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MANILA, Philippines -- At around 10:30 a.m. on November 23, 2009, lawyer Arnold Oclarit received a text message from his colleague, Cynthia Oquendo, the words a mixture of English, Bisaya and Tagalog.
“It means, ‘I, with Tatay and several others, were kidnapped. Advise client (sic) of Ampatuan. We might get killed. Send to Tom’,” Oclarit said as he testified before Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon Regional Trial Court Branch 221, who is trying the multiple murder charges against those accused of the massacre, which claimed 58 lives, including that of 32 media workers.
Thinking his friend was joking, Oclarit said he texted back: “What’s this?”
At 10:42 a.m., Oquendo replied: “True. Not joke.”
Now disturbed, Oclarit called up Oquendo to ask her about the texts.
When Oquendo answered his call, Oclarit said, “"She said in a low and frightened voice, 'Don't call. Cellphones are not allowed here'."
Shortly after, he got a third message: "Loc. NLF Nascom 12."
And then the last: "MNLF HQ SH Aguak, Nascom 12. Many people killed. We might be next."
The last two messages apparently referred to a camp of the Moro National Liberation Front that stands by the side of the road to Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, where the massacre happened.
Most of the victims were with a convoy on its way to Maguindanao’s capital town, Shariff Aguak, to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who intended to run for governor against Andal Ampatuan Jr., at the time mayor of Datu Unsay and a member of the powerful clan that ruled the province.
Ampatuan Jr. allegedly led the gunmen who waylaid the convoy and two vehicles that happened to pass by at the time, herded the passengers to Masalay and mowed them down then tried to bury the victims and vehicles in deep pits dug with a backhoe owned by the provincial government, then headed by his father and clan patriarch, Andal Sr.
Oclarit said after the last text message from Oquendo, he called up the Ampatuans’ election lawyer, Tomas Falque, telling him what he had said. He also forwarded the messages to Falque.
However, Oclarit said Falque told him he could not contact his clients.
He added that he saved the messages in a folder on his cellphone, realizing they would be valuable as evidence.
However, in September or October last year, he said the messages were deleted when his phone was reformatted, although he identified Oquendo’s messages in a transcript made earlier.
The defense tried to downplay Oclarit’s testimony, saying aside from his recollection and the transcript, no other documentation exists of Oquendo’s messages.
Aside from Oclarit, Oquendo also managed to send messages to her husband, Dennis Ayon.