Hope despite chainsaws
“CHINOP-CHOP,” private prosecutor Nena Santos told, in Taglish, the court trying the Maguindanao slaughter of 57 men and women. “Parang chainsaw massacre.”
“Chop-chop” is police jargon for dismemberment. The use of a chainsaw is exceptionally brutal. To explain this perversion, we need to call in psychiatrists.
In Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel beheaded two members who squealed—with a chainsaw. In Texas, a mother of six was decapitated by her husband. “The chainsaw was still running when the police arrived,” reported Dallas Morning News.
Chainsaws did Esmail Amil Enog in. Upon instructions of Alijol Ampatuan, he trucked the clan’s armed followers, in two batches, to Ampatuan town, Enog told the court last July. There, gunmen mowed down 57 men and women, then “backhoed” their bodies into hidden common pits. Victims included the wife and relatives of Esmael Mangudadatu, a political rival of the Ampatuans. Also butchered were 32 journalists and six passersby.
As he drove back to Shariff Aguak town, Enog heard bursts of gunfire. In court, Enog pinpointed four of the militiamen accused: Mohades and Misuari Ampatuan, Mohamad Datumanong alias Nicomedes Tolentino; and Tato Tampogao.
In March, Enog vanished. He had been missing for two months when local police were tipped off and thus found his remains. “His body was put in a sack and it had been chopped up, probably ‘chainsawed’ to pieces,” prosecutor Santos told Agence France Presse. “It was a killing meant to silence other witnesses.”
Cu è surdu, orbu e taci, campa cent’anni ’mpaci, say Sicilians who’ve seen the Mafia operate up close. “He who is deaf, blind and silent will live a hundred years in peace.”
Enog didn’t live to a hundred. “(He) was… dismembered in a signature style—with a chainsaw,” wrote GMA News’ Mark Meruenas. “(This) was the latest in a series of attempts to weaken the case against jailed leaders of the Ampatuan clan. . .”
Government should redouble its efforts to protect witnesses in the Maguindanao murder trial, New York-based Human Rights Watch urged. “It is appalling that they are being hunted down one after the other.”
On June 14 last year, former militiaman Suwaib Upham was mowed down in Parang, Cotabato. “Just another case of killing,” noted the police blotter one week late. No mention that he was a massacre witness.
Upham appeared on Al Jazeera TV, face masked, using the pseudonym “Boy.” He was promised money to take part in the massacre, he said. Now, he feared for his life and his family.
In a later Inquirer interview, Upham—who had then swapped his alias to “Jesse”—asserted that 200 armed men were mustered for the murders. They were led by Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.—now in detention with clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. Currently, 64 are on trial in Manila for the mass killing. Over 160 remain at large.
Centerlaw Philippines, which assists families of 14 Maguindanao victims, lashed at the Arroyo regime for “denying protection to this witness…. There is blood on the hands of (Justice Secretary) Alberto Agra and Gloria Arroyo. May they forever be haunted by the souls of Jesse and the rest of the victims.”
“There are ‘whispers’ the chainsawing murders started after 2001,” then Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair Leila de Lima told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines. “Initial information reaching CHR identified the towns of Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan as areas where these graves could be found…..”
Now justice secretary, De Lima called that shot right. Skeletal remains of murder victims were exhumed from a plot near Shariff Aguak, early this year by the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation teams. Witnesses linked Mayor Samer Uy of Datu Piang and other Ampatuan clan members to the “chainsaw massacre.”
Mayor Uy had, by then, flown the coop. He has been missing for nearly three months, Inquirer reported late March. “(Uy went) into hiding after being linked to the ‘chainsawing’ of 18 people to shreds. The 18 were linked, by political warlords, to the 2003 assassination of Datu Piang Mayor Saudi Ampatuan Sr. Uy is a brother-in-law of former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.
Chainsaws wielded in vendetta, within a province of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, are not only a grisly symbol. They could upset promising reforms initiated by President Aquino for the abuse-gutted ARMM.
Republic Act 10153 postponed the ARMM elections. The ARMM elections are now synchronized with the midterm 2013 nationwide elections. That’d give time to scrub voters’ rolls stuffed with an estimated 100,000 ghost voters. Lanao del Sur has the highest number of “flying voters.”
“Cheating is not the monopoly of Maguindanao,” Rep. Bai Sandra Sema told Mindanao Cross weekly. She and Rep. Simeon Datumanong were not consulted. “If re-registration is done for the entire region, I will support that.”
Reforms so far include new ARMM officials and 24 members of a Regional Legislative Assembly. Commission on Human Rights has set up its first ever field office in Cotabato. Despite chainsaws and setbacks, like a Corona-era Supreme Court TRO, change is happening.
“The new public forum in choosing leaders has never been done in the region known for a culture of silence and of impunity,” notes director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, Fr. Eliseo Mercado. “For the first time, the voices (of people) were heard. (These) are truly elements of a Bangsamoro ‘spring’.”
(Email: [email protected] )
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.