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Foreign Correspondent -

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On November 23rd last year, more than 50 people were brutally murdered near a small village in
Southern Philippines, on the troubled island of Mindanao. Most of the dead were journalists. This
would be the worst mass killing of reporters the world has seen.

"The bad thing is that it happened, the good thing is that it opened the eyes of all."

Philippines Defence Minister, Norberto Gonzales

The reporters were the victims of a terrible clan war that's been aided and abetted - its claimed -
by the government of Gloria Arroyo, the President of the Philippines.

They were killed because they were reporting what should have been an everyday event - a political
candidate filing papers to run in an election.

"I told him before just stop being journalist, but he told me he loves very much being a

So I can't stop him. I really miss him so much, very, very much" -

Myrna Reblando, wife of murdered newsman Bong Reblando

The man accused of orchestrating the murders is a political rival of the would-be election
candidate. He controls a large private army that - up until the killings - was funded and armed by
the government of President Gloria Arroyo.

Her administration has long been accused of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, or even of
secretly approving covert military kidnappings and disappearances of political opponents and those
who try to investigate and report them.

The family members accused of carrying out the murders are known in the Philippines as the
President's "pet monsters". But as the November massacre lays bare, the pets have gone feral.

Very little light has been shed on the incident until now.

For this report, Mark Willacy travelled to Mindanao and Manila looking for answers. What happened
on that day in November, and why?

He meets key players, including the man accused of masterminding the killings. He also talks to
family members of the victims and spends time with the man who's been given the almost impossible
job of corralling the pet monsters and their ferocious rivals.



WILLACY: These are the wilds of the southern Philippines, wild in more ways than one. This is a
lawless place where guns rule, powerful figures dominate and brutal arguments rage over who
controls what and where. We've come to Mindanao to investigate the very worst of what happens here
when renegade forces collide.

NORBERTO GONZALES: "This is one episode that we should really be ashamed of as a people. So it's
not easy to allow this kind of crime to just pass us by and no, no punishments. No, no".

WILLACY: Despite its scale and toll, very little is known about what happened. We're about to find
out a great deal more, including why this story has been left largely untold.

MYRNA REBLANDO: "I told him you don't have to go there. It's very dangerous, especially the place.
I told him don't go there (upset)..... it's hard to say...".

WILLACY: It was the 23rd of November last year and a man named Toto Mangudadatu was doing the
unthinkable in Mindanao, launching a challenge against the prevailing power. He declared he would
register as a candidate for governor in the western province of Maguindanao and here this was a
red-hot news story that excited a number of local journalists, including veteran Alejandro 'Bong'

MYRNA REBLANDO: [Widow of murdered journalist] "He is a very good man, loveable, good person, many
friends. He has a lot of friends, not only here in our city but everywhere."

WILLACY: Bong Reblando joined a band of about 34 journalists on the new candidate's convoy to the
provincial capital where they were told candidacy papers would be filed. Only the candidate would
not be along for the ride - it was too dangerous. He sent supporters, members of his clan, even his
wife, to lodge the paperwork.

MYRNA REBLANDO: "He's gone there many times, not only once, twice, but many times. He knew those
people very much. I'm very worried not just for his job but for his life."

WILLACY: The convoy would travel through the heartland of one of Mindanao's most powerful men, a
warlord no less. A man named Andal Ampatuan. Clan supporters like these guys at any number of
checkpoints in his territory call him Lolo. It was at just such a checkpoint that the November
convoy was met by 100 heavily armed supporters of Lolo Ampatuan. What happened next defies

"What happened on this secluded hilltop was gruesome in the extreme. Witnesses say about a hundred
heavily armed men, including some police, stopped the convoy and then brought the people up here.
They then opened fire. Women were shot in the groin, others were killed as they tried to flee. Some
of the bodies were then dumped in these pits. The killers weren't renegades or bandits, they were
allies of this country's president and some of the weapons they used in his massacre came from the
government's own arsenal."

When the dust cleared everyone in the convoy was dead. Cars with their occupants still inside had
been crushed into the pits. Would be candidate Toto Mangudadatu had lost a wife, sister and aunt.
With more than 30 journalists dead, this would also be the worst mass killing of reporters the
world has seen.

LT GENERAL RAYMUNDO FERRER: [Eastern Mindanao Command Chief] "I am a military guy and I have seen
so many dead people during encounters but this really.... it's very hard to describe how awful these
things are."

NORBERTO GONZALES: [Defence Secretary, The Philippines] "Difficult to believe that something like
that could happen in The Philippines but it did. Well the bad thing is that it happened, the good
thing is that it opened the eyes of all."

WILLACY: Myrna Reblando lost her husband of thirty-five years - father to her seven children.

MYRNA REBLANDO: "I told him before just stop being journalist but he told me that he loves very
much being a journalist, so I can't stop him. I really miss him so much.... very, very much."

MARIA REBLANDO: [Daughter] "I miss him every day of my life. Actually I considered him as the man
of my life. He had always been there for me and he's always there to guide me and I am very
dependent on him before."

WILLACY: Of course many more families are grieving. Bong Reblando was just one of the journalists
to die in a part of the world now considered more dangerous to cover than Iraq or Afghanistan.

MYRNA REBLANDO: "Those people cannot do nothing. If our government did not give those money and

WILLACY: Lolo Ampatuan's influence is all around and yet he remains a mysterious figure. He prefers
to stay out of the spotlight but we've been told he will meet us. That may have something to do
with his current plight. He's been arrested, charged with ordering the massacre and he's being held
at a military hospital.

We find the 70-year-old clan leader surrounded by family and friends in a sunny corner of the
hospital grounds and he's happy to let them do the talking.

"Is he confident that he can defend the charges, the serious charges?"

GRANDSON: (translates question for Lolo) "Definitely."

WILLACY: "What does he think of the charges against him?"

GRANDSON: "Actually it's only rumours you know? There is no evidence, there is no evidence to the
charges that they have filed to my grandfather."

WILLACY: "Why would they do it?"

GRANDSON: "We don't know."

WILLACY: We're told Lolo Ampatuan has assembled a legal army to fight the charges against him. That
defence is taking shape back at the clan compound and to get there we're told it's best to travel
with armed support.

"Well we're in the heart of Maguindanao province. This is the seat of power of the Ampatuan's and
in fact we've been invited to the family palace basically. This is where Ampatuan senior, the
Godfather lives, from where he controlled this entire province basically."

[Arriving at palace] It's a breath taking pile and it reeks of big money.

"Salaam aleikum, Mark Willacy from the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program. Nice to meet you."

REX JASPER LOPOZ: [Lawyer] "Very nice to meet you. Rex Jasper Lopoz, lawyer for the Ampatuans."

WILLACY: With the boss and his entourage elsewhere, Rex Jasper Lopoz has plenty of room to work out
how his team will defend their very powerful client but it sounds like he's come up with a pretty
simple plan. Denial.

REX JASPER LOPOZ: "As far as the family, we don't have any knowledge on that matter."

WILLACY: "The Government is accusing Mr Ampatuan of masterminding the massacre.


WILLACY: Did he mastermind the massacre?"

REX JASPER LOPOZ: "There is no evidence linking the family, no solid and clear evidences there are
no such things that will pinpoint the responsibility of the family members."

WILLACY: Lolo Ampatuan's strength and reach has been allowed to grow because of a very important
friendship. This is Philippines President Gloria Arroyo pictured with one of his sons. The
President and the clan were so close, the Ampatuans were nicknamed her 'pet monsters'. The
Government funded them and armed them as an extra fighting force on the ground in Mindanao. The
payoff - at the last election the clan delivered Gloria Arroyo 99% of the votes in their fiefdom.

NORBERTO GONZALES: "This is the trouble when you have armed rebellion going on in a country, these
things do happen. Now it's easy to say yeah it's wrong, but during the years past, I would not know
how to judge that. Different officials, different presidents."

WILLACY: It was a relationship of practical and political convenience. Now in the wake of the
massacre, Defence Secretary Norberto Gonzales is busily untangling the ties with the Ampatuans.

NORBERTO GONZALES: "Some of these people are supposed to be her friends and they're engaged in
something like this. Can you imagine when you discover a friend doing something like that?"

WILLACY: "So they're no longer friends?"

NORBERTO GONZALES: "How can you, how can you keep such a relationship, you know? It's not just
alarming, it's a shock to the nation that certain situations and arrangements have been allowed to
deteriorate that far, that's very shocking to us."

WILLACY: For 30 years this has been the overwhelming problem in Mindanao. The Moro Islamic
Liberation Front has been fighting for an Islamic state in the south of this overwhelmingly
Catholic country. The MILF has been accused of having ties with the terrorist group Jemaah
Islamiyah and of sending its guerrillas to train with al-Qaeda. They specialise in bomb attacks and
ambushes and their separatist war has cost 150,000 lives.

They've become such an intractable force here government troops alone weren't enough, so privateers
like the Ampatuans were drafted to help. Lieutenant-General Raymundo Ferrer is the highest ranking
commander here. He saw the clan's wealth and power grow exponentially.

LT GENERAL RAYMUNDO FERRER: "300 million dollars."

WILLACY: "So the Ampatuans probably still have about 300 hundred million dollars hidden away

LT GENERAL RAYMUNDO FERRER: "Yes, they have people... that's why they can pay a battery of lawyers.
They're not hiring one or two lawyers, they're hiring 20 lawyers... 30 lawyers."

WILLACY: "Were did they get this money from?"

LT GEN RAYMUNDO FERRER: "The government."

WILLACY: A fortune flowing from the government and an arsenal of weapons direct from the General's
army. The Ampatuans were deputies who became a force of their own.

LT GEN RAYMUNDO FERRER: "Some of their people were taken as paramilitary forces meaning the
military gave them the arms, we gave them the bullets, we gave them uniforms and we'll control
them... and during operations they go, they go with us, so it's a force multiplier effect."

WILLACY: [Looking at map] "And that's also where the Ampatuans were very strong?"

LT GEN RAYMUNDO FERRER: "Yes they control this area."

WILLACY: Now the general has been ordered to round up his former Ampatuan allies and to retrieve
the enormous number of guns.

LT GEN RAYMUNDO FERRER: "It's very hard to encourage people to bring down their guns because as I
have mentioned, there are some personal conflicts happening so they would have to protect their own
houses or their own communities. It's their right to protect them."

DANTE JIMENEZ: "So you're talking about a million firearms loose."

WILLACY: While the General chases the arsenal and the rogue Ampatuans, Dante Jimenez is Manila's
big picture man in Mindanao. He's part of a Government commission trying to crack the puzzling
power structures of Mindanao and aiming to de-commission the warlords.

DANTE JIMINEZ: [Anti-crime campaigner] "The commission was created out of the Maguindanao massacre
and the gravity is so enormous, enormous because of firearms found - not only firearms... ammunitions
and vehicles that were supposed to be used by the military or the police."

"What they could do is perhaps minimise, if not eliminate, the possibility of another Maguindanao
massacre to happen, because there are already strong indications that there might be another
Maguindanao massacre in the offing in some of these provinces that we have been validated as very
hot areas."

WILLACY: There are so many very hot areas in Mindanao, it's hard to imagine how any sense of order
or what we know as normality could ever come to this place. We're heading to one of the areas of
friction where the Philippines army is keeping a very close eye on the Moro Islamic Liberation
Front. There's a fragile and uneasy peace agreement in place but the army isn't taking any chances.

[To Army LT] "So the MILF is over in that direction?"


WILLACY: "And the militias are in that direction?"

LT RONILO PO: "Yeah, and this road is run by the MILF."


LT RONILO PO: "Yeah. Sometimes they go that way."

WILLACY: Complicating matters for Lieutenant Ronilo Po and his men are rogue Ampatuans - militias
out here avoiding the authorities and adding another layer of danger. Who's to know who opened fire
on this patrol?

[Whispering] "So we were just crossing that little canal there and there was a gun... a gunshot. It
may have been coming from that village so we're just going up to the village to see what's going

When the soldiers of Bravo Company reach the village, it's deserted. This is perfect terrain for an
ambush and the men remain on edge. It's precisely how so many Filipino soldiers have died. It will
be some time before Lieutenant Po gives the all clear.

The army unit will call this home for the next two months, ranging out and around the jungle here
on daily patrols, trying to keep a lid on a very remote patch of a profoundly complicated, deeply
divided place.

(TO CAMERA)"Well Bravo Company has basically taken over this village as its camp and we're camping
in with them for the night. They're telling us that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has a camp
less than one kilometre in that direction and not only that, that this area is a hotbed for
Ampatuan supporters and the army said there were at least a thousand armed Ampatuan supporters on
the run still, hiding out in villages and scrub around this area".

During our assignment here we spent some time negotiating with a string of intermediaries and
finally got into this MILF compound not far from where we were patrolling with the army. Here we
find leader Ghazali Jafaar recalling his encounters with Lolo Ampatuan.

GHAZALI JAFAAR: "There were several persons killed by cutting the body of the persons with a
chainsaw and many people here can witness to that."

WILLACY: "So he used a chainsaw to kill people?"

GHAZALI JAFAAR: "Yes he used a chainsaw to kill person. But most of the time he used firearms to
kill persons."

WILLACY: Ghazali Jafaar is not unhappy that the Ampatuan Godfather is being disarmed. It's a few
less enemy guns for him to worry about.

GHAZALI JAFAAR: [MILF commander] "I think he owned not less than 5,000 firearms."

WILLACY: "So he basically controlled an army."

GHAZALI JAFAAR: "He controlled an army. I think he was able to do this because of some favours,
special favours - very special favours as a matter of fact, from very important persons in the

WILLACY: For the time being at least the MILF doesn't seem to be taking advantage of the breakdown
between the government and the Ampatuans. But just like the Philippines Army, the separatists are
keeping their weapons loaded while peace talks proceed.

"Are you ready to pick up the gun again if these peace talks break down?"

GHAZALI JAFAAR: We still have our guns. We did not surrender our guns. Still in our hand."

WILLACY: "So you're prepared."

GHAZALI JAFAAR: "Yes of course. All our guns, armalite, M14 and other high powered guns, including
machine guns, mortars - still with us."

WILLACY: In this fractured, dysfunctional place trust and goodwill are thin on the ground. So too
is faith in the machinery of justice. That's the next test ahead. Already investigators have
concluded that as many as twenty police officers were involved in the November massacre. Witnesses
and others working on the case are being intimidated or worse.

NORBERTO GONZALES: "Some are even being killed. We know the consequences. You know this is a very
serious case for us."

WILLACY: From his vantage point in Manila, the Defence Secretary concedes he may not be able to
stop Lolo Ampatuan buying his way out of jail.

NORBERTO GONZALES: "I could not say that we can guarantee that that will not happen you know given
the situation in The Philippines, these things do happen. I cannot deny that because there are
those cases."

WILLACY: And we're told hush money is on offer. Families of victims are being paid off but the
widow of one victim at least says she won't be taking any blood money.

MYRNA REBLANDO: "For me money is nothing when your husband is murdered (upset)."

WILLACY: "So you would not accept money if they offered you money?"

MYRNA REBLANDO: "Yeah I will not accept the money if they told me that I will stop seeking for
justice, no way."

NORBERTO GONZALES: "We have to begin to look forward to a society where armed rebellion is no
longer acceptable as a means of achieving societal change or political change. We should really
begin to condemn the use of violence. There is absolutely no justification. No matter how noble the
objective of a particular movement or group, employing violence is no longer acceptable."