Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Maguindanao Massacre remembered

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Nov. 23, 2010) – Some 3,000 people trooped on a southern Philippines hillside to commemorate Tuesday the one-year anniversary of the country’s worst political killings.

Many of those who came – mostly journalists and human rights groups - offered prayers and candles together with families and relatives of those brutally murdered in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region last year.

“We have deployed more than a thousand soldiers to secure the site and its periphery and those who attended the anniversary,” said Captain Razaleigh Bansawan, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division.

He said they deployed bomb-sniffing dogs and put up a medical facility and five checkpoints along a three-kilometer stretch leading to the site in Ampatuan town where 57 people had been massacred, including at least 32 journalists, by armed followers of the powerful Ampatuan clan in a futile attempt to stop his candidacy.

Among those killed were the wife and sister and relatives of Buluan town deputy mayor Esmael Mangudadatu who were on their way to file his nomination papers for gubernatorial elections.

Andal Ampatuan Sr then was the governor of Maguindanao and his sons – Andal Ampatuan Jr, the mayor of Ampatuan town; and Zaldy Ampatuan, governor of the Muslim autonomous region. They were among 196 people, many of them pro-government militias, implicated by authorities in the gruesome murders.

The patriarch and his sons and other relatives are currently in jail in Manila and facing multiple criminal charges over the killings. Several witnesses who testified against the Ampatuan were also murdered, one by one, in Maguindanao.

Mangudadatu, who was this year elected governor of Maguindanao, said his wife was shot in the mouth, at the back, and her private parts blasted; and so were his sister and relatives. The journalists, mostly from small newspapers in the provinces, were similarly attacked.

Human rights groups have assailed the slow progress of the cases against the Ampatuans, who are known warlords in Mindanao and political allies of former President Gloria Arroyo. Even in jail, the clan is still being feared by many in Mindanao because of their wealth and influence.

“The impotent action of our government is a form of betrayal of our democracy. It is not enough that we just remember the most gruesome attack in media history. We need to act and rage because there is a continued culture of impunity in our country,” said Paul Randy Gumanao, vice president for Mindanao of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.

He said massacre case is not isolated from the piles of human rights violations cases that the government must address urgently. More than 2,000 people had died from extrajudicial killings in the country the past years.

“Student journalists are always standing by the people. We believe that the people’s outrage, rather than the Ampatuans’ might, must be feared and attended by the government. What happened in Maguindanao was not solely an attack against the journalists or the lawyers. It was an arrogant attack against the Filipino people,” Gumanao said.

Local media also offered prayers to commemorate those killed in the attack. The Radio Mindanao Network broadcast a special tribute and so was the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner which continues to run since last year a video tribute on its cable channels in Zamboanga City and Basilan province. The video can also be accessed on their website on http://www.mindanaoexaminer.com/news.php?news_id=20101122190321.

The international media organization, Reporters Without Borders, the tragedy’s shocking nature did not reside solely in the record number of journalists killed, but also in the criminal desire of the perpetrators to eliminate all the witnesses, down to the very last man and woman.

It said the international community was stunned as the details of the massacre emerged. At first it was shocked by the scale of the death toll. Then it was appalled by the revelations about the criminal nature of the Ampatuan family.

“Now our common goal must be to press the authorities to allocate sufficient material and human resources to the trial of the main defendants, so that it can be completed within a reasonable time and conclude with the conviction of those responsible, both the perpetrators and the instigators.”

“By commemorating the victims, every press freedom organization can help to promote the deep-seated changes that the Philippines needs. Together, let’s say: “Never again,” it said.

The group also appealed for a broad movement of support for the families of the massacre victims. (Mindanao Examiner)

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