Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Media, human rights groups hail filing of charges vs. Philippine Army officers by kins of massacre victims

Philippine Army Major General Alfredo Cayton and Colonel Medardo Geslani. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / January 20, 2010) – Various media and human rights groups hailed the filing of criminal and administrative charges against the Philippine Army vice chief and a brigade commander who are accused of negligence and dereliction of duty in connection with the brutal murder of 57 people in the southern Maguindanao province.

At least 31 journalists were among those killed, including the wife and two sisters and supporters of Buluan town vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu who is running for governor in Maguindanao province.

The victims were traveling with Mangudadatu’s wife on a political caravan when some 100 gunmen allegedly led by Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., seized them November 23 in Shariff Aguak’s town and herded them to the next town where they were brutally killed. The Ampatuan and Mangudadatu clans are bitter political foe.

Widows and family members of at least 13 journalists accompanied by lawyer Harry Roque filed the charges on Tuesday against Major General Alfredo Cayton and Colonel Medardo Geslani with the Ombudsman in Davao City.

Prior to the killings, journalists who were in the caravan requested Cayton for security escorts for fear that armed supporters of the Ampatuan clan would attack the convoy, but the general did not provide them and instead told them that it was safe to travel to Shariff Aguak.

The Mindanao Times also reported that Myrna Reblando, whose husband, Alejandro Reblando, was among the journalists killed in the massacre, said: “We have only begun. It does not mean that just because Gen. Cayton and Col. Geslani were not accused by the DPJ (Department of Justice) prosecutors of murder that they should no longer be held responsible for the death of our loved ones. We still hold them criminally and administratively liable for their gross negligence and dereliction of duty. Had it not been for their inaction, our loved ones could still be alive today.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said it is supporting the filing of the charges against the two army officers.

“The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Davao City Chapter expresses solidarity in the continuing fight for justice for the victims of the most horrendous pre-election massacre of hapless civilians in recent history—a senseless waste of life which could have not happened had it not been allowed by the state.”

”We believe that the Ampatuan Massacre of November 23, 2009 allegedly perpetuated by the influential Malacanang-ally Ampatuan family would have not happened had government security agents in the province did not allow it to happen at all. NUJP shares with the grief of the family of all the victims, especially our fellow journalists’ widows, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers,” it said in a statement.

It said the massacre could have been prevented had Cayton provided security to the convoy.

”The testaments of the families of the victims pointed to Cayton as having refused to provide the slain journalists their requested military escorts and for declaring that there was no threat from the ground which prompted the journalists to proceed with the coverage that led to their massacre,” the NUJP said.

The Philippine Army investigated the accusations, but cleared Cayton, then the commander of the 6th Infantry Division, and Geslani, former commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade in Maguindanao province, for any culpability. Both Cayton and Geslani were relieved from their positions shortly after the massacre. Cayton was later promoted as Army deputy chief.

The Ampatuan clan is one of the most feared in Mindanao, but also the wealthiest in the impoverished province of Maguindanao, whose governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his sons, Zaldy Ampatuan, the regional governor, and several family members and relatives were linked by authorities to the gruesome killings. (Mindanao Examiner)

No comments: