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Backhoe operator speaks on massacre: I had to close my eyes

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Andal Ampatuan Sr. reportedly wanted to make sure the backhoe was well-oiled and in good condition.

This done, backhoe operator Bong Andal then went about his grisly task, dragging bodies and vehicles to a shallow pit.

He closed his eyes as he operated the backhoe to crush every vehicle, with passengers inside, and pile them into the mass grave on a remote hilltop in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

Andal finally broke his silence the other day, telling GMA-7 News in an exclusive interview that he was ready to testify against the clan accused of the killing of 58 people on Nov. 23, 2009.

He said he wanted to turn state witness and get government protection, adding that he went into hiding for fear that he himself would be killed.

Andal said he dug a big hole near where the victims were shot allegedly by the Ampatuans, then pushed the bodies as well as their cars into the pit.

“I am Bong Andal, a trusted employee of the Ampatuans... they ordered me to bury the people they had massacred,” said the man in the clip aired by GMA-7 network.

The Ampatuans allegedly ordered the massacre to stop a political rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against one of its members for governor of Maguindanao.

The Ampatuan patriarch, two sons and several family members are in custody and on trial for the murder of 58 victims, including 32 journalists who were covering the political contest.

The backhoe operator was arrested last November, while more than 90 other suspects remain at large.

GMA-7 News said Andal had signed a deposition that was given to state prosecutors. It said it later had an exclusive interview with him, in which he repeated the allegations made in the written deposition.

The TV network said part of his quotes was from the deposition and part from the interview.

“I used the backhoe to push the vehicles into the hole first. Then I flattened them with its metal arm,” the station quoted him as saying.

“Some of the vehicles had dead people inside, so I just closed my eyes out of fright and got on with it.”

Andal also said he used the excavator’s arm to drag the dead bodies into the hole.

He alleged in the video clip that Ampatuan Sr. ordered him to take the excavator to the place where the 58 people were shot dead, and to make sure it had enough fuel.

“The Ampatuans warned me and my parents not to get myself arrested. They said if I get caught they would kill my parents, my siblings and my children.”

 Andal is being held by the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP), along with other witnesses, amid fears they could face retribution for testifying against the clan.

At least three witnesses have been killed since 2010, including a former Ampatuan family employee whose dismembered remains were found stuffed into a sack in 2012.

Andal wants to become a state witness.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has yet to act on the driver’s request as they are still studying his testimonies.

De Lima told GMA-7 News that the testimony must be “essential” in the prosecution of the case and must not be merely “corroborative.” – With Janvic Mateo

AMPATUAN

AMPATUAN SR.

AMPATUANS

ANDAL

ANDAL AMPATUAN SR.

BONG ANDAL

DE LIMA

ESMAEL MANGUDADATU

JUSTICE SECRETARY LEILA

MAGUINDANAO

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