Thursday, December 03, 2009

Philippine leader visits funeral of slain journalists

President Gloria Arroyo visits the wake Thursday, December 3, 2009 of slain journalists in General Santos City in the southern Philippines. (Photo by Rey Baniquet)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 3, 2009) – Filipino leader Gloria Arroyo visited Thursday the funeral of journalists who were among 57 people brutally killed in the southern Maguindanao province.

Arroyo, dressed in black, condoled with the grieving families of the journalists at a funeral house in General Santos City. She spoke with the widows and assured them of the government’s action against the perpetrators of the massacre blamed by the police and military to a powerful political clan allied with her administration.

Government have filed 25 counts of murder against Andal Ampatuan Jnr, the mayor of Maguindanao’s Datu Unsay town whose namesake if the governor of the province, one of five under the Muslim autonomous region to which his elder brother, Zaldy Ampatuan, is also the governor.

The mayor surrendered three days after the massacre and denied all accusations against him. His father and brother also denied involvement in the massacre.

Ampatuan’s father and several more clan members were also implicated in the November 23 attack that left at least 30 journalists and 27 political supporters of rival Esmael Mangudadatu, the deputy mayor of Buluan town in Maguindanao.

The mayor accused in the massacre is being groomed by his father to succeed him as provincial governor, a position also being contested by Mangudadatu.

Among those killed were Mangudadatu’s wife and two sisters, accompanied by their supporters, who were abducted and herded into a remote village where they were shot and hacked. The journalists were only covering the filing of the nomination for governor of Mangudadatu, but they too mercilessly killed.

Arroyo promised to help the families of slain journalists and offered them education for their children.

More than 3,000 policemen and soldiers were deployed since last week in Maguindanao and took over the provincial capitol building and two other town halls controlled by the Ampatuan patriarch.

Two United Nations independent experts said the massacre should be seen as a watershed moment for reform in the Philippines.

Philip Alston, an expert on extrajudicial executions and Frank La Rue, who deals with freedom of opinion and expression, said in a statement the response to the brutal killings should go beyond standard murder investigations.

The massacre also demands a more extensive reflection on the elite family-dominated manipulation of the political processes and the need to eliminate such practices in order to assure the future of democracy in the Philippines.

They also noted that elections in the Philippines have traditionally become occasions for widespread extrajudicial executions of political opponents and stress the need for the authorities to take measures to prevent killings in the run-up to the May elections. (With a report from Mark Navales and Geo Solmerano)

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