MANILA, November 3, 2010 (AFP) – A police officer who admitted to receiving a pay-off to help carry out the Philippines’ worst political massacre on Wednesday told a court he turned state witness to avoid being killed.
Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon, 25, said he had initially been forced to cover up for the influential Muslim clan accused of orchestrating the crime but eventually sought the protection of the justice department to tell all.
Pressed by defence lawyers on why he did not stop the November carnage, Diongon said he and his men were overwhelmed by fear and were kept at bay by dozens of armed followers of key suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr.
“Andal Ampatuan Jr. is not an ordinary civilian. He has in his possession many guns and men. He has the capability to kill people,” said Diongon, who was then the chief of the local traffic police group.
Amaptuan Jr., his father and namesake, three brothers and an uncle as well as several police officers loyal to the clan and members of the family’s private army are among 196 people accused of being involved in the massacre.
The Ampatuans ruled Maguindanao province for over a decade under the patronage of former president Gloria Arroyo, who used the clan and its militia as a proxy force to help contain Muslim separatist rebels.
Two other witnesses earlier testified that the clan planned the massacre days in advance to stop a political rival from contesting the post of governor in Maguindanao.
Fifty-seven people were killed, including 32 journalists and the wife and relatives of the Ampatuan rival, Esmael Mangudadatu.
Diongon said he was summoned by Ampatuan Jnr to the family home days before the attack and was asked whether he was capable of killing Mangudadatu and his relatives.
He said he answered in the affirmative but only out of fear.
Ampatuan Jr. then gave him 15,000 pesos (about 350 dollars) to set up a checkpoint to block Mangudadatu’s convoy.
Diongon said he had wanted to immediately report the crime, but knew that his immediate superior was on the payroll of the Ampatuans.
However two months after the November massacre, Diongon said he asked to be in the custody of the justice department because he felt safer under the protection of the government as a state witness.
“I feared for my life,” he said.
The trial of the Ampatuans is expected to last for months. They face life in jail if found guilty.