SPECIAL REPORT: Groups ask govt.: “Where’s justice for Ampatuan massacre?”

MANILA, November 23, 2011—Two years, ago 58 people, 32 of which are journalists, were massacred and buried in a shallow grave in Sharif Aguak, also known as the Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, a province in the Southern Philippines.

While one of the primary suspects, former Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. is now in jail, together with some others, the justice that the media and religious communities, and the family of the victims of the infamous Maguindanao Massacre want, still seems to be elusive.

The group of Visayan Catholic clergy, the Visayan Clergy Discernment Group (VCDG), led by its convener, Jaro Auxilliary Bishop Gerardo Alimane Alminaza said that it is alarming while that the courts are swift in handing down its decision in some cases of the former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the wheel of justice is not grinding well in the case of the people killed in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.

“The Visayas Clergy Discernment Group (VCDG) is alarmed that while the Supreme Court swiftly handed out decisions that would allow former President Gloria Arroyo to travel out of the country and the Pasay Regional Trial Court quickly issued a warrant of arrest to her, the victims and relatives of the Maguindanao Massacre are still searching for justice,” says Alminanza in a statement.

Maguindanao carnage: the worst in history

Alminananza said, the Maguindanao massacre is “the most brutal and unparalleled event of its kind in recent history.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist, in 2009, had issued a statement stating that the Ampatuan massacre, indeed, is “the deadliest single attack on the press ever documented by CPJ.” It was the same group that earlier pronounced that the Philippines in second to Iraq, being the deadliest place to work as journalist. The said pronouncement has been made as there is a series of killings involving journalists, particular in the provinces.

Fruit of ‘clan’ and patronage politics 

The most glaring facts in the massacre were it was allegedly perpetrated by a strong political family, the Ampatuans and the use of “private armies”—consist of both paramilitary and military elements.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, by the virtue of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines condemns the existence of clan politics and political dynasty in the country, explains Alminanza.

“Moreover, PCP II exhorts politicians to lead in renewing politics, to defend and promote justice, and to “put teeth to good legislation” by strictly enforcing a correct system of rewards and punishment,” he said, citing the PCP II.

P-Noy scolded for alleged “dilly-dallying” over Ampatuan case 

The Burgos Media Center (BMC) has expressed its disappointment on the progress of the Ampatuan massacre case.

“On its second anniversary today, press freedom continues to face grave and serious threat as the present government keeps doing nothing to resolve this gruesome mass killing which involved members of the Philippine press. Culture of impunity endures as architects of the massacre were not yet penalized and some of the culprits were still at-large,” Marc Joseph Alejo, spokesperson of the BMC told CBCP News in an e-mail.

According to reports, there are still more than 100 suspects on the Ampatuan killings remain at large.

The VCDG also observed that while Andal Jr. and 100 others are being tried, there is no indictment yet.

“This means that the victims and their loved ones have not found justice that is due them,” says Alminanza in his statement.

Human rights advocates in London were also disappointed on how the Ampatuan case fares.

“Since the party of 58 people – including 34 journalists – were murdered en route to filing Ismael Mangudadatu’s candidacy for mayoral elections, there have been no successful prosecutions. Former local ruling family the Ampatuans have been put on trial, but the process has been dogged by delays, while many of the 195 accused remain at large,” says Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP) chair Mark Dearn in a statement.

He also said that his group believes the 58 killings in Maguindanao in 2009 were an expected outcome of a tacit policy of supporting provincial rulers and granting them immunity from the law, as highlighted by the legacy of killings, torture and abduction that have been documented to have occurred over the course of 20 years at the hands of the Ampatuans.

An international appeal

In New Zealand, meanwhile, solidarity groups Auckland Philippines Solidarity, Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA) and Wellington Kiwi Pinoy (WKP) had made an appeal to their future leaders to help the people of the Philippines in resolving the human rights abuse cases, including the victims of the Ampatuan massacre.

“We stand proud as the All Blacks emerged champions in the Rugby World Cup. We’d like to stand even prouder that New Zealanders can also be champions in human rights, justice and peace advocacy,” says APS spokesperson Cameron Walker in a statement.

“Almost two years ago on the of 23rd November 2009, New Zealanders and people around the world were shocked over a horrific crime in the Philippines that claimed the lives of 58 people, including 32 journalists and two women lawyers in a town called Ampatuan, in the province of Maguindanao, Southern Philippines. The Ampatuan massacre is one of the worst single incidents of media killings and election-related violence in the world in recent history,” says the human rights advocate.

In a copy of the letter, the groups said that, “Considering that the Philippines is one of New Zealand’s trade and economic partners, we believe that the attainment of political stability and resolution of the human rights crisis in the Philippines should also concern the New Zealand government… If elected, we respectfully ask you to convey a strong message of concern on the Philippine human rights crisis as former PM Helen Clark did in 2007.”

The groups had demanded their future leaders to let President Benigno Simeon Aquino III know that New Zealand would like the Filipino people to enjoy peaceful elections in the future thus we join calls to dismantle all private armies and to stop the use of all armed forces for electoral fraud; and that New Zealand would like to see the swift resolution of the Ampatuan massacre and all human rights violations under his predecessor and under his current administration.

Likewise, the End Impunity Alliance (EIA) called on the Aquino administration to make the necessary move to let the human rights violators pay for what they did.

“While we welcome the issuance of arrest warrants for former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. on charges of electoral fraud, we demand that they be charged for grave human rights violations they committed while in power.  President Noynoy Aquino must strike while the iron is hot,” says Cristina “Tinay” Palabay, one of the lead conveners of EIA.

EIA, comprised of cause-oriented groups Karapatan, Bayan [Bagong Alyansang Makabayan], Promotion of Church People’s Response and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, said that it is about time to let Mrs. Arroyo and her cohorts to pay for their crimes against the Filipino people, particularly to thousands of victims of human rights violations that include enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial killings, intimidation and torture.

“The numbers under the nine-year GMA regime are appalling—1,206 victims of extra judicial killings, 206 cases of enforced disappearances and thousands more unsolved human rights violations, including the Ampatuan massacre.  The perpetrators of these crimes must not go unpunished,” Palabay said.

A need to overhaul the PH justice system 

For human rights defenders in UK, there is a dire need to change the justice system in the Philippines in order for it to respond quickly to human rights abuse cases.

“The lack of progress made in prosecuting the killings is a reminder of the changes needed in the judicial system,” says Dearn.

“Being a democracy goes far beyond holding elections. The Aquino government must act on its promises and initiate the reforms long-needed to create the fair and transparent political and legal systems that will best serve the Philippine people,” he added.

Kabataan Partylist, on the other hand, had filed a resolution to the House of Representative, declaring November 23, as the “National Day Against Impunity in the Philippines,” in connection with the continuous human rights violations in the Philippines

“The bloody Maguindanao massacre is symptomatic of the deeply-entrenched climate of impunity in the country. Thousands have been victims of various human rights violations and justice still has yet to be served up to this day. To mark November 23 of every year as the National Day Against Impunity is both a continuing reminder and challenge for the government and the Filipinos to end impunity,” Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino said, in a statement. [Written for CBCPNews.com]

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