Key witness in reporter massacre killed
MANILA – In chilling turn of events, a key witness in the Maguindanao massacre was murdered on June 14 in his home province in southern Philippines, but it took 10 days for the gruesome killing to appear a police blotter. Apparently bothered by his conscience, Suwaib Upham, a former militiaman working for the Ampatuan family - considered the masterminds of the November 23 (2009) massacre - went public saying he was a witness in the carnage of 57 people, including 32 media people.
Fearing for his life, Upham wore a mask when he appeared on television, relating in detail what he knew about the brazen murders.
Since then, Upham was a walking dead man as he moved from place to place to stay out of harm’s way.
But an assassin’s bullet caught up with Upham in the town of Parang, Maguindanao, Central Mindanao some 800 kilometers south of Manila on that fateful day of June 14.
Police have no clue of the gunman or gunmen. The police entered Upham's death into the police blotter as just another killing. Police did not mention that Upham was a key witness to the infamous Maguindanao massacre.
The media only knew about the killing on Thursday (June 24), ten days after the incident.
“The gunman remained unidentified and the motive was still unclear. We are still determining the real motive of the attack,” Senior Supt. Alex Lineses, Maguindanao police chief, said.
Malacanang Palace condemned Upham’s murder.
"We are outraged by this latest development in the Maguindanao case. We have directed our security forces to take all necessary measures to apprehend the perpetrators, utilizing all the special powers available under the state of emergency that the President declared and continues to maintain in the province," Deputy Presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said.
Last March in an interview with Al Jazeera television, Upham admitted he was one of seven gunmen who participated in the massacre in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Maguindanao province.
He said they were armed with high-powered firearms, including an M203 rifle grenade launcher.
They used a backhoe to bury the 57 massacre victims in a mass grave in a move to cover up the killings.
Upham said he went into hiding after he learned that he was targeted for assassination, together with other witnesses.
Meanwhile, another key witness, Lakmodin “Laks” Saliao, is now in hiding after he broke his silence about the Maguindanao massacre.
Saliao told ABS-CBN television station that he personally heard Datu Unsay Andal Ampatuan Jr. allegedly telling his father, Ampatuan Sr. that no one in the convoy of vehicles should be left alive.