MANILA, Philippines – Former Datu Salibo, Maguindanao mayor Akmad Ampatuan has been placed under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) after surviving an ambush, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed Friday, March 20.
De Lima said Akmad has executed a statement on the participation of the 50 new suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, the Philippines' deadliest case of election-related violence in recent history. It has also been called the Philippines' and the world's worst single attack on journalists. (READ: World awaits gov't action on Ampatuan massacre case)
A total of 15 members of the Ampatuan clan were among the 198 suspects charged in the first batch of the case, including former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr and his sons, former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan. More Ampatuans were implicated in the 2nd wave of cases presently under investigation. (READ: DOJ probes 50 new suspects in Maguindanao Massacre)
De Lima said the former Datu Salibo mayor is a "crucial witness" to the case.
He is said to be a close relative and trusted man of Andal Jr, the primary accused in the massacre.
On November 18, Akmad was ambused by about 10 men in Guindulunga, Maguindanao. Although he survived the attack, his companions Denix Sakal, said to be Andal Jr's aide, and Sukarno Saudagal were killed.
The WPP office is set to file a motion before the Cotabato Regional Trial Court to inform them that Akmad has been placed under witness protection. The same court recently issued a warrant of arrest for Akmad over arson and murder charges.
Meanwhile, Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu wants the 50 new massacre suspects being investigated to be included in the main case.
On November 23, 2009, 58 individuals, including 32 journalists, were buried using a backhoe after armed men – allegedly ordered by Andal Jr – massacred them in a bid to stop the wife of his political rival, Mangudadatu, from filing his certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor. Mangudadatu won and is still holding the post. (INFOGRAPHIC: Maguindanao Massacre case, 5 years on)