Day Three -Nov. 25, (Wednesday)

830AM, I visited a funeral parlor in Marbel. Some bodies not identified yet. I then directed DSWD 12 to attend to the immediate needs of the families, and that DOH 12 and OCD 12 were to assist. I motored to Tacurong at 601stbrigade and met the NBI team that just arrived from Manila. I reconvened the crisis committee and mapped up moves on how to fast track work . A team of PNP investigators were sent to the residence of Buluan Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu to get statements but they were told that affidavits of their witnesses would be submitted instead perhaps the following day. I was already aware that the outrage over the killings mounted. And government was being criticized for slow action.

12 NOON –Over lunch at the brigade, I consulted with the crisis committee on my plan: it was time to contact the Ampatuans and call in Datu Unsay to voluntarily surrender. As they committed to me yesterday.

I was also quietly informed that an operational plan was underway to forcibly take custody of him.

2:00PM – On my way to Marbel to dialogue with all the families of the victims, I made several calls. First with ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan. I told him it was time to bring in Datu Unsay. He told me he would consult the father, Gov. Andal. I said I had only until 5 pm that day to work on this plan. After 5pm, the scenario would no longer be the same, I told him.

4:00PM – While meeting the families of victims in downtown Marbel, I got a call from the father, Gov Andal telling me that he would turnover to me Datu Unsay but requested that the deadline be moved from 5pm today to 10 AM, the following day. I immediately told him I could not guarantee things if the deadline was moved. He said the Ampatuan clan would meet that evening and discuss things and bid goodbye to Datu Unsay. I told him I would get back to him by phone. I made calls and informed some of my colleagues (with whom I had been consulting from the beginning) of the request.

There were objections. Understandable reservations: what if the extension was a ruse to escape that evening? What were the guarantees that he would voluntarily surrender during the new deadline? People were becoming outraged not only on the crime but on the perceived slowness of government, so why waste more time? The forces were ready to strike, so why delay?

But I also reasoned back: How sure are we that we would get Datu Unsay in the operations? (From yesterday’s visit to the Ampatuans, I was certain that he was not there in the immediate vicinity but came from somewhere far.) An assault would surely cost lives knowing the armaments, the culture and the situation. People were crying for swift action but I would not agree to precipitate action. I also said I believed Gov Andal was sincere when he told me he would bring out his son when needed. To wrap up my point, I said: I would take full responsibility for whatever outcome.

My new timeline was adopted. I moved the deadline to 10:00 AM the following day.

That night, we reviewed the “pickup” scenario several times and mapped out contingencies just in case things would not go as planned. In the meantime, government troops moved according to operational plans. That evening, I got a call from Atty. Cynthia getting an assurance from me that nothing would be launched that evening until the 10 AM pickup time the following day. I told her if there were troop movements, these were in support of the 10 AM “pickup”.

Later in the night, another complication suddenly arose. Gen Serapio and Col Geslani informed me that they got information that Toto Mangudadatu would motor with his followers to file his certificate of candidacy the following morning in Shariff Aguak. I immediately called Gov. Teng Mangudadatu. I told him that there was something afoot the following morning and that without disclosing what it was all about, I requested if he could convince Toto to move his filing to another day. A few minutes later, Gov Teng called and said the clan agreed.


Day Two – Nov 24 (Tuesday)

Bert and I took the earliest flight to Gen Santos City. At the 601stbrigade in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, briefings were held. Initial photos of the carnage were flashed on the screen. Gruesome! Next we met with the Mangudadatus, many of them my personal friends.

They were tense and angry. They wanted to retrieve the bodies immediately. They demanded justice, immediately. The Ampatuans did it, they said. After Bert and I expressed government’s resolve to do everything possible, Toto Mangudadatu said they will cooperate. No retaliatory action but government must give justice.

12 NOON – A teleconferencing call connected Bert and me to the Palace where the President was presiding over a hastily called security meeting. We were getting specific instructions from her. So did Bert, PNP Chief Jess Versoza and AFP Vice CS Maclang who arrived with us. Her voice had that sense of urgency. Inputs from the other cabinet members were also relayed.

1:00 PM – The crisis management committee was activated. Assisting me were Eastmincom Gen Ferrer and PNP 12 Director Serapio.

2:00 PM – Bert left to fly back to Manila. Col Geslani, brigade commander assisted in setting up the command center. It was at this time that I operationalized an action plan I quietly formulated in my mind. It was a simple plan drawing lessons from past experiences.

3:00PM – Having talked with the Mangudadatus, I decided to go see the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak. I felt confident. Both families were my friends. And I had direct access to them. With my staff and without military escorts, except for one military officer, Col Macario as guide, I motored to the Ampatuan residence.

3:45PM —I entered the Ampatuan fenced premises and the patriarch Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr was there waiting for me. With him seated in a “ bahay kubo” on the sprawling grounds were several ARMM and Maguindanao officials and relatives. Armed followers were everywhere.

After informing Gov. Andal that my purpose in coming was because of the incident and that his son, Mayor Datu Unsay Ampatuan, Jr. was implicated , I told “Bapa” Andal that it would be best that the Ampatuans also “cooperate”. I said that Datu Unsay should submit to an investigation. He immediately said: “ OK. Kausapin mo sya. Ipatawag ko si Datu Unsay. Basta kayo secretary walang problema”. I told him I wanted to see Datu Unsay as I got reports that he was missing or had escaped. Bapa said: “Hindi yan totoo. Darating si Datu Unsay. Magpakita sya sayo secretary”. Bapa Andal as usual, was a man of few words. We then went inside the house to wait for the son’s arrival. In the meantime, ARMM Gov Zaldy Ampatuan and Cong. Digs Dilangalen arrived from the airport. Usec Zam Ampatuan, Atty Cynthia Guiani Sayadi, among others were there too. I felt a bit tense and uncomfortable. I did not want to start talking about the incident until Unsay would arrive. We were chatting for about an hour trying to divert the issue and loosen up. A lively conversation centered on how many children some of their relatives had. One relative had 70 children. Of course from several mothers. Etc.

4:30PM – We waited. I noticed that Atty. Cynthia was using her cellphone and taking pictures while we were chatting. Unsay arrived and got seated on my left. We continued a bit about our light banter until Unsay settled down. (GMA7 later that same evening showed some pictures on TV. My wife Beth texted me and called my attention immediately when she saw it: “Bakit ka smile kasama mga Ampatuan. Not proper.” I agreed. But I was puzzled where the pictures came from and who sent them. There were no media people around. I surmised Cynthia did it.)

5:00PM. – I was becoming worried that darkness would overtake my return trip to Sultan Kudarat. Many armed and uniformed men on the highway. One could not tell what group or unit. So when Unsay got seated, I immediately told him that I came because of the serious incident and that initial reports mentioned his name as involved. I told him my purpose in coming was only to be assured that he would cooperate and submit himself to any investigation. He looked at the direction of Gov Andal who spoke first: “ Gaya ng sinabi ko sayo kanina, magcooperate kami, secretary”. Then Unsay himself echoed saying: “Mag cooperate po kami secretary”. I then stood up and said I would contact them again soon.

We arrived in Marbel already dark and stayed there for the night.