Hope Despite Chain Saws

by Juan L. Mercado

Chinop-chop,” Private Prosecutor Nena Santos said, in Taglish, to the court trying the Maguindanao slaughter of 57 men and women. “Parang chainsaw  massacre.”

“Chop-chop” is police jargon for dismemberment. Use of a chain saw 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 chain saw.  In Texas, a mother of six was decapitated by her husband. “The chain saw was still running when police arrived,’ reported Dallas Morning News.

Chain saws 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, then backhoed bodies into  hidden common pits.  Victims included wife and relatives of Esmael Mangudadatu, political rivals of the Ampatuans. Also  butchered were 32 journalists and six passers-by.

As he drove back to Shariff Aguak town, Enog heard bursts of gunfire.  In court, Enog pinpointed four, among 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 exhumed his remains.  “His body was put in a sack and it had been chopped up, probably chain-sawed to pieces,” prosecutor Nena 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 close up. “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 Jazarea TV, face masked using the pseudo of “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’d then swapped his alias to “Jesse” — asserted the 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 Maguidanao victims, lashed the Arroyo regime for “denying protection to this witness. There is blood on the hands of (Justice Secretary) Agra and Ms. Arroyo.  May they forever by haunted by the souls of Jesse and the rest of the victims.”

“There are ‘whispers’ that chain sawing murders started after 2001, then Commission on Human Rights chairman 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 chainsaw victims were exhumed from a plot near Shariff Aguak  early this  year by Department of Justice and National Bureau of Investigation teams.  Witnesses  linked Mayor Samer Uy of Datu Piang Uy 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 chain sawing 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.

Chain saws welded in vendetta, within a province of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, are not only a grisly symbol. They could upset promising reforms, initiated  by the President Benigno Aquino for the abuse-gutted ARMM.

Republic Act 10153  postponed ARMM elections. The vote is synchronized  with the midterm 2013 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 Maguidanao,” Rep Bai Mendra Sema told Mindanano 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 ARRM officials and  24 members of a Regional Legislative Assembly.  Commission on Human Rights set up it’s first ever field office in Cotabato. Despite chain saws and set backs, like a Corona-era Supreme Court TRO, change is happening.

“The new public forum in choosing leaders has never been done in 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: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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