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Yasser Ampatuan’s bid for governor of Mindanao has been endorsed by Manny Pacquiao. Photo: Handout

12 years after Ampatuan massacre, Manny Pacquiao backs a clan member for Maguindanao governor

  • Hadji Yasser Ampatuan, who allegedly was present during the planning of the infamous killings, is to run against the very man the massacre targeted – Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu
  • Mangudadatu’s wife and sister were among the 58 people killed when Ampatuan supporters ambushed a convoy on its way to filing his candidacy. 197 people have been convicted over the killings, but Yasser Ampatuan is not one of them
A member of the Ampatuan political clan, who was allegedly present when the infamous “Ampatuan massacre” was planned 12 years ago, is running for governor of Maguindanao province in 2022, backed this time by boxer-senator and presidential aspirant Manny Pacquiao.

The political comeback of the once powerful Ampatuan clan hinges on the candidacy of Hadji Yasser Ampatuan, also known as “Datu Puti”, who once served as officer-in-charge governor of Maguindanao and has been a member of the provincial legislature for nine years.
Twelve years after the massacre, the comeback raises painful memories for the Philippines, not least because Yasser Ampatuan will contest the election against the very same politician targeted in the massacre of November 23, 2009.

Yasser Ampatuan, who calls himself the “Man of the Masses”, will face Congressman Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who lost his wife and sister in the massacre when their party of 59 people – which included other relatives, supporters and 32 media workers on their way to filing Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor – were ambushed by Ampatuan family members and their supporters.

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One journalist avoided becoming a victim by breaking away from the convoy just before the other 58 in the party were abducted, dragged to a hillside and gunned down, with some of the women being raped before their execution.

Mangudadatu’s 2022 candidacy is backed by the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the ruling power in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.

It is unclear why Pacquiao, who hails from Mindanao, gave his political endorsement to Yasser Ampatuan on October 17, since the late Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jnr, co-founder of Pacquiao’s party PDP-Laban, had condemned the Ampatuan massacre.

Manny Pacquiao endorses Yasser Ampatuan for governor on October 17, 2021. Photo: Handout

On December 19, 2019, a regional court found 197 people guilty of conspiring to carry out the atrocity. The court heard that the clan patriarch, Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Snr, had met his children and nine other relatives six days before the massacre.

A member of Andal Snr’s household staff, Lakmodin Saliao, testified in court that Yasser Ampatuan, whom he identified as a cousin of the governor, was among those present in that meeting when Andal Snr asked how the clan could stop Mangudadatu from filing his certificate of candidacy.

Andal Snr reportedly asked the group, “my children, grandchildren, supporters, what can you say, is it okay to kill them all?”

Saliao said the people in the room laughed at this suggestion. “The witness perceived that they were all in agreement with the plan of killing them all,” noted the trial judge, Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

Of the 197 convicted, 75 remain at large. Yasser Ampatuan was never charged, though the families of the victims have called for him to be due to the claim at trial that he was present during the planning.

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This Week in Asia has approached a Pacquiao representative to comment. A spokesperson for his party had not replied as of publishing time.

Veteran journalist Vergel Santos, a board trustee of the Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility, was not surprised that Pacquiao had endorsed an Ampatuan.

“The well-loved one [previously] backed a similar, in fact nationally notorious, dynastic leader in [Rodrigo] Duterte,” Santos said. “A newcomer in politics and already picking the notorious side. But then again, dynastic is the nature of politics particularly in those parts. Too many moral contradictions in Paquiao’s character, as evidenced by his Duterte vote and his outward but not quite decisive breakaway from him.”

This Week in Asia also asked Yasser Ampatuan to comment on the massacre and his role in resurrecting the clan’s political power. No reply was received as of publishing time.

After he filed his candidacy on October 8, Ampatuan told the media he had decided to enter the race because two members of the Mangudadatu clan were vying for the gubernatorial post. Also in the race is the incumbent governor, Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu.

Yasser Ampatuan said his priority would be “to give housing to the poor”.

On Tuesday, the anniversary of the massacre, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines held a “noise barrage”, honking car horns and banging drums and pans “as a symbolic call for vigilance in this elections”.