Gunmen arrived days before Maguindanao massacre: witness

Posted at 09/29/2010 7:46 PM | Updated as of 09/29/2010 8:19 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A witness in the trial of the Philippines' worst political massacre testified Wednesday that a powerful clan trucked in gunmen days ahead of the attack and warned locals to flee the coming bloodbath.

Prosecution witness Nuruddin Mauyag, 35, told the court at least 60 heavily armed men arrived in his village from November 20, 2009 and took orders from Kanor Ampatuan, a member of the country's most powerful Muslim political clan.

Ampatuan is accused of planning and taking part in the November 23 massacre of 57 people in the clan's southern stronghold of Maguindanao province.

"Kanor told me and my neighbors, 'All those who have children must leave because when the Mangudadatus pass we will shoot them even if they are with soldiers,'" Mauyag said.

The Ampatuans are accused of abducting the victims at gunpoint, taking them to an isolated area and shooting them dead as part of a plan to stop a member of a rival clan, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running for Maguindanao governor.

Mangudadatu's rival for office, Andal Ampatuan Jr., along with 16 police officers are on trial in connection with the massacre, which left 32 journalists, two lawyers, as well as several of Mangudadatu's relatives dead.

Andal Ampatuan Jr.'s father Andal Ampatuan Sr, his uncle Kanor Ampatuan and three other detained members of the clan are among the 196 defendants.

The other defendants include officers and members of the local police and government militia units, formed by the state as buffer forces against Muslim rebels but which the clan allegedly co-opted into becoming its private army.

Andal Ampatuan Sr. was the most powerful Muslim ally of former president Gloria Arroyo, who only broke ties with the family after Andal Ampatuan Jnr's arrest in connection with the murders.

Mauyag, whose testimony is scheduled to continue next Wednesday, said the first armed men he saw three days before the massacre were local police and militia forces, along with three police cars parked outside the local mosque.

Some of Kanor Ampatuan's men arrived later in the day and the following day, by which time they numbered at least 60, he said.

Mauyag, a farmer, said he recognised Kanor Ampatuan because he bought rice from local producers.

"He's the local toughie," Mauyag said. "He has many armed escorts wherever he goes and people tend to get out of his way."

Mauyag was only the second witness to testify against the Ampatuans.

The first, a former servant of the Ampatuan family, told the court under cross-examination on Wednesday how he witnessed the Ampatuan defendants plot to kill Mangudadatu during a meeting on November 17, 2009.