On November 23, 2009, one of the 21st century's most brutal murders happened in the Philippines after 58 people were gruesomely killed and buried in three shallow graves on a hilltop located in the province of Maguindanao.
Earlier that saddening day, the victims were on their way to the Commission on Elections’ local office in the province to file the certificate of candidacy for the provincial governor of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu. He was running against Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., also known as Unsay, who was the mayor of Datu Unsay town at the time and son of the incumbent governor, Andal Ampatuan, Sr.
However, Toto was not in the convoy as family and advisers decided to send his wife, Bai Gigi, and other female family members to file his certificate of candidacy. They were confident that no harm would come to them because Islam, the dominant religion in the Muslim autonomous region, commands women's utmost respect.
Unfortunately, Bai Gigi, other female relatives, and supporters were among those killed, along with 32 media personnel who were supposed to cover the filing of the mayor's candidacy. Six other victims were just passing by the crime scene when perpetrators decided to kill them as well.
The heated battle against the Ampatuans started when Toto Mangudadatu, who is also from a ruling political family in Mindanao, ran to end the 20-year rule of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao. According to the witnesses' testimonies, the Ampatuan clan met several times to plan the killing of Mangudadatu.
According to Toto Mangudadatu, the Ampatuans had personally asked him at least twice to drop his political bid: on July 20, 2009, during a meeting with then-Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and three weeks later, at a dinner with then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The powerful Ampatuans were known political allies of the former president. However, that did not keep Toto Mangudadatu from deciding to challenge the Ampatuans.
On the other hand, the authorities charged 65 rogue police officers and 90 others accused of involvement in the shocking crime, including alleged Ampatuans' private army members. The family maintained that such allegations did not exist.
The case went on for more than a decade, dubbed as "The Trial of The Decade." Of the 197 charged initially with multiple murders, 90 were detained, including Unsay. Eleven were freed on bail, including Sajid Ampatuan; eight were cleared. Eight of the original accused died during the 10-year trial of the case, including clan patriarch Andal Sr., who succumbed to liver cancer, while 80 remain large.
It is the deadliest attack on journalists worldwide and the worst election-related violence in Philippine history. State witnesses, a politician previously allied with the ruling Ampatuan clan, and a house helper, testified to seeing the brothers participate in successive meetings that planned the massacre. Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr was pinpointed as one of the gunmen.
On December 19, 2019, Andal Ampatuan Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan, and others were found guilty of 57 counts of murder for the gruesome killings of 58 persons during the Maguindanao Massacre. The vital ruling was delivered in a highly-secured courtroom inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
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