Thursday, November 26, 2009

Witness: 'We just followed orders'

MAGUINDANAO- A man who says he was a witness to Monday's massacre in the southern Philippines has told Al Jazeera how he was ordered to kill members of a rival political clan - including women and children - and to make sure no evidence was left behind.

The witness, who identified himself only as "Boy", said he was among more than 100 armed men who held up a convoy of political campaigners and journalists before taking them to a remote mountainous area where they were then killed.

Speaking to Al Jazeera's correspondent Marga Ortigas, "Boy" said the orders had come directly from Andal Ampatuan Jr., a local mayor and a member of a politically powerful local with close ties to the Philippines president.

"Datu Andal himself said, he said to us: anyone from the Mangudadatu clan - women or children - should be killed... We don't ask why, we just followed orders."

At least 57 people died in the massacre, believed to be the worst ever politically-related killings in the Philippines.

"Boy", who is now in hiding fearing his life is in danger, said all of the women in the group had been raped before being killed.

Their bodies were then dumped in mass graves that had already been dug out in advance using an excavator.

He said that Ampatuan Jr had also ordered that the reporters accompanying the convoy should also be killed to cover-up what had happened.


"That too was ordered by Datu Andal… because they didn't want any evidence left behind," he said.

"Boy" said the whole process had lasted little more than an hour before the gunmen had to abruptly abandon the scene following a warning that members of the military were nearby.

"We didn't get to finish, which is why the excavator was left there," he said.

"Someone called and said soldiers were on their way. I feel they have connections among the soldiers."

Speaking with his face covered to his identity, "Boy" said he was supposed to have been an active participant in the massacre but did not actually kill any of the victims.

He said he would have been shot if he had tried to intervene.

"I was just standing there," he said "I was all alone… I could only leave it up to my conscience."

7 counts of multiple murders vs Ampatuan Jr.

MANILA - Andal Ampatuan Jr., prime suspect in the brutal election-related murders of 57 people in Maguindanao last Monday, maintained his innocence Thursday and placed the blame on a "rogue" Moro commander being chased by Philippine authorities.

Ampatuan Jr., who is currently the mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao province, is now being held at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) headquarters in Manila.

Ampatuan Jr maintains innocence, blames MILF's Umbra Kato (larger video)

In an interview by RPN News while in detention at the NBI, Ampatuan pointed to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Commander Umbra Kato as the possible mastermind of the Maguindanao massacre.

"Wala po akong kasalanan. Kaya pumunta po ako dito para ipakita po sa inyo, hindi ako nagtatago at wala akong kasalanan, [o] alam sa ibinibintang sa akin," Ampatuan said.

He denied that he is the mastermind of the atrocity.

"Napakadaling sabihin ang ganoon [that he is the mastermind]. Pero dapat may ebidensiya sila. Wala po akong kinalaman doon. Wala po akong kaalam-alam," Ampatuan said.

"Ang MILF po, alam natin terorista, lalo na po sa pamumuno ni Umbra Kato. terorista po sila," he said.

He also denied that he was at the scene of the crime, saying he was at the Datu Unsay municipal hall at the time of the massacre.

"Wala po ako [noong] time na 'yon, nasa munisipyo po ako," Andal Jr. said.

The military is pursuing Umbra Kato and his men for allegedly carrying out attacks in several villages in North Cotabato in 2008. The attacks sent thousands fleeing their homes and left scores of people dead. The attacks came after the Supreme Court (SC) prevented the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in August 2008. The MILF leadership however has denied the military’s allegations.

7 counts of multiple murder

Andal Ampatuan Jr. surrenders (larger video)

The plane carrying him and a group of government officials, led by Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza and Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, landed at the Villamor Air Base at past 7 Thursday evening.

Ampatuan's hands were not handcuffed, which is the standard operating procedure for suspects accused with heinous crimes. HE was restrained however by 2 NBI agents.

Seven counts of multiple murder charges are set to be filed against Ampatuan Jr. by the Department of Justice on Friday (November 27).

Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño said he has instructed prosecutors in Maguindanao to file the case by Friday in Cotabato City.

The DOJ has created a prosecution panel for the case. Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera will lead the group.

At the same time though, the DOJ will be making a request to the SC to have the case transferred.

The motion to the SC will seek the transfer of the trial venue from General Santos City to Manila, to ensure that security is guaranteed to all parties and witnesses who will appear in the court hearing.

Devanadera said they are still working on evidence against other suspects, but she did not disclose how many.

She also said they have 17 other sworn statements from other witnesses including the Mangudadatus.

When asked whether technicalities might be raised because the crime happened Monday, Zuño said no, arguing they are still in hot pursuit so they are still covered by the allowable period.

From Maguindanao to Manila

To transfer Ampatuan from General Santos City to Manila, the DOJ immediately conducted an inquest on the mayor at General Santos City’s Awang airport. It was conducted after Ampatuan Jr. was flown in by Dureza in a helicopter from Maguindanao’s capital town Shariff Aguak.

The inquest is the summary proceeding that enables the prosecutors, to directly bring the charges directly to court, in lieu of a long preliminary investigation.

Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu was also present at the airport, to swear in his affidavit of complaint.

Since the massacre Monday, it was the first time the bitter rivals met.

Tension ensued as Mangudadatu pointed his finger at Ampatuan.

He was about to confront the man who allegedly killed his wife and relatives, when the people around him prevailed upon him to calm down.

Not enough, says Mangudadatus

Mangudadatus bury massacre victims, hope for justice (larger video)

The Mangudadatus, who buried on Thursday family members slain in the bloody incident, said they are not satisfied with just Andal Ampatuan Jr.s surrender.

"Hindi isang Ampatuan lang ang sangkot diyan, kaya hindi pa sapat ‘yang paglantad ni Unsay dahil sa dami ng biktima," Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Assemblyman Khadaffy Mangudadatu said.

They asserted, more members of the Ampatuan clan were involved in the murders.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno has recommended that all local officials in Maguindanao, including other members of the Ampatuan clan, be suspended, amid suspicion they were also involved in the crime.

Puno admitted, provincial police are also at fault.

"Nakalimutan na nila na ang dapat nilang ipagtanggol ay ang Republika ng Pilipinas, hindi ang mga ninong-ninongan nila sa lugar na ‘yon," Puno said in a press conference at Camp Crame.

Aside from Ampatuan, 4 policemen who were allegedly in the area when the massacre occurred, are now under arrest.

Initial investigations showed, the mass killings were planned.

"Ang plano siguro nila i-cover up at ilibing lahat para mawalan. Iyon ang unang unang theory,” Philippine National Police chief Director-General Jesus Verzosa said.

"Everything was planned... talagang alam nila na gagawin nila ito," Puno added.

Puno will ask Congress and the Commission on Elections to scrap the law allowing local government officials to choose police officers in their areas.

Puno believes, this will prevent local officials from abusing their powers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Maguindanao massacre exposes brutal underbelly of RP politics

MANILA - The massacre of at least 46 people in the southern Philippines has exposed a brutal culture of guns, greed and money that for decades has poisoned the nation's political system, experts said Tuesday.

The murders in the province of Maguindanao on Monday are feared to be only the first of many killings likely ahead of next year's national elections, when posts from village chiefs to president will be up for grabs.

"This explosion of violence arises whenever there is an election," said Samira Gutoc, one of the leaders of the Young Moro Professionals, a group helping the government in peace talks with armed Muslim groups in the south.

Indeed, dozens of people are killed each election season in this impoverished and often lawless Southeast Asian nation.

Local political warlords have for generations competed for political power and the accompanying business riches that government posts offer.

These clans are widely known to control private armies, which carry out assassinations and counter-attacks against rivals.

The proliferation of over 1.1 million unlicenced firearms, most of them in the hands of rebel groups or paramilitaries, contributes to the general lawlessness in many remote areas, according to police.

In one high-profile murder in the run-up to congressional elections in 2007, a hired assassin gunned down a member of parliament from a northern province on the steps of a Manila church as the politician attended a wedding.

All in all, 121 people were killed in that polling season, according to national police statistics, slightly lower than the 148 who died in the 2004 national elections.

But while the problem plagues the entire country, experts say the situation is particularly volatile in Maguindanao and other parts of the far southern island of Mindanao, where a Muslim insurgency has raged for decades.

"Politics in Mindanao is about ownership of power. Public office is perceived as a personal, clannish thing -- a birthright, and they would spill blood for it," Gutoc said.

She said she expected more violence in the fallout from Monday's massacre, with relatives of those killed likely to carry out vendetta killings, called "rido" in the local dialect.

"Retaliation is a natural course of events," she said.

At least 46 people were murdered as they accompanied the wife of local official Esmael Mangudadatu to file his candidacy for governor of Maguindanao, as he bid to end the decades-old control of a rival Muslim clan.

The military said 100 heavily armed men under the control of his rival, Andal Ampatuan, seized the group and later shot them.

Forty-six bodies have so far been found, police said.

The military said the Ampatuans were the prime suspects in the massacre.

Abhoud Syed Linga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies and an expert on clan fighting, said the revenge culture complicates the Muslim insurgency, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives since the 1970s.

"Some rido are sustained for generations," Linga said. "The retaliation and counter-retaliation involve the whole family or clan."

The vendetta killings, he said, are the "consequence of the absence of justice" for a perceived wrong.

"Among Muslims the value of justice is strong, to the extent that it becomes a duty for family members to work for justice and reject oppression," he said.

Amnesty International said the killings underlined the danger facing civilians across the entire country in the lead-up to next year's elections.

"The government must prohibit and disband private armies and paramilitary forces immediately," said Amnesty's deputy director in Asia, Donna Guest.

Police name Ampatuan Jr. as top suspect in massacre

MANILA - Police on Wednesday named a political ally of President Gloria Arroyo as the prime suspect in an election-linked massacre of at least 50 people.

"According to the initial reports, those who were abducted and murdered at Saniag were initially stopped by a group led by the mayor of Datu Unsay," national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said.

The mayor of Datu Unsay is Andal Ampatuan Jr., a member of Arroyo's ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition and son of an extremely powerful regional politician who has ensured local support for the president in previous elections.

The military had previously named bodyguards hired by the Ampatuan clan as the suspected gunmen in Monday's massacre in which relatives and aides of a rival politician, plus a group of journalists, were abducted and shot dead.

However, the police spokesman's comments were the first time Ampatuan Jr has been specifically named as a top suspect in the massacre, which took place in a village on the outskirts of a town that bears the clan's name.

Espina, however, did not say if police are already readying charges against the local official.

The Ampatuan son was being groomed to succeed his father, the three-term governor of Maguindanao province on Mindanao island.

The massacre victims included the wife and relatives of rival Maguindanao politician Buluan town vice-mayor Ismael Mangudadatu.

The victims were abducted as they were travelling in a six-vehicle convoy to nominate Mangudadatu as the opposition candidate for governor in next year's elections.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pacquiao ducks personal questions; Jinkee not beside her man

LOS ANGELES—Manny Pacquiao's ear was hurting when he arrived at his official after-fight party at the Highlands in Hollywood. He had just seen his doctor earlier in the day to take a look at it, and was told it would be OK.

As for his next fight, the champ's camp says they will not start negotiations with any boxer, even Foyd Mayweather, Jr., until HBO has released the figures from the Cotto fight.

“We don’t have to call anybody out. Everybody needs to come to us,” said Mike Koncz, Pacquiao’s adviser. “Manny will fight any fighter that’s put in front of him, provided the economics of the fight are reasonable and fair to everybody. We all know Mayweather likes to talk. That’s how he stirs controversy. Manny’s never done that, and we don’t need to start doing it. We’re above that.”

Pacquiao was supposed to have a half-hour press conference before the show but he cancelled at the last minute. Instead, he gave journalists five minutes for questions after his mini-concert.

Before the event, the press was instructed not to ask personal questions. Rumors have flown that Pacquiao is having an affair with Philippine actress Krista Ranillo, who was spotted in Las Vegas last weekend. Pacman's wife, Jinkee, was not at the party.

Koncz deflected any rumors about Manny’s life.

“The more financially sound you become, there's always going to be intrigues. Unfortunately, sometimes those intrigues are not what they’re let out to be. Manny's personal life is his personal life,” Koncz said.

But many of Pacquiao's fans say his personal life is a non-issue.

“He encompasses and embodies that Filipino spirit,” said Filipino rapper, Bambu.

“He can do whatever with his life. We appreciate what he does in the ring. That’s all we care about,” said fan Mark Aco.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pacquiao arrives in Manila

MANILA – Well-wishers and family members gave Manny Pacquiao a warm welcome when he arrived in Manila Friday morning. Pacquiao, in turn, shared his victory with them, saying that he did not single-handedly make boxing history when he won his seventh world title in seven different weight divisions.

“Sa tagumpay ko, hindi lamang sa sarili ko, kundi proud ako na tayong mga Pilipino nakagawa ng record,” he said in a speech during his Thanksgiving Mass at Quiapo Church.

“Tayong lahat, hindi ko sinosolo, kundi lagi nating pasalamatan ang Panginoon at tayong mga Pilipino ang napiling makagawa ng history sa boxing,” he added.

Pacquiao achieved such feat after defeating Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto via technical knockout in Round 12 on Sunday (Saturday in Las Vegas).

He went on to say that he found success in boxing because of God. He said he has always trusted and believed in God.

“Sa kanyang kalooban, isinusuko ko ang fight na ito at alam ko naman at sabi ng Panginooon, sabi sa ating lahat na hindi tayo mabibigo 'pag tayo ay nananalig sa kanya,” he said.

He added: “At nakita niyo gusto ko lang i-example sa lahat na kung makita niyo hindi ako nabigo kay [Oscar] de la Hoya, napakalaki. Sino mag-akala na matatalo ko si de la Hoya? Napakatangkad, malaki. Kay [Ricky] Hatton, puro malalaki. Kay Cotto, last fight ko, pero lahat nagulat na ako maliit tinalo ko silang lahat. Why? Because I believe [in] God, I believe [in] the power of God, 100%.”

Formidable faith

Pacquiao said he always has a huge smile on his face minutes before his fights because he believes God will not fail him.

“Kaya ako naka-smile lang ako. Kung matalo ako, okay lang basta ako nagtiwala sa kapangyarihan ng Panginoon,” he added.

He also mentioned that he wanted his supporters to idolize his religiosity more than his excellence as a boxer. “Gusto ko idolohin na lahat ang pagiging madasalin at pagtitiwala ko sa Panginoon kung gaano siya kabait, kung gaano siya talaga masusubukan. Gusto kong maipadama sa lahat ng mga tao na because of God kaya ako nag-succeed sa mga laban ko.”

Pacquiao also cited how the power of prayers helped him get through tough fights.

“Alam ko lahat ng Pilipino nagdarasal so malakas din ang loob ko dahil maraming nagdadasal sa akin lalong-lalo na sa pamilya ko, mama ko, at kayong lahat. So malakas talaga loob ko, ako, nagdadasal ako tapos plus milyong-milyong Pilipinong nagdarasal sa akin so bakit pa ako mag-alinlangan? Bakit pa ako mangamba? Bakit pa ako matakot nandiyan ang Panginoon sa atin?”

Retirement not in mind

The pound-for-pound king arrived from Los Angeles, California around 5:30 a.m. onboard Philippine Airlines flight PR 103 with wife, Jinkee and his mother, Dionisia.

He happily greeted his children, supporters and the media at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2. He immediately hugged and kissed his three children, Jimuel, Michael and Princess. His youngest child, Queen Elizabeth, was not there.

“Nagpapasalamat ako sa lahat ng sumuporta ant nagdasal sa nakaraan laban ko,” he addressed his fans during the short press conference at the airport.

He also answered questions regarding his plan to retire from boxing: “Wala pa naman. Siguro sa ngayon ay bakasyon muna, pahinga, ang makasama ko ang pamilya, okay… malaking bagay na.”

“At saka mag-relax muna kasi pagaling muna sa tenga kong namaga,” he added. He suffered a right ear injury after receiving blows from Cotto. There was a blood clot in his ear.

He also responded to his mother Dionisia’s call for him to retire: “Pinag-isipan ko, di nag-isip din ako kasi magulang ko ‘yan. Nirerespeto ko ang magulang ko siyempre lahat tayo ginagalang natin ang mga magulang natin.”

The newly-crowned World Boxing Organization (WBO) champion said his team is still studying the prospect of clashing against former pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather, Jr. of the United States.

Asked if he is ready to face Mayweather, Pacquiao said he is willing to fight the American.

He added in jest: “Kailangan siya din ang maghamon dahil siyempre, kailangan siya ang maghamon kasi mas mataas naman ang pay-per-view ko sa kanya kaysa as laban niya.”

Outside the ring

Meanwhile, Pacquiao said he is in no rush to file his certificate of candidacy (CoC) for the 2010 elections.

He has made known his desire to run for a congressional seat in Sarangani province. He is also being considered by the administration's Lakas-Kampi-CMD in its senatorial ticket.

The period of filing of CoCs at the Commission on Elections is from November 20 to December 1.

The press conference at NAIA was brief but media members did not forget to tease Pacquiao and Jinkee amid rumors linking the Filipino boxing sensation to young actress Krista Ranillo.

Pacquiao was even teased by the media to kiss Jinkee, and the couple obliged.

Hero’s welcome

From the airport, Pacquiao went to the New World Renaissance Hotel to rest and have breakfast. He then heard Mass at Quiapo church.

He proceeded to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City where his motorcade kicked off.

From the DENR office, the motorcade passed through Quezon Avenue, España, Pritil, Moriones, Roxas Boulevard, Pedro Gil, Taft Avenue, Buendia, Ayala Avenue, and Makati Avenue. The motorcade will end at the PAG-IBIG Building.

DENR Secretary Lito Atienza revealed that Pacquiao requested for a shorter motorcade route so that he will have more time to rest because he has not fully recovered from his right ear injury.

Unlike his past homecomings, Pacquiao will not go to Malacañang but will instead head to the Quirino Grandstand for the “Parangal Kay Manny Pacquiao sa Luneta.”

The event will be highlighted by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s conferment of the Order of Sikatuna with the Rank of Datu (Katangiang Ginto) on Pacquiao for having won an unprecedented seventh title in seven weight divisions.

Arroyo has designated Philippine Sports Commission chairman Harry Angping as head of the official ceremonies. The event is organized by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Department of Public Works and Highways, Metro Manila Development Authority, and the Office of the President

Monday, November 16, 2009

Filipinos in Austria proud of Pacman’s victory

VIENNA, Austria - Filipinos in Austria joined millions of Pinoys who celebrated Manny Pacquiao’s victory over Puerto Rican boxer Miguel Cotto in the bout held last Sunday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Rene Nunez said Pacquiao’s victory proved once again that the Filipinos can excel in any endeavor, and be a source of national pride and unity.

“Manny Pacquiao has always been, and is the pride of the Philippines. His win proves to the world that Filipinos can excel in any endeavor, whether it is in the field of politics, public service, sports, or entertainment. Manny proves to us that no fighter coming from the West or from the East can stand in his way to promote goodwill for the Filipino people,” Nunez said.

Ramon Reyes of the Circulo Caviteno said the victory of Pacquiao against the Puerto Rican fighter brought yet another achievement which the Filipinos can emulate to overcome the challenges facing the country.

“The Filipino once again emerged victorious in a battle of strength and wit. Manny Pacquiao has brought yet another proud achievement for the whole Filipino nation as he triumphed over Miguel Cotto,” Reyes said.

Ronnie Castillo of the Marriage Spirituality in Vienna described Pacquiao as “truly the pride” of the Philippines. He added that Pacquiao’s discipline and good work ethic “is something that we must emulate in order to gloriously over the challenges that come before us.”

Larry Subido of the Royal Salute club in Austria has all praises for Pacquaio, whom he said remains humble.

“Since his early days in boxing he never brags about his achievements. His love for our country and his fellow Filipinos are his priorities. Manny has all the money he could ever dream of but he always never fails to share with the poor,” Subido said.

Pacquiao's next fight: Congress in 2010

Hints at Mayweather fight

MANILA - Filipino boxing great Manny Pacquiao is bracing for two big battles in 2010: a congressional bid and a possible fight against former pound-for-pound champ Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Pacquiao told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda on Tuesday that he is bent on running for a seat in Congress in 2010.

"Tuloy iyong pagtakbo ko next year (My plan to run in the elections next year is still on)," Pacquiao said.

The boxing great, however, did not reveal if he will run for congressman of South Cotabato, where he lost in 2007 to Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio.

There were reports that Pacquiao is planning to run for congressman in Sarangani province. He is also reportedly being courted to run in Quezon City.

Pacquiao had just snatched the WBO welterweight from Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, whom he beat after 12 rounds in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday.

The title was the Filipino boxer's seventh. He also holds six titles in six different weight divisions.

Pacquiao is scheduled to return to the Philippines on Friday. He said he will stay for a while in Manila before returning to his home in General Santos City.

The boxer said he would take a vacation until early next year before entering into another fight deal, possibly with the camp of Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Asked to pick between Juan Manuel Marquez and Mayweather Jr., he said he would prefer to fight the still undefeated Mayweather.

"I don't think na may manonood pa sa laban kay Marquez. Si Marquez ay tinalo na siya ni Floyd. Siguro bahala na si Bob Arum (I don't think boxing fans will be watching another a fight with Marquez. Marquez got beat by Floyd. I think I would have to leave it to Bob Arum)," Pacquiao said, hinting his desire to face Mayweather in his next fight.

Mayweather came back from retirement just hours before Pacquiao knocked down Mayweather's former opponent, Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton.

There were negotiations for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight but the talks broke down.

Mayweather instead entered into a fight deal with the camp of Marquez while Pacquiao sealed the prize fight with Cotto.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Minnesota official vouches for PCOS machines

MANILA - Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and a US election expert on Friday said the Commission on Elections made the right choice in choosing precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines for the automation of the 2010 national elections.

Speaking via teleconference at the De La Salle University College of Law, Ritchie said the state of Minnesota has been using PCOS machines in elections for more than 20 years and not once have they questioned the results.

"The system you've chosen is a system we're very comfortable with and a system we trust in terms of security and ease of use. PCOS [machines] have a very high degree of accuracy and very trusted by citizens and gives high credibility. This is important in cases of close elections where we have to do count by hand," he said.

He said that while the actual count is automated, voters are still required to fill in the ballots that would be counted. This allows election officials to check the results with the actual copies of the ballots.

Prof. Rachel Smith, program director for the Excellence in Election Administration Center of the University of Minnesota, said that while PCOS machines are 99 percent accurate, poll officials should still safeguard the transfer of the machines and the actual ballots. She added that the memory cards should be sealed to prevent tampering.

"Memory card used [are] most vunerable to attack. It must be sealed inside voting system and check seals during transfers," she said also via teleconference.

Ritchie, meanwhile, said the success of an automated election ultimately depends on the vigilance of the Comelec and the support of the public.

Comelec officials, meanwhile, thanked the guest speakers for backing their decision to choose PCOS machines for next year's electoral exercise.

"It gives us a high level of confidence, the way they talked about trustworthiness and accuracy of the PCOS. It shows us we're on the right track because their system and our system are the same," Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said.