Massacre witness recants testimony vs Ampatuan

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
Massacre witness recants testimony vs Ampatuan
In his 10-page judicial affidavit obtained by The STAR, Lawani claimed that he was pressured by the family of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu to testify against Ampatuan.

MANILA, Philippines — A witness in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre has recanted his testimony implicating primary suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr. in the multiple murder case, The STAR has learned on Friday.

Witness Thonti Lawani, who was presented by the prosecution panel in 2011, was put forward by the camp of Ampatuan earlier this month to retract his earlier claim that he saw the suspect at the massacre site.

In his 10-page judicial affidavit obtained by The STAR, Lawani claimed that he was pressured by the family of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu to testify against Ampatuan.

“I was so afraid of my safety and most especially the safety of my family,” Lawani said in his affidavit when asked why he lied in open court during his earlier testimony.

“They threatened that they will kill us if we do not say the things they wanted us to say in their favor. Our whole family was being held hostage by the Mangudadatu family,” Lawani claimed.

Mangudadatu’s wife, sisters, aides and lawyers were among the 58 people, including 32 media practitioners, who were killed on Nov. 23, 2009.

A total of 197 suspects, including members of the Ampatuan clan, were implicated in the incident.

In his initial testimony, Lawani claimed that he saw Ampatuan giving orders to his commanders at a crossing in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan town.

Lawani added that he saw the convoy of vehicles going toward the hilly portion of the area where the massacre happened.

But in his new testimony, Lawani claimed that he did not see what happened at the crossing as he was in another part of the municipality at the time.

Lawani alleged that Mangudadatu told him what to say in court after forcefully taking him and his family and some of his men from their house in Masalay.

“The things I said are not true. They forced me and I was left without a choice because they held my life and that of my family in Buluan. They held my family hostage and in exchange for their safety, I have to testify on matters that are pure lies,” Lawani said in his affidavit.

“My conscience could no longer handle it. I don’t want to live a life full of lies,” Lawani added.

Meanwhile, Mangudadatu’s lawyer Nena Santos denied Lawani’s allegations.

Santos said they would file a perjury case against Lawani.

Santos also expressed confidence that Ampatuan would be convicted as Lawani’s testimony was only corroborative in nature.

“He is merely a corroborative witness,” she told The STAR. “Our direct eye witnesses (Sukarno Badal, Norodin Mauyag, Rasul Sangki and Esmael Abubakar) have not recanted.”

Ampatuan, who is accused of taking part in the massacre, centers his defense on his alibi of being at the municipal building of Datu Unsay town at the time of the mass murder.

Ampatuan presented various witnesses claiming to have seen him, then vice mayor of Datu Unsay, at the session hall of the municipal building.

The presentation of defense witnesses for Ampatuan was originally scheduled to end last Sept. 20. But his lawyers have asked the court to allow them to present two more, whom they said would also recant their testimonies.

The prosecution panel has opposed the presentation of the witnesses, noting that Ampatuan has been given more than enough time to present testimonial evidence.

“Accused Ampatuan should stop acting like a privileged accused. He should be candid with the court and the prosecution and not take them for more ride on his tack. He has been dragging the trial of these cases for too long,” said the prosecution in its opposition.

The court has yet to rule on whether it will allow the presentation of additional witnesses for the defendant.

The next hearing is set on Oct. 4.

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