WHEN Filipino boxing hero Manny Pacquiao faces Joshua Clottey of Ghana in the ring on Sunday (Saturday in the U.S.) in Texas to defend his welterweight crown, the Ampatuan clan won’t be in the audience at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium to cheer him like in his past fights.
Of the 12, Andal Ampatuan Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay town, is being held at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila on charges of masterminding the multiple murders. The patriarch, former Maguindanao governor Andal Sr., is confined in a military hospital in Davao City, while his sons Zaldy, Anwar and Sajid, and brother-in-law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan Sr. are detained at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in General Santos City on charges of rebellion and multiple murder.
The other six—grandsons Saudi Jr., Bahnarin and Anwar “Ipi” Ampatuan Jr., Kanor Datumanong Ampatuan , Mama Ampatuan and Norodin Ampatuan—have yet to be arrested.
On Tuesday, an alleged former hitman of the Ampatuans being considered as state witness in the massacre, said he twice served as one of the security escorts of the Ampatuans when they went to Las Vegas to watch the fights of Pacquiao.
According to the alleged hitman who goes by the alias “Jesse,” the most recent of these was the Nov. 14 Pacquiao match with Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, a little over a week before the country’s worst case of pre-election violence took place. The massacre left 58 civilians, including at least 30 journalists, dead.
Jesse has admitted being among those who were with Andal Jr. that attacked the convoy of the Mangudadatus on Nov. 23. He said Andal Jr. later ordered him to kill the driver who witnessed but did not participate in the killing. Jesse said he went into hiding upon learning that he, too, was a marked man.
Jesse, who is illiterate, said in an interview in a safehouse in Luzon that he could not recall the name of Pacquiao’s opponent in the other fight he saw. Neither can he remember the names of the hotels they stayed except that they were “maganda (beautiful).”
On both trips to Las Vegas, Jesse said he and five or six security escorts accompanied the Ampatuan group that included Andal Sr., Andal Jr.and Kanor.
Andal Jr. handpicked Jesse to be Kanor’s close-in bodyguard two years ago after the self-confessed hitman’s record of having never lost in street brawls in Maguindanao.
Jesse said he was lucky to have gotten the chance to watch the fight up close because not all the Ampatuan bodyguards were given that privilege. The Ampatuans took care of his passport.
“We carried their bags, including money and cellphones,” he said.
The Ampatuans are reported to bring a lot of cash in their trips to Las Vegas. Zaldy, governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, was held briefly at the Los Angeles airport with his family on April 26 last year while on his way to watch Pacquiao’s fight with Ricky Hatton.
An initial report said his visa was cancelled and that he was questioned for bringing with him $6 million, both of which ARMM Solicitor General Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi later denied. The Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles did not disclose then the reason for the Ampatuans being held up in immigration. The U.S. Embassy at that time also refused to comment on the case “for privacy reasons.”
Andal Sr. did not follow his son to the U.S. to watch the Pacquiao-Hatton bout in May last year because of the skirmishes going on in Maguindanao at that time. He watched the fight on television in Maguindanao with his son Sajid.
Law enforcers monitoring the activities of the Ampatuans said the powerful clan bets big on the Pacquiao fights. One law enforcer said they have received reports that the family won as much as P750 million in one of the latest fights.
The Ampatuans are known to be close to former Ilocos Sur governor and now Deputy National Security Adviser Luis “Chavit” Singson, another of Pacquiao’s big patrons. Some members of the clan have been caught on video in Pacquiao’s after-fight interviews, including the Hatton match.
Singson lost in the 2007 senatorial race, but topped the original canvassing in Maguindanao. It was Juan Miguel Zubiri, who is from Bukidnon, who topped the Maguindanao vote in the recanvass.
In May, 10 of the 12 Ampatuans implicated in the massacre are running for office. Only Andal and Zaldy are not. by Ellen Tordesillas/VERA Files