Friday, November 27, 2009

Army general, commander relieved after Maguindanao massacre

Families and friends of 27 journalists brutally killed in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines arrived in General Santos City on Friday, November 27, 2009.
GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / November 27, 2009) – The Philippine military relieved Friday an army general and his commander over the brutal killings of 57 people, mostly journalists and election campaigners in Mindanao.

Major General Alfredo Cayton, chief of the 6th Infantry Division, and Colonel Medardo Geslani, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, were both being investigated for their failure to prevent the massacre blamed on Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jnr., scion of powerful Muslim clan in Maguindanao, who is running for governor in the province in next year’s elections.

Ampatuan is the son of Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Snr., and brother of Zaldy Ampatuan, the governor of the Muslim autonomous region to which the province belongs and political allies of President Gloria Arroyo.

Ampatuan surrendered on Thursday and blamed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels for the gruesome murders. The MILF denied involvement in the killing. “A criminal is a criminal. He is courting more enemies,” said Mohagher Iqbal, a senior MILF leader, who heads the panel negotiating peace with Manila.

Of the 57 people killed, at least 29 were journalists and the rest were supporters of Buluan town vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, who is also running for governor in Maguindanao.

Mangudadatu’s wife and her sister, and relatives were among those killed. They were on their way to file Mangudadatu’s nomination for governor when more than 100 gunmen, many of them government militias, abducted them in Shariff Aguak town, a known stronghold of the Ampatuan clan, and herded them to a remote farming village where they shot and killed, many decapitated.

One of three journalists who backed out from the group after the military failed to provide them security escorts despite repeated requests from the general. He said 34 journalists were among those who joined the group to cover the filing of Mangudadatu’s nomination.

On Friday, Mangudadatu, accompanied by supporters and escorted by soldiers and policemen, filed his candidacy with the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak town, a day after his lawyers charged Ampatuan of multiple counts of murder in connection with the killings of his wife and relatives.

“So far everything is peaceful in Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan towns. We have police forces and troops are also deployed in Maguindanao to help the police maintain peace and order,” said Senior Superintendent Bienvenido Latag, chief of the regional police force.

Security forces have taken over the provincial capitol building of Maguindanao and the town halls of Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan this week.

Arroyo’s spokesman said the President has on Friday authorized the suspension of all officials in Maguindanao following the massacre.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno on Thursday said he would recommend the suspension of all officials in Maguindanao to allow an independent investigation into the murders. Arroyo has authorized Puno to appoint their temporary replacement.

The communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines blamed the Arroyo government and the military for the “monstrosity recently brandished by the notorious political warlords in Maguindanao, the Ampatuan clan.”

“The people are seething with rage for this senseless killing, a killing without compunction,” said Rubi del Mundo, the group’s spokesman.

“By all indications, the massacre bears the markings of another Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police atrocity against civilians as they have been clearly serving as part of the private and mercenary army of the Ampatuan hooligans in the bogus Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” he said.

Del Mundo accused the 6th Infantry Division, which is under the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, of being involved in the alleged barbarity of the Ampatuan clan against innocent civilians.

“This recent carnage in Maguindanao province adds to the bloody record of human rights violations perpetrated by the Eastern Mindanao Command-Armed Forces of the Philippines. It is an indictment of the US-Arroyo regime’s direct sponsorship of election-related violence, extrajudicial and political killings since assuming power in 2001.”

”Mrs. Arroyo and all the candidates under her administration were beneficiaries of the Ampatuan’s fraudulently produced votes in its strongholds in the 2004 GRP elections. The Ampatuans also serve as local pawns of the US-Arroyo regime’s counter-revolutionary campaign against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Like the previous Philippine presidents, Arroyo is a coddler of electoral cheats and criminal warlords to serve her political and economic interests,” Del Mundo said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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