after the killings.

Troops and police have recovered hundreds of firearms at or near Ampatuan properties, including mortars and heavy machine guns and enough ammunition for a battalion. Authorities have accused the Ampatuans of fomenting a rebellion in the province they control to avoid arrest.

Senior State Prosecutor Rosanne Balauag said her team will review the evidence to determine if other suspects should be indicted and then will try to build one multiple-murder case.

Sigfrid Fortun, a lawyer for the Ampatuans, waived his right to challenge the evidence against his clients. He said Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera had already prejudged them.

Another hearing was set for Dec. 28.

During Friday’s appearance, Ampatuan Jr. appeared uneasy. He was wearing a military camouflage bulletproof vest and his handcuffs were linked to a chain attached to his vest that appeared to cause him discomfort.

Esmael Mangudadatu, the candidate who planned to challenge the Ampatuans and whose wife, sisters and other relatives were among those killed, attended the hearing and later said he was “seething with anger” toward Ampatuan.

“I told him, ‘You look like a dog. I also have a dog in chains at home,’” he told The Associated Press.

He said the Ampatuans’ refusal to submit counter-affidavits “clearly means they could not respond because the evidence against them is strong.”

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