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The Ampatuans, according to prosecution witnesses, had planned to murder Toto Mangudadatu as early as July 2009, when he declared he was running for governor to contest the Ampatuans' control over Maguindanao province.

From 2002 to 2008, COA reports had scored huge expenses for what could have been identical projects in Maguindanao and ARMM, under the Ampatuans. The reports painted a sorry picture of how one powerful clan could have dipped into public coffers, willfully and wantonly, as if these were its personal purse.

The Ampatuans were Arroyo’s anointed lieutenants in ARMM, their alliance built largely on largesse. But the cash bonanza that Maguindanao secured from Arroyo failed dismally to alleviate the misery of the poor. Its poverty numbers grew parallel to the surge in the wealth of the Ampatuans, a clan given to flaunting its wealth, weapons, and wheels. 

On Nov. 23, 2009, 58 persons were killed in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province. The victims included 32 journalists and media workers, two lawyers, six motorists passing the same route, and the wife and sisters of Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, at that time the vice-mayor of Buluan town in Maguindanao.