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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 9:45 PM) An aide to a Philippine governor whose political challenge to a powerful Muslim clan led to the country's worst political massacre has been shot and killed, police said Sunday.
Police said they were investigating whether the shooting of Said Salik Saturday was related to the 2009 massacre of 57 people, after a string of killings targeting witnesses to the murders.
Salik, a former mayor of Datu Unsay, Maguindanao was shot and killed by motorcycle-riding suspects while passing along a highway in Purok Paghidait, Barangay Impao, Insulan, Sultan Kudarat Saturday afternoon.
Insp. Benjamin Mauricio, Central Mindanao Regional Police Office spokesperson, said Salik, 65, a resident of Egana Gampong, Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, was with his daughter and grand children on their white Mitsubishi pick-up (MBH-386) when two motorcycle-riding suspects appeared and shot Salik at pointblank, killing him instantly around 12:30 p.m.
He said the suspects quickly fled towards the direction of Esperanza town after the incident.
"The victim was a consultant to Governor [Esmael] Toto Mangudadatu," Mauricio said.
Mauricio said the motive remained unclear, but stressed they were investigating whether it was related to the massacre.
Challenge to powerful clan
Mangudadatu had challenged the powerful Ampatuan clan's control of the southern province in Maguindanao, leading to the massacre in 2009 of 57 people, including his wife, relatives and 32 journalists.
Mangudadatu's wife was en route to the election body's office to file his candidacy for governor accompanied by journalists and friends when they were seized by members of a private army controlled by the Ampatuans.
The Ampatuans had ruled Maguindanao for a decade, under the patronage of then-president Gloria Arroyo, who used the clan's private army as a buffer against Muslim guerrillas.
The Ampatuans saw Mangudadatu as a threat to the family's power, and ordered the massacre as a means to stop their rival's political ambitions, prosecutors said.
The clan's patriarch as well as several of his sons are among 196 people charged with conspiring to commit the murder, although police said over 100 suspects remained at large.
As the trial goes through the notoriously slow Philippine court system, four witnesses to the crime have been murdered.
Three relatives of other witnesses have also been killed, in what rights groups said was a clear pattern to silence anyone who dared testify against the Ampatuan clan.
Fourth slain witness
Earlier, witness Alijol Ampatuan was initially reported missing until it was established that he was the same Menjie Mangulamas Ubpon who was shot by two men on a motorcycle on Feb. 21 in Shariff Aguak.
Alijol was an alleged aide of Kanor Ampatuan, cousin of prime suspect Andal Ampatuan Sr. He was also a leader of the civilian volunteer organization that took part in the massacre.
Lawyer Nena Santos had said in a report that the prosecution had been searching for Alijol to make him a state witness. He was supposed to identify the 36 militiamen who took part in the mass killing.
Ubpon is the fourth witness in the Ampatuan massacre killed. Early this month, Esmail Enog's dismembered body was found in Mamasapano in Maguindanao.
Also, accused turned witness Police Officer 2 Hernanie Decipulo jumped to death inside Camp Bagong Diwa last February.
In 2010, Suwaid Upham was shot to death in Parang, Maguindanao.
So far, 196 individuals have been charged in the massacre in Maguindanao; 28 of them are surnamed Ampatuan, and six of these are among the primary accused (Andal Sr., Andal Jr., Zaldy, Akmad, Datu Jimmy, Datu Kanor)
At least 96 suspects remain at large; 72 suspects have been arraigned as of June 2012.
Ninety-nine arrested suspects are detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, the Camp Crame in Quezon City, and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group headquarters in Cotabato City.