MANILA, Philippines -- A policeman who witnessed an election-related massacre of 57 people last year told a court Wednesday a former town mayor -- the main suspect in the deaths -- gunned down 40 victims as they pleaded for their lives.
Senior Police Officer Rainier Ebus testified he saw former Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the scion of the clan that was in control of southern Maguindanao province, shoot about 40 of the 57 victims after stopping their vehicles.
Among the dead in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre -- the worst political killings in recent Philippine history -- were at least 30 media workers accompanying supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu, a local politician running for governor.
His rivals from the Ampatuan clan and militiamen under their command have been charged with murder. They have pleaded innocent.
Ebus, testifying for the prosecution, said he was among police who accompanied Ampatuan and his gunmen to a village where they stopped a convoy of journalists and political supporters of Mangudadatu, who was challenging the Ampatuan clan for governorship.
Mangudadatu was not traveling in the convoy since he felt his life was in danger but sent his wife, sisters and other female relatives in the belief that women would not be harmed.
Previous witnesses have said that Ampatuan clan members, including patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., had plotted the killings over dinner six days before the ambush.
Ebus said Ampatuan Jr. ordered about 10 people from the convoy to get down from their vehicles and form a line. He then opened fire as the others, still in their vehicles, cried and pleaded for their lives. Shortly after, Ebus testified, Ampatuan shot about 30 other people.
"They were crying but they were gunned down by Unsay," Ebus said, referring to Ampatuan by his nickname.
Ebus said when the shooting started, he stayed inside one of the vans because he was scared for his life.
"(Ampatuan) has a lot of money. He has a lot of guns and ammunition. He can kill," Ebus added.
Also Wednesday, an additional 28 of at least 197 accused in the killing pleaded not guilty to multiple murder charges during their arraignment. About half of those accused remain at large.