Philippine warlord on trial for massacre 'dying of cancer'

Philippine warlord on trial for massacre 'dying of cancer'
Policemen escort former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. (C), head of the Ampatuan clan and a suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, upon his arrival at Villamor airbase in Manila on April 16, 2010.
PHOTO: Reuters

MANILA - The patriarch of a political clan who is on trial for the Philippines' worst political massacre is dying of liver cancer, his lawyer said Thursday.

Andal Ampatuan Sr., who is confined at a suburban Manila hospital, was told by his doctor that he had three to six months to live, lawyer Salvador Panelo told AFP.

"We are asking the court to allow his continued hospital confinement," Panelo said.

He had been in hospital for almost two months since complaining of abdominal pains while held in his maximum security jail in the capital.

The court trying Ampatuan could not be contacted for comment.

The murder trial of the elder Ampatuan and seven other clan members has moved excruciatingly slowly over the past five years.

The Ampatuans, a powerful clan in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao, allegedly orchestrated the slaughter of 58 people in their area in November 2009, in an attempt to stop a rival clan's election challenge.

The victims, who included 32 journalists, some of whom were shot in their genitals, were buried in a hilltop grave using an excavator.

The brazenness and brutality of the crime shocked the world, prompting President Benigno Aquino, who took office in 2010, to work for a resolution of the court proceedings before he steps down from office next year.

But given the notoriously slow Philippine justice system, there are fears the trial will still not be completed before his term ends.

The Ampatuan patriarch ruled Maguindanao as governor for a decade with a private army tolerated by then president Gloria Arroyo who used his forces as a buffer against Muslim insurgents.

One of his sons and co-accused, Sajid Ampatuan, was released on bail in May. There are more than 100 others on trial for murder over the killings.

However many suspects, including Ampatuan clan members, remain at large while human rights groups and victims' relatives say witnesses are being killed or intimidated to try to sabotage the case.

The Philippines has long been blighted by a "culture of impunity" in which the powerful believe they can commit crimes like murder and escape unpunished.

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