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Philippine governor claims political rival tried to kill him

MANILA -- A Philippine governor said that his political rival and the main suspect in the 2009 election-related killings of 57 people tried to kill him and his brothers months before the massacre, calling him “powerful, influential and violent.”

Esmael Mangudadatu, governor of southern Maguindanao province, testified Thursday at the massacre trial that his predecessor, then-Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., had sent hundreds of government soldiers, police and civilian militia to attack his brother's residence in the restive region. About four months after the failed attack, Ampatuan allegedly ordered gunmen to kill 57 people, including Mangudadatu's wife, who were en route to contest local elections.

Ampatuan, his sons and alleged gunmen are among 103 suspects in the long-running trial, the largest in recent Philippine history. They have denied the murder charges.

Mangudadatu's wife, relatives and supporters, along with 31 media workers, were killed Nov. 23, 2009, after they were stopped on a highway by suspected armed followers of Ampatuan, mowed down and buried in mass graves.

Mangudadatu, who was elected governor in 2010, testified that he and another brother rushed to their sibling's residence after it was surrounded by gunmen and armored trucks. He said he prevented the attack by persuading the gunmen, who were led by a distant relative of Mangudadatu, to withdraw.

“I pleaded with him not to kill us. He said, `This is the order of Andal Ampatuan Sr.,”' Mangudadatu said.

Prima Jesusa Quinsayas, a lawyer representing the victims at the trial, said Mangudadatu's testimony showed that the Ampatuan clan intended to harm Mangudadatu leading up to the 2009 massacre.

Mangudadatu described the Ampatuans as “powerful, influential and violent.”

He said their influence was so pervasive that they controlled the military and police in the impoverished province and could even determine the outcome of elections “down to the village chairman.”

Mangudadatu said that on the day of the massacre, his wife told him by cellphone that she and others had been stopped by armed men and that she was slapped by Ampatuan's son, Andal Jr.

He said he saw his wife's body the next day in a morgue. She had been stabbed in the back and had gunshot wounds in different parts of her body, including her breasts and genitals, he said.

“I was thinking how they could have been crying out, pleading for pity,” he said. “It hurts. I want to remove that from my memory.”

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