DAVAO CITY -- A government witness, who earlier implicated members of a political clan to Maguindanao massacre, is now being accused of masterminding the worst political killing in the country's history.
Ampatuan town Vice Mayor Rasul Sangki, a government key witness in the multiple murder case against Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., earlier told the court in Manila that the Ampatuans were the brains behind the killing of at least 57 people in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.
Lawyers of the Ampatuan clan, however, presented in a press conference in this city Wednesday an affidavit of Sangki's sister, as well as an affidavit of recantation of a policeman accusing the vice mayor as the real mastermind in the November 23 carnage.
Sangki, who was in the witness stand for five hours, was presented by the prosecution and cross-examined by the defense Wednesday. He is among eight prosecution witnesses testifying against Ampatuan Jr.'s petition for bail, whose hearing resumed Wednesday morning in Camp Crame in Manila.
Sangki is a distant relative of both the warring clans -- Ampatuans and Mangudadatus.
He told the court Wednesday that Ampatuan Jr. was tasked by his father, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., to carry out the killings of the Mangudadatus in a bid to maintain their grip on political power in the impoverished province of Maguindanao.
The 30-year-old vice mayor said he witnessed the blocking of the convoy of political rival Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu last November 23 and up to the time the victims were tortured and killed at a nearby hill.
The convoy was led by the wife and relatives of Vice Mayor Mangudadatu, who is running for Maguindanao governor in the coming May elections.
Sangki said he saw Ampatuan Jr. firing the first shot, which led to the killing of 57 people in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.
"It was Andal Jr. who fired the first shot," Sangki said in Wednesday's hearing inside a makeshift courtroom at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame.
Sangki said the Datu Unsay mayor used an M203, while Salibo Vice Mayor Kanor Ampatuan used a K3 to slaughter the victims.
He added that shortly before the massacre took place, Ampatuan Jr. was on the "iCom" radio with Ampatuan Sr., informing him of the whereabouts of the Mangudadatus' convoy.
He also told the court that he saw the younger Ampatuan shoot two women and a journalist he identified as Jimmy "Pal-ak" Cabillo.
He said Ampatuan Jr., the only one indicted so far in the deaths, and his militiamen had fired at the bodies of the victims to make sure they were dead.
The witness also testified that two of Ampatuan Jr.'s uncles and a nephew, who also Sangki's brother-in-law, were among those who shot the victims.
"They continued firing on those who had been gunned down ... in the head and other parts of the body to make sure they will not survive," he said.
According to Sangki, he was on his way to Sitio Malating when he saw the backhoe, with the words "Province of Maguindanao, Governor Datu Unsay Ampatuan Sr." heading towards the massacre site.
The witness also revealed that the younger Ampatuan told him of the planned ambush on the afternoon of November 20, three days before the gruesome massacre.
Defense lawyer Sigfrid Fortun questioned Sangki why it took him 18 days after the killings to prepare an affidavit of his allegations. The vice mayor replied that he was too scared to speak out sooner.
"I lost trust in the law," he said. "The police and the military - they (Ampatuans) control them."
However, Policeman Anwar Dimaudtang Masukat said in an affidavit of recantation that it was the Ampatuan vice mayor and Mohammad Sangki, along with several civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs), who blocked and stopped the Mangudadatu convoy in the morning of November 23.
"And that Vice Mayor Sangki and his CVOs manhandled and beat with the butts of their guns the passengers of the vehicles of the convoy," Masukat said in his latest affidavit.
He also said he was forced by Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) personnel in Camp Crame -- Larry Diaz and lawyer Armado Fabros -- into signing his earlier affidavit accusing Ampatuan Jr. of masterminding the Maguindanao massacre.
Masukat's statement was supported by Sangki's sister, Amina Sangki Ampatuan, who issued an affidavit dated January 11, 2010 alleging that no less than her brother admitted his participation in the November 23 massacre.
Amina is the wife of one of the suspects in the massacre, Mamasapano Mayor Bahnarin Ampatuan.
"During our talk, Rasul told me that he indeed knew of the plan to kill the Mangudadatus as early as November 19, 2009 and that there is no other choice but to point to the Ampatuans, including my husband Bahnarin and Mayor Unsay Ampatuan as participants to spare him and our father, Zacaria, from suspicion of being part of the group that actually killed the 57 persons," Amina said.
Amina said Rasul had also been using cocaine and shabu "which has affected the way he thinks and acts."
"Rasul's violent nature has also caused some of our relatives, including myself, to keep away from him. This is also why it took me a long time to say everything I know about the crime, who actually participated in that crime, and why Rasul was part of it yet narrated lies about the Ampatuans. It pains me to make public all these things about my brother, but I have to for the sake of my innocent husband and my children," she said.
There was no reaction from Vice Mayor Sangki yet regarding his sister and Masukat's statements against him as of this posting Wednesday.
Lawyer Harry Roque, who represented 10 journalists slain in the massacre, said the statements of Sangki are hard to disprove.
"It's very difficult to dispute the testimony of someone who was there and who saw (the crime) with his own two eyes," he said.
The testimony only proves that the massacre happened and Ampatuan Jr. participated in it, Roque added.
"Malinaw na nagkaroon ng patayan at tingin ko malinaw ngayon na isa dun sa pumatay ay si Unsay (It was clear that there were killings and one of those who fired guns was Unsay)," he said, referring to Ampatuan Jr.
Vice Mayor Mangudadatu, meanwhile, told reporters at the sidelines of the hearing Wednesday that justice is within reach due to the "strong" evidences linking the Ampatuans to the massacre.
"Malapit na. Napakalakas ng ebidensya. Sana magtuluy-tuloy na ito," he said.
Mangudadatu admitted he was surprised that Sangki had testified against the Ampatuans since he was a supporter and a relative of the powerful clan.
Sangki's testimony came on the second day of the murder trial of Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the Maguindanao massacre, who pleaded innocent to murder charges at his arraignment when the trial opened last week.
The next hearing is set for next Wednesday and will go on weekly thereafter. (BOT of Sun.Star Davao/Virgil Lopez/AP/PNA/Sunnex)