Mon, Jul 02, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Political aide to Philippine massacre witness shot dead

AFP, MANILA

An aide to a Philippine governor whose political challenge to a powerful Muslim clan led to the country’s worst political massacre has been shot and killed, police said yesterday.

Police said they are investigating whether the shooting of Said Salik on Saturday was related to the 2009 massacre of 57 people, amid a string of killings targeting witnesses to the murders.

Salik, 65, was with his grandchildren when he was shot by two men riding in tandem on a motorcycle in the southern Philippines, police said.

“The victim was a consultant to Governor Toto Mangudadatu,” regional police spokesman Inspector Benjamin Mauricio said.

Mauricio said the motive remained unclear, but stressed they were investigating whether it was related to the massacre.

Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu had challenged the powerful Ampatuan clan’s control of the southern Maguindanao Province, which led to the 2009 mass murders that included his wife, relatives and 32 journalists.

Mangudadatu’s wife was en route to the election body’s office to file his candidacy for governor accompanied by journalists and friends when they were seized by members of a private army controlled by the Ampatuans.

The Ampatuans had ruled Maguindanao for a decade, under the patronage of then-Philippine president Gloria Arroyo, who used the clan’s private army as a buffer against Muslim guerrillas.

The Ampatuans saw Mangudadatu as a threat to the family’s power and ordered the massacre as a means to stop their rival’s political ambitions, prosecutors said.

The clan’s patriarch as well as several of his sons are among 196 people charged with conspiring to commit the murder, although police said more than 100 suspects remained at large.

As the trial proceeds through the notoriously slow Philippine court system, three witnesses to the mass killings have been murdered.

Three relatives of other witnesses have also been killed, in what rights groups said was a clear pattern to silence anyone who dared testify against the Ampatuan clan.

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