The backhoe | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

The backhoe

/ 05:28 AM November 23, 2017

I found the black T-shirt among my rarely used clothes and was about to send it away to Segunda Mana of Caritas Manila but, I thought, who would want to use a T-shirt with something about a massacre? I then decided that I would keep it until justice has been fully achieved, with the guilty sentenced and committed to the slammer, there to grovel for the rest of their lives like Charles Manson before he died in his sleep.

The black T-shirt has a red silhouette of a backhoe and the words “58 dead, 5 years, 0 justice. Ampatuan massacre 11.23.09.” It was given to us journalists to wear at a rally in 2012, the fifth death anniversary of the 58 persons, 30 media workers among them, who were murdered in one massive strike, a massacre of innocents that blows the imagination for its premeditation, mercilessness, heinousness, and the shocking attempt to hide the crime Nazi-style.


I just went over the nine-hour timeline written for by Matikas Santos on the Ampatuan massacre (“Maguindanao Massacre–How it happened” Nov. 21, 2014). Ampatuan is the town in Maguindanao where the powerful Ampatuan clan ruled with impunity.

On Nov. 23, 2009, Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu’s wife Genalin, accompanied by supporters, lawyers and a horde of media workers, were in a convoy on the way to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor that would challenge the powerful warlord Ampatuan clan. They were coming from Buluan, the capital town of Maguindanao, and heading to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak. Mangudadatu himself stayed behind.


On the way, armed men stopped the convoy, herded the passengers to a grassy area, and shot them dead. Even two passing vehicles, mistaken as part of the convoy, were stopped and the drivers and passengers also killed. Just like that.

The yellow Komatsu backhoe on standby was the piece of machinery used to dig the mass grave even before the massacre was committed, and to cover the corpses and vehicles as soon as the evil deed was accomplished. With its claw, this earth mover or excavator can dig and move dirt. It is a familiar workhorse in construction sites and garbage dumps.  A backhoe is similar to but smaller than a payloader.

I saw backhoes (or were they payloaders?) at work at the Payatas dump soon after the 2000 garbage landslide that buried some 200 trash pickers. In the Payatas tragedy, these heavy equipment were used to extricate the dead and the near dead. They might have been lifesavers, too. In the Ampatuan massacre, the backhoe was used as an

instrument to commit a crime, a massive, premeditated, politically motivated crime unmatched in this country’s election history.

If you want to read about the backhoe driver’s blood-curdling account of the massacre, go to

On the lighter side, I actually have a photo of myself with friends riding on the upturned claw or bucket of a moving payloader, taken on a fun day decades ago in a construction site. Now, every time I see a payloader or backhoe, I am reminded, not of fun and frolic, but of the fate of those buried in cascading garbage and the victims of powerful and evil men on that fateful day which we now refer to as 11/23.

I often see backhoes at work on the road these days because of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program. I avoid them while I drive and get out of their way fast for fear their long arms and buckets might swing in my direction and smash me to smithereens.


Today, the eighth death anniversary of the 58 victims, as in previous years, we again lament the slowness of the justice system. The Ampatuans’ lawyer then, Salvador Panelo, now President Duterte’s chief legal counsel, had said that the Ampatuans were framed. I leave it to readers to roll their eyes.

Journalists are sometimes thought to be intrepid survivors, the last ones left standing. Many have died in a crossfire, in which they were not the targets. In the Ampatuan massacre, the killers made sure no one, the media workers especially, would live to tell the story.

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TAGS: Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, maguindanao massacre
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