Maguindanao massacre suspect Ampatuan Sr dead

MANILA, Philipppines (UPDATED) – Ampatuan family patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr, on trial for masterminding the 2009 Maguindanao massacre that killed 58, passed away at 10:30 in the evening of Friday, July 17.

Ampatuan Sr, diagnosed with liver cancer, was confined at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City. His lawyer Salvador Panelo told Agence France-Presse that the former Maguindanao governor was informed by doctors he had 3 to 6 months to live. 

Bai Mayan Sinsuat, who spoke to her son-in-law and former vice governor Sajid Islam Ampatuan, one of Ampatuan Sr's sons, confirmed the death with Rappler. 

He had been in hospital for almost two months since complaining of abdominal pains while held in his maximum security jail.

Ampatuan Sr, along with his son, Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr, is the principal accused in the massacre of 58 individuals in Sityo Masalay, Ampatuan, Maguindanao in November 2009. There are 100 co-accused. 

The Ampatuan clan was believed to have plotted the massacre to thwart the gubernatorial candidacy of rival Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu for the 2010 May elections. Mangudadatu sent a convoy of vehicles that included his wife, lawyers and other female relatives to file his certificate of candidacy in Sultan Kudarat. Thirty-two journalists were present to cover Mangudadatu's candidacy. The convoy, among them two civilian vehicles, was stopped at a hillside by waiting gunmen.

Some of the bullet-riddled bodies were strewn on the open field when police arrived. More had been buried on the same day, along with several of the vehicles. 

Mangudadatu, who won and is still the governor of Maguindanao told Rappler earlier that "Allah will be responsible for him and for those he has killed." He added that Ampatuan Sr "will definitely be answerable to his sins before God."

Slow trial

"Now that he's dead, I don't know how to feel," said Reynafe Momay in Filipino. Reynafe, a registered nurse now working in the United States, is the daughter of photojournalist Reynaldo "Bebot" Momay. Momay's body, the 58th, has never been recovered. 

The murder trial of the elder Ampatuan and 7 other clan members has moved slowly over the past 5 years. Reynafe has called the process frustrating, with updates few and far between. 

The brazenness and brutality of the massacre made international headlines, prompting President Benigno Aquino III, who took office in 2010, to work for a resolution of the court proceedings before he steps down from office in 2016.

But given the notoriously slow Philippine justice system, there are fears the trial will still not be completed before Aquino's term ends.

The Ampatuan patriarch ruled Maguindanao as governor for a decade with a private army tolerated by then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who used his forces as a buffer against Muslim insurgents.

One of his sons and co-accused, Sajid Ampatuan, was released on bail in May.

A month earlier, in April, a local court denied Ampatuan Senior's plea for bail, saying that evidence against him is strong.

Many other suspects, including Ampatuan clan members, remain at large while human rights groups and victims' relatives say witnesses are being killed or intimidated to try to sabotage the case.

The Philippines has long been blighted by a "culture of impunity" in which the powerful believe they can commit crimes like murder and escape unpunished.

"When I say it's mixed emotions," said Reynafe, "I can't help but remember how it feels to lose a parent. I know even if (Ampatuan) was that way he still has family who love him and mourn him. But I am still human. At the back of my mind, I hoped he would live longer, just so he would have time to repent from his sins," she said in Filipino.

"Sana habang nasa death bed siya, nakahingi siya ng tawad. Dapat nag-sorry siya sa mga victims. Naaawa ako sa family niya na nawalan. Hindi ako masaya na namatay siya," she told Rappler. (I wish that he was able to seek forgiveness in his death bed. he should have apologized to his victims. I pity his family who lost him. I am not happy he died.)

Ampatuan Sr's burial will be on Saturday, July 18. –  with a report from Althea Ballentes/Rappler.com