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The Ampatuan Massacre: a map and timeline

11/25/2009 | 07:48 PM

It is called the Ampatuan Massacre here because the crime was committed in Ampatuan town. Elsewhere on this news site, it is still referred to as the Maguindanao Massacre, which is the more common reference, but no other massacre in modern Philippine history has been publicly associated with an entire province.

We offer the following detailed text version showing the timeline of events leading to the tragedy:

About 9:00 am - A convoy of six vehicles carrying journalists, lawyers, and relatives of Maguindanao vice mayor Datu Ismael “Toto" Mangudadatu leaves Buluan to file Mangudadatu’s Certificate of Candidacy at the Comelec office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao's capital.

- The convoy is composed of six vehicles: four Toyota Grandia vans (one grey, one green, and two white) owned by the Mangudadatu family; and two media vehicles – a Pajero owned by dzRH broadcast journalist Henry Araneta and a Mitsubishi L-300 van owned by UNTV.
- There is a seventh vehicle, a Grandia van boarded by mediamen. But it lags behind and decides to turn around once the passengers sense what is happening.

- There are two other vehicles that are not part of the convoy but happen to be traveling on the same highway: a red Toyota Vios and a light blue Toyota Tamaraw FX.
- The Vios has five passengers: Eduardo Lechonsito, a government employee who is bound for a hospital in Cotabato City after suffering a mild stroke Monday morning. He is with his wife Cecille, co-workers Mercy Palabrica and Daryll delos Reyes, and driver Wilhelm Palabrica.
- The FX is driven by Anthony Ridao, employee of the National Statistics Coordination Board, and son of Cotabato City councilor Marino Ridao.

About 10:30 am - The convoy and the two other vehicles nearby are traveling on a stretch of the Cotabato-Isulan national highway when they are accosted by a group of about 100 armed men at a checkpoint in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan town, about 10 kilometers (four, according to another version) from their destination.

- Genalyn Mangudadatu, Toto's wife, manages to make a call to her husband to briefly tell him what was happening.

About 11:00 am - Philippine Army units in the area are alerted and launch a search for the hostages and their abductors.

About 12:00 noon - 25-year-old Noel Decena of the Koronadal-based weekly, Periodico Ini, sent an SMS to his brother, Joseph Decena, who was in Midsayap: "Lab, i-ampo ko diri kay naa na mi diri sa Ampatuan. I-pray mo kami dito. Kritikal amo sitwasyon diri. (Lab, we’re here already at Ampatuan. Pray for us here. Our situation is critical)."

Undetermined times between 10:30 am and 3 pm - Commandeered by the armed men, the vehicles in the convoy, including the Vios and the FX, are driven to a hilly and sparsely-populated part of Sitio Masalay (in other accounts, Sitio Magating) in Brgy. Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. It takes them 30 minutes to reach the area, which is 2.5 kilometers from the highway checkpoint where the victims were abducted.

At the site, a heavy-duty backhoe is used to dig three mass graves.

The armed men systematically kill the hostages using rapid-fire automatic guns. (It is unclear if bladed weapons were used.) The killers start dumping the bodies and vehicles into the mass graves, and begin covering up the site using the backhoe.

This takes place in just over an hour, if one is to believe a masked witness interviewed on Al Jazeera. He claimed to be one of the armed men ordered to do the killing but was bothered by his conscience.

About 3:00 pm - The same witness said that the perpetrators received a call warning them of approaching Army soldiers. The killers hurriedly flee just before Army soldiers arrive, leaving behind more than two dozen unburied victims and their vehicles.

When the Army troops are still approaching about one kilometer from the crime scene, they hear the backhoe's engine roar and see engine smoke coming from the heavy equipment. But when they reach the site, all the killers had already left the area.

The graves are found and the buried vehicles and bodies retrieved

When the Army soldiers arrive, they see 22 of the victims lying dead on the ground and, soon after, discover the newly-covered graves.

There are three gravesites:

(1) In Grave 1 are retrieved 24 of the victims, including three of the five Vios passengers, FX Tamaraw driver, Anthony Ridao, Genalyn Mangdadatu, Eden Mangudadatu, and Farina Mangudadatu
(2) In Grave 2 are found six others along with the Vios, L-300 and the Tamaraw-FX.
(3) In Grave 3 are found five people.

- The first two graves are 10 to 12 feet deep, while the third is just about five feet deep.

All in all, 35 victims are found buried in the three graves, while 22 are found lying on the ground, for a total of 57 fatalities. There are still three to four unidentified bodies.

Contrary to the initial reports released by the Mangudadatu family, none of the retrieved bodies were beheaded and there were no signs of rape. But at least some of the victims were shot in the genital area. Many were shot in the face, rendering them virtually unrecognizable.

Initial findings about the killers' weapons

It appears that all the victims were killed with belt-fed mini-M16 rifles, except for Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro “Bong" Reblando, who was killed with a shotgun. Reblando was found hogtied in the driver’s seat of the Pajero owned by Henry Araneta.

The backhoe

The yellow-colored backhoe is stamped with the words “Property of the province of Maguindanao - Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr." – in black letters on the engine casing at the back of the operator’s booth. The backhoe is a heavy-duty model of yet unknown brand.

(Andal Ampatuan Sr., Maguindanao governor, is father and namesake of prime suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay town in the same province. The younger Ampatuan was allegedly seen at the scene of the abduction.)

The operator of the backhoe is missing as of this latest update.

The ensuing public outcry and government actions

Three days after the carnage, amid world-wide condemnation, Presidential Adviser Jesus Dureza convinces the Ampatuan family to give up Andal Jr. He is taken, without handcuffs, from Shariff Aguak to General Santos City where underwent inquest conducted by Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera.

From his detention cell at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila on Nov. 26, suspected mastermind Andal Jr. accused the MILF of committing the atrocity.

We will provide more details on this page as police, media, and researchers gather more pieces of the puzzle to reconstruct the whole chain of events.


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