(26 November 2009, Bangkok) The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a regional human rights organisation with 46 members across Asia, strongly condemns the recent massacre of civilians and journalists in Maguindanao, southern Philippines. We call on the government of the Philippines to conduct an independent investigation into this crime and hold its perpetrators accountable.
On 23 November 2009, 57 people, including family members of Vice Mayor Ishmael Mangudadatu of Buluan and 18 journalists, were brutally killed by armed men. They were on their way to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for the elections in May next year. Some were violently beheaded and women were allegedly raped before being killed.
Even though no suspect has been formally named in the killings, it is believed that the Ampatuan clan is behind the massacre. It is alleged that this massacre is politically-motivated and related to the upcoming elections. The Ampatuan clan, which is currently governing the province, is a close political ally of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Tensions between the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus had been intensified after the Vice Mayor Ishmael Mangudadatu announced his plan to run in the gubernatorial race against the Ampatuans. Currently, members of Ampatuan clan, including Andal Ampatuan Jr., are under investigation by the police. Formal charges against them have not yet been filed.
FORUM-ASIA believes that the massacre in Maguindanao is another clear evidence of the culture of impunity that has been pervading in the Philippines for many years. Killings like these are prevalent in the country because perpetrators of these abuses are never brought to justice. These perpetrators hide behind a police force and a judiciary that can easily be bribed and influenced. These perpetrators also use the system of political patronage to avoid being prosecuted and made accountable for their abuses.
The organisations also expressed its deep concerns that the declared state of emergency in the Province of Maguindanao and its neighbouring province and city is not the answer to address this massacre. A state of emergency will give widespread power to agencies, such as the military; it will only result to further abuses and acts of impunity in the area. Instead, the government of the Philippines should ensure an independent and transparent investigation that would speedily bring the perpetrators of this horrendous massacre to justice.
We also call on the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) to monitor the measures taken by the government to effectively address acts of impunity and human rights abuses in the country.