MANILA, October 20, 2010 (AFP) – A farmer who said he witnessed the Philippines’ worst political massacre told a court Wednesday the victims begged for mercy before being shot from close range.

Akmad Ismael, 42, recounted how he saw the prime defendant Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his gunmen stop a convoy of cars carrying 57 people in November last year, before shooting and them and burying the victims in a hill.

“The men and women were screaming: ‘please have mercy on us Datu Unsay, don’t kill us, we have done nothing against you’,” Ismael recalled, referring to Ampatuan Jr. by his nickname.

But Ampatuan Jr. ignored their pleas and and about a hundred of his gunmen, herded them to a hillside where they were gunned down about 20 at a time, the witness said.

“They were made to stand beside their vehicles. Then Datu Unsay said ‘lie down.’ Then he shouted to his people, ‘fire’ and they shot the people who were lying down,” the farmer said.

Ismael said he was leading his water buffalo up a hill when he stumbled upon defendant Ampatuan Jr. and his men accosting the 57 people.

The victims included relatives of Ampatuan Jr.’s political rival and 30 journalists.
Ismael said Ampatuan saw him watching the events and ordered his men to go after him.
Four of the gunmen caught him and were ready to kill him, according to Ismael, who said he survived because he recognised one of the assailants as an acquaintance and pleaded successfully to be released.

Ismael said he hid in a grassy area about 200 metres (yards) away from the scene but he could still clearly see Ampatuan Jnr lead his men in murdering the 57 people.

The shooting went on for about an hour, Ismael said, adding that Ampatuan Jr. personally took part.

After the killings, Ampatuan Jr. departed in a pick-up truck and a backhoe was brought in to bury the bodies. But it broke down before all the bodies could be buried, Ismael said.
Ismael said that after remaining in hiding for about three hours after the massacre, he rushed to his home, took his family and fled for his safety. Ismael and his family have not lived in their home village since.

Ampatuan Jr., a member of a Muslim political clan that had ruled Maguindanao province for a decade, is accused of leading the massacre to stop a rival from running against him for the post of provincial governor in national elections.

Ampatuan’s father and namesake, three brothers and an uncle, as well as police officers and the clan’s bodyguards are among 196 people accused of being involved in the crime.
Ismael was the third prosecution witness to testify in the trial against all of those accused who are in custody.

He was the first to testify that he directly saw Ampatuan and his men shoot the victims.
The trial is expected to take many months. The maximum penalty for those found guilty is life in jail.

The slow proceedings have raised concern among relatives of the victims and human rights groups.

During the hearing, Myra Reblando, widow of one of the murdered journalists, screamed: “I can’t take this anymore.”

She had to be led out of the courtroom, sobbing that the trial was taking its toll on her entire family. â–