Andal Ampatuan Sr, a former Philippine governor and one of the main suspects accused of ordering the killings of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in one of the country’s worst ever massacre, has died of a heart attack in a government hospital.
Ampatuan, 74, was on trial for the 2009 massacre and was brought to the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in early June, when he was diagnosed with liver cancer.
He fell into a coma last week and died overnight of a heart attack due to liver failure, his lawyer Salvador Panelo said on Saturday.
In compliance with Islamic tradition, Ampatuan was buried on Saturday, according to local news reports.
Ampatuan was among 103 people who were charged with multiple murder in the Maguindanao massacre, one of the worst political killings in the country.
The influential power player in the southern Philippines was also mentioned in connection with allegations of massive vote cheating in national elections, reportedly involving then-President Gloria Arroyo, a political ally.
Ampatuan and his relatives were accused of killing 58 people, including the family of their political rival and 32 journalists, on November 23, 2009. The incident was the world’s worst single killing of media workers.
Ampatuan, his namesake son and the others accused of the killings have denied the charges against them.
Slow pace of justice
The slow pace of the trial has been criticised by the victims’ families, and Arroyo’s successor, President Benigno Aquino III, has repeatedly promised to deliver justice but without compromising the judicial process by rushing through the proceedings.
Arroyo has been detained on charges unrelated to the massacre, including electoral cheating.
Private prosecutor Harry Roque, who represents several of the victims’ families, lamented that Ampatuan had died before the end of the trial.
“We decry the fact that the delay in the system has resulted in this – that both accused and the victims were deprived of a judicial declaration of whether or not he is guilty,” Roque told the AP news agency.
“It should never happen again that something as gruesome as this takes as long as it has taken [to resolve].”
Defence lawyer Panelo also expressed frustration that his client died before he could defend himself in court.
“As a lawyer, I regret that he has to die and deprive me of presenting him as my witness and depriving himself to testify on the side of the Ampatuans,” he said.
Panelo said he had evidence to dispute claims by a key witness who had testified that he was at a family meeting called by Ampatuan, where the decision was made to carry out the massacre.